Frank Znort Quartet hits Kampala

“Somebody has to tell me if it’s 110 volts!”

“Do we have any more light filters? Like green, maybe?”

“How many beers do we get?”

I was struggling to unload and set up some of the equipment, and being the liaison between the band and the venue, I was also the one with all the answers, presumably.

The Frank Znort Quartet had arrived the previous day; fifteen or so musicians fresh from Norway coming to tour through Kampala. Organizing this tour had been the bulk of my responsibilities for the past four weeks. I wrote and distributed proposals and contracts to venues, pushing for any possible perks. I asked corporations for sponsorship money and got none. In the day, I would try my best to publicize the tour with posters and Facebook chatter, even as performance dates changed or were cancelled daily. Finally, the unfamiliar work I was doing, negotiating and meeting and compromising, became real when the band touched down in the middle of the night.

FZQ

Frank Znort Quartet in action

The Frank Znort Quartet has a rich history. Fourteen years ago, the band was actually a quartet, for one thing. The group plays regularly every Sunday at a joint called Blå in Oslo, and makes world tours to places like Jamaica and Tanzania, at every opportunity. They even recorded their latest album Perler fra Svin, at Abbey Road in London. As the group gained popularity, so did it gain musical variety and members, gradually becoming the fifteen piece troupe we see today where everyone takes part in the jazz, rock, calypso, and ska. Even the sound engineer and photographer are joyously dragged into the spotlight for their vocal input.

And the Sunday performance tradition? It’s serious. For fourteen years, the band has never failed to perform on a Sunday. The band’s tagline is both a testament to their tradition and a warning to audiences: “We fuck up your Mondays!”

“We do play every Sunday,” said Johannes, the big upright bass player, emphasizing each word. “Once when we were touring, a Sunday flight made the most sense. We were in Gatwick in London for a layover, and we needed to play! So we found the nearest bar to the airport and called them, saying ‘We are going to come play whether you like it or not.'”

The Sunday date I had planned was originally an ‘off’ day. “If you don’t book us for something on Sunday, we’ll just play in the street or something.” Now they’re scheduled to play at a recreational beach on Lake Victoria.

The Groove

The Groove, Luzira, Kampala

Their first show took place last night. La Bonita, a theater-style venue at the center of town, was originally planned to take on this first gig as part of a comedy night. Confusion at the last minute led to a cancellation, however, and we scrambled to look for a replacement; a blank slot on the first day  of the tour would be a sour beginning.

Help found us, though. A bar manager named Paul who the band met on a nighttime poster-placement sojourn thought it would be a great idea to bring the band to his wife’s new bar, called The Groove, on the outskirts of metro Kampala. I met with Paul and Tina the next day, the day of the proposed gig, and talked terms. Of all the managers I’d spoken with, these two were the most receptive by far, offering to arrange transport, food and beer. A relief, as the show would begin only hours later.

Sidney, Singer

The show? Phenomenal. In spite of  borrowed equipment and the lack of a stage, FZQ made themselves right at home on the roadside veranda, displaying all the prowess and co-ordination you might expect from a 14 year old Scandinavian ‘quartet’. The show was packed with unexpected covers and unique originals, excellent vocals by a number of singers, and a full, clean accompaniment by the boys blowing brass instruments. What’s more, every member was smiling, joking, and jiving the whole night. Strong presence! Great execution! Infections energy!

“We love this kind of gig!” Paul, the Norwegian sound man told me. Looking around during the break-down process, I daresay everyone at the bar shared this sentiment.

Eight more shows? With music and characters of this caliber, I hardly mind.

6 responses to “Frank Znort Quartet hits Kampala

  1. Pete!
    You did a job beyond whats possible! To have you working for us was the best setup we ever could have in Kampala!
    One of the finest friends this band ever made! Looking forward to meet up with you again.( and with a surname like that it would be natural to visit Oslo!?)
    Thanx, repect and thanks again!
    Sef

    • Thanks, Sef!
      The experience was both overwhelming and rewarding. I feel my job was made easy due to the band’s adaptability and professionalism. It was an absolute pleasure to work with you and to enjoy your music live for eight nights in a row. Do keep in touch! I’d love to see how everything turns out.

      Norway’s sounding pretty good, and better now that i have some friends there. I reckon I’ll make it that way some day. You can show me some sailing.

      gracias amigo,
      Pete

  2. Hi Sef, this is Christine. The lady that works for 4Africa, an NGO that was started by Norwegians. As per out discussion, kindly send me your details to my email. We met while you were at Tilapia in Bunga Kampala. Do you mind sending me your email number again. The ones I have tried are bouncing back. I enjoyed the show and hopefully you will come back soon.

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