“Aki mum, it wasn’t even that short…”
This is how I found myself being my own defense lawyer, on a Sunday afternoon phone call with my mother. You see, my mother doesn’t watch her WhatsApp stories, but my father does. And in a good marriage, there are no secrets. As my father swiped through the collected memories from my DJ set at the first anniversary of The WhineDown; being the proud father that he is, he decided to share his beaming joy with his partner through parenthood – my mother. Forgetting that the main focus of my Kikuyu mother’s eyes would be her daughter’s exposed thighs.
“Did you wear a leso going in and out of the house? What would the guards think seeing you leave the house dressed like that? They’d say ‘‘this girl must be a hooker.’’ You looked nice though,” said my mother. A bite and a kiss, all at the same time.
Personally, I don’t think much of my wardrobe choices when I’m gearing up for a set. In this male dominated industry where people listen to female artists with their eyes first, I probably should place more consideration into my outfits. However, on this particular Saturday night, visual aesthetics were the least of my concerns.
The WhineDown is a ‘women-only/no-cis gender heterosexual men-allowed’ event held every few months in changing locations within Nairobi. It is a celebration of the spectrum of women: straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, femme presenting, masculine presenting, or non-binary, in a safe space away from men because let’s be honest, most spaces are deemed unsafe for women due to the presence, and characters of men. Cue the #NotAllMen/Jordan Peterson/Andrew Tate/Andrew Kibe meninists.
At The Whinedown, you can dress as slutty as you want to, dance as provocatively as you want to, and nobody will bother you, attempt to grope you, or make unwanted advances.
I got to the venue too early but like my father always says, there’s no such thing as too early. And he was right. Because of my promptness, I got the perfect time slot as a result of a DJ backing out of the line-up last minute.
Initially, I had been allocated the earliest slot, 3-5 p.m. Something about the newest DJ to the roster playing first. That goose happened to be me.
Everyone knows that nobody in Nairobi shows up to night-long events while the sun is still shining. I surrendered to the fact that I would essentially be playing for an empty room. I shelved my usual party-starter set and prepped a new set. A milder one. For the few people who do show up to events in the daytime to tap their feet to, while they wait for their first round of drinks.
However, since I got to the venue early, I subsequently got tapped to fill in for the no-show DJ who had been scheduled for 9-10 p.m. Prime party-starting hours. You know what they say, the early bird catches the better set-time.
After a soundcheck and a short scratching lesson from DJ Shikkiey, I opened the event with a wave of Caribbean-infused tracks and R&B remixes to whet the listener’s taste buds and get them eager and excited for a night about to begin. As predicted, I played the first set to a total of around six people, seated at their table waiting for their first round of drinks.
Playing to an empty venue is something I’m already a bit too accustomed to in this chosen career path of mine. The tracks I play flirt in the 90-100 BPM range, soft and demure with a warm kick you can feel in the back of your throat. As long as the sound guys in the corner are feeling it and the guys at the table are unconsciously nodding their heads to the music amidst their conversation – that’s enough validation for me.
After an hour, Ziggie takes over the decks which she establishes dominion over for the next two hours. I found myself genuinely surprised by how similar our sound selections were. She even played ‘Lemonade’ by the late South African rapper AKA featuring Nasty C. A track I had included in my initial set prep but did not play, doubtful of the political correctness of playing an alleged domestic abuser’s song at an event meant to be a safe space for women. When Ziggie played it, the crowd didn’t care about AKA’s shady history. It’s a feel-good song doing exactly what it was created to do, make people feel good. While the artist [May he rest in peace] may have a dubious past, music is blameless. The line separating the artist and the art, sometimes, is a clear double-shaded permanent marker strike, like in the case of R.Kelly where streaming his music means you’re indirectly depositing money into his prison commissary fund. Sometimes, the line is a thin blur. Like in this specific case of one deceased South African rapper and one really good song about turning lemons into lemonade.
I get back on for my second set at the end of Ziggie’s two hours. It’s now 9 p.m. and I can play my real set. The sky is dark save for a struggling moon, and the venue is filling up faster than a water bottle dipped into the ocean. Slowly but surely, inhibitions are being shed. In the cover of darkness, people are less daunted by a dance floor and can dance to the beat of reckless abandon because in the night time, silhouettes are less visible to the human eye.
Radio presenter Sheila Kwamboka aka Kwamboxx joins me on stage about halfway through the set. The crowd of excited girls and non-binary persons react to her stage presence like she is their mother supreme, and they, her baby lambs. Bedazzled arms outreached and ringed fingers stretched towards the direction of the stage, in the hopes of touching Kwamboxx’s charismatic skin. Kwamboxx knows how to get a crowd going. Together, we amp up the energy.
My favorite selection of the night is a Pasquinel remix of The Dream’s ‘Gangsta Luv’. I rewind-selecta it two more times. In the last minutes of my set, I get word that R&B songstress The Only Rosa is ready for her performance. I wind down the set on a high octane note with a frenetic house remix of Sisqo’s ‘Thong Song’, a track I’ve played in one too many DJ sets but always a dancer’s delight.
As Only Rosa performs her hits such as ‘Onyi’ ‘Nyako’ ‘Shida Yako’ and ‘Onlyfans’, to name but a few – I took a moment to soak up the wholesome expressions of womanhood and femininity around me. It’s rare to witness women in a space without the influence of men, just being women in all their unabashed glory. It’s a beautiful sight to see.
The last DJ of the night is Kaneda and as soon as she sets foot on stage, the audience of women erupts in raucous joy. Kaneda’s set is a fast paced slam mix of all the hits of the 2000s and 2010s. The crowd hears a song that ignites their nostalgia, we whoop for joy, 30 seconds later, the song switches. Same reaction. To the surprise of both me and the revelers, Kaneda brings out surprise artists: Valerie Muthoni, Emma Cheruto, Brandy Maina, Fena Gitu. Each surprise act tickling at our anticipations, whispers of “Omg, who do you think she’s going to bring out next?” As an entertainer, Kaneda knows exactly what she’s doing.
I’m old and my bones creak. I leave before the night ends and my social battery reaches its end point. My phone and wallet are still intact, and my peace of mind is untarnished by unwanted attention, advances and the conscious/subconscious social navigation that women find themselves doing, anytime we occupy the same spaces as men.
Here’s to more women-only events.