By Ochieng' Ogodo
[NAIROBI] When Ferre Gola and his troupe set their feet in Nairobi to perform at the Bomas of Kenya on November 27, 2015, expectations of a riveting artistic delivery was high amongst lovers of Congolese musical genre.
Rising out of the shadows of great Ngiama Makanda a.k.a Werrason and his Wenga Musica Maison Mere band and Koffi Olomide’s Quartier Latin International as an understudy, no doubt the medium height, fairly stalky built crooner with a charismatic mellow voice has cut a niche for himself with some dazzling productions.
Like his equally versatile contemporaries, Fally Ipupa and Soleil Wanga, with whom he was in the frontline of Koffi’s mercurial singers in the 2000s, Gola is today in the class of the new Congolese generation of rhumba musicians that has successfully woven a musical cord with fans across ages.
He is worth listening to as well as putting your best foot forward — for those who love dancing — to in intricate stylistic and captivating dance styles championed by musical artists from the Democratic Republic of Congo; something they do as if ordained by some deific being to offer.
The anticipation among his fans, some coming out of Nairobi, was for a magnetising display in which revellers were to be conquered in bliss hardly experienced in the local musical scene mostly suffering from gross dearth of creativity and leaving many to complacent themselves with canned music from beyond our borders.
They were waiting to be his willing ‘prisoners’ taken to a world of melodious fantasy by Gola’s gifted serenading solo singing, stage command or the sentimental choruses from his team of vocalists.
Fans hoped for celebrated guitar works; dexterous cooing rhythm guitar plucking mixing admirably with hair-splitting lead play tempered by the falling and rising bass takings cutting through the hall like the sounds of a Dreamliner jet cruising across the sky, and punctuated by skilful drum beats. With stage shows lifting high up the enthusiasm, it could have been a spellbinding night; something to yearn for its repeat severally.
Mostly, in what they considered their best nightly attires, his followers started trooping to Bomas of Kenya venue from as early as 7 PM hoping for an invigorating evening rolling right into the ‘ungodly’ hours teeming with fascination.
But, largely, it was a disappointment that left many wondering whether it was worth the time, leave alone the money. Entry was KSh2,000 (advance), KSh2,500 (gate). A VIP ticket cost KSh3,000 in advance and KSh3,500 at the gate.
Time was progressing and by 10.30 PM there was still nothing on the stage with a few people fiddling with instruments; no preceding curtain raisers to keep the suspense engaging.
The allure of star showcasing his talents was giving room to disenchantment, and none of the organisers felt it courteous enough to offer an explanation to attendees of what was happening. It was 11PM and the waiting continued.
When Gola stepped out to perform, somewhat late as it was, it was characterised with intermittent distractions. Some turned it into photo taking session spree. To them it was time to jump onto the stage for shots and in so doing diverting Gola from a rigorous delivery.
Distractive tendencies characterised the better part of the night with some of the attendees queuing to be shoved by the bouncers onto the stage for clicks with him.
Equally nauseating were those jumping onto the stage and taking the microphone from him for awful imitation of his pieces. Majority went to Bomas of Kenya because of Gola and not awful pretenders.
As if these were not enough, there were those who thought it was an occasion to demonstrate their dancing skills in front Gola. Organisers ought to have been concerned about ensuring enjoyment to the fullest for their guests — value for money and time — by keeping off party-poopers from the stage.
For alive performance, an artist’s space for delivery is extremely important. People were expecting to see the Congolese star deliver some of his standout compositions like Seben, Zazou, Vita Imana, Maboko Pamba, Kamasutra and Lubukulukumu. Alas! The inappropriate behaviours spoilt the party for everybody else.
When Fally Ipupa performed in Nairobi a year earlier, stage ‘invasion’ was kept to the bare minimum giving him a wide latitude to showcase his talent. Koffi Olomide’s show in Nairobi years back was rocking with back-to-back conveyance of his outstanding compositions and only the flamboyant Kenyan dancer, Kanda Kid — these days Kanda King — was allowed a stint on the stage and he was a marvelous eye feast.
Safe and stimulating performance space is a major contribution to the field of art, helping the best to come out of a performer. Creating and setting an audience conducive atmosphere is key for enjoyment and endearing. Some things went awfully bad with Gola’s show.
Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi-based journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world including Africa, the US and Europe. He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is currently the patron of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org