“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.
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.
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.
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.