This evening, I was unceremoniously kicked out of the DJ booth in our local bar Pumzika for playing electronic music. In Dadaab, some crimes are unforgivable.
Pumzika is the bar at UNHCR (the UN High Commisioner on Refugees. They run the compound, so their bar is pretty sweet.) The first night we visited the bar and I saw the raucous atmosphere and frequent guest DJs, and I became determined to DJ there. My friends know me as someone with eclectic music tastes – challenging but familiar, always fitting with the theme of the party but adding a little something extra. Little did I know what disaster would ensue.
The endeavor was ill-fated from the start. I jaunted towards the compound with our group, my orange speaker backpack on my back, holding a laptop filled with familiar African music, remixes of African music, and some funky mashups and dubstep tracks. When I arrived at the bar they said I would have to bring my own cable. A good deterrent to someone with lesser resolve, but ever-determined me jaunted back to FilmAid and borrowed Emmanuel’s audio cable. And the DJ set began.
Immediately, a kind but angry American (I later learned she was trying to keep her friend’s Jack Johnson playing) approached and asked me if I intended to DJ. “Yes,” I said. “It won’t go well,” she stated, and I began to wonder if she knew something I didn’t. “What do you mean?” I said. “I tried it, it didn’t work. The cables, they won’t work.” “So it’s a technical issue?” “Yeah.” “Don’t worry. I got it under control.” I had brought three cables. I was ready for anything.
After a long and difficult cable puzzle, we were finally ready. “Empire State of Mind” began the set. “New York in the House,” I conveyed merrily, oblivious to the impending musical doom. Then “Kids,” “I Fucking Bleed Purple and Gold,” “The Low Anthem,” and “Money Honey.” Lady Gaga saved me by a hair in this round.
Right around “House of Klezmer” and some David Guetta, the enthusiastic dancing gave way to manic discontent. The Kenyans, acting as a hive mind, came up with one way after another to get me to stop DJing. I had people running up to me asking for more reggae, more rap, requests which quickly gave way to demands that I give up the music. At the same time, I attracted every American in the club, one of whom outright asked for the whole mix on flash drive.
Dubstep was the tipping point, and my Tek-One track brought a flurry of discussion and an intervention from the bartender. Before I knew what was happening, another laptop was opened next to mine and a woman was playing with the audio cable that was attached to my computer. The cable I brought!
She started playing her own stuff, and I’ll have to grudgingly admit that she was a great DJ. She played stuff that I love to dance to, but I was hoping to push the envelope beyond reggae and Shania Twain. Ah well.
I learned an important lesson tonight. You can bring your movies. You can bring your gadgets and your recipes, and your accent and pretty much your entire culture. But don’t ever — EVER — play dubstep in Dadaab.
Maybe I’ll try again in Kakuma…