Working with the Frank Znort Quartet as a much more rewarding experience than I could have imagined previously. I was commissioned by David, the owner of Tilapia Culture, to organize a tour for a large group of Norwegians I’d never heard of before who would be coming to Kampala only weeks later. I had never done any kind of music management, and would be paid almost nothing, but it was just the sort of crazy task that an otherwise aimless vagabond like myself likes to get involved in. Plus, I have a don’t ask don’t tell relationship with music which is as healthy as anyone’s. Why the hell not?
The next day, we put the band’s latest album on the stereo in the bar and began to discuss just what we had to do. We needed eight venues booked, some sponsors, some sound equipment, posters, flyers, and a flatbed truck to put the band on as a publicity stunt. All the while my excitement was mounting as their album issued from the speakers above our heads, sprinkling me with danceable flecks of ska, rock, and calypso.
Days rolled past, and the list of things to nail down became more and more daunting. Some venues loved the idea and jumped on it, while others loved it but were cheapskates. By the end, we scrapped sponsorship seeking and a few other things which seemed superfluous; we needed to secure venues before anything else – otherwise the band would not be able to deliver their music to the public – and even that was proving difficult. From time to time I would correspond with the band’s organizer in Norway, trying to be both honest and reassuring about our progress. Not easy.
Soon the day arrived when David and I went to meet the Norsemen (and woman) in their hotel in town. I was glad to finally meet this mysterious band, to put a faces to the vocals and instrumentals I’d been listening to regularly. We had beers and discussed the week to come, and predictably, David and I began explaining some of our organizational shortcomings. I remember thinking no need to be intimidated. Musicians don’t bite. Indeed they don’t. Instead they immediately presented me with a couple beers and a vinyl pressing of their latest album – a double disk affair of superb quality.
The Frank Znort Quartet has for years been appealing to the Norwegian government – specifically the foreign affairs ministry – for help in their musical activities abroad. Parts of the band have toured through many countries over the years, sharing their music and pushing for music education for impoverished youth, among other things.
This time around, their pleas were answered, and their government paid for flights, lodging, and board for the seventeen-piece band to take their Norwegian talent to Uganda, where they already had roots instructing and donating instruments to the Superstar Brass Band, a local group of young musicians.
Thus they were obliged to fulfill and document a certain amount of cultural exchanging. Culture practically gushed out of them over their ten day stay in Uganda, flowing forth in the form of further musical instruction to the Superstar Brass Band, daytime sojourns into off-track villages for impromptu performances (which alarmed local authorities), and of course the eight consecutive nights of feature length performances organized by David and I. Proof of cultural co-operation was recorded on film and a number of cameras which will be edited and hopefully presented on Norway’s public television station. Further proof of interaction, a thick stack of receipts, will be presented to the band’s sponsors upon their safe return, along with a (highly justified) request for compensation.
After their first performance, I pledged to attend each one and dance as much as possible, even if I was the only shameless soul with enough grit to dance all alone. I felt that being present in support of the band would make up for being unable to score free beer at a given venue. Not that I really needed to pledge anything: the music is so damn catchy that there’s almost no way not to dance.
Professional Without the Pomp
They might not call themselves professionals, being true, humble musicians. But the fact is that the people of the Frank Znort Quartet a) are good at what they do, b) have their priorities straight, and c) ooze musical appreciation and inspiration. And all of this without a squirt of conceit.
That they were willing to push for the go-ahead by their government and execute a tour in a poor country where their music is completely unknown and not ask for payment speaks volumes. It shows that they aren’t in it for the money, and that they see the value in what they have to share. That they were capable of dealing with the meager, malfunctioning equipment night after night without complaint, and actually produce impeccable sound is a testament to their prowess.
“It’s my pleasure,” I would say anytime one of the band’s members would thank me for some service I had rendered, be it hauling equipment or dancing heartily, and I meant it. There was plenty of difficulty and exhaustion in this tour for me, but all the while I knew I was really contributing to something big and amusing. Of the eight months I’ve spent in Uganda, those eight or nine days of the FZQ tour were the most fulfilling: a concentrate of hard work and intense music and bad dancing and new friends and Norwegian profanity.
On the last day of the tour, we had originally booked some rock venue. The venue was stingy as hell however, and thus the show was cancelled on principle (if you can’t, at the very least, pay for a band to show up at your bar, then forget it), and by the end the weary musicians just wanted to relax anyway. Instead of a performance then, the band, the organizers, the grips, and other involved parties (pretty girls) gathered at My Chuchi, a favorite restaurant. Beers were had, jokes were told. I enjoyed the first decent dish of spaghetti bolognaise I had had for months. But more than anything I enjoyed more stories by the band and talk of music.
“Thank you guys so much for all your work,” came one parting gesture, “We couldn’t have done it without you,” came another, aimed at the Kampala side of this whole operation. “You guys are really doing it for the music!”
Looking around the room there in My Chuchi, it became clear to me that everyone around our table was there on that day and in that place, fundamentally, for the music. We didn’t lift loads in and out of trucks for money. They didn’t tour through Kampala for fame. If the reader will permit me a puff of sentiment: it was all for the love, for the life, for the sake of that mysteriously powerful force of rhythm and melody that moves us.
“Well, heck,” came my arduously understated, heavily accented response. “It’s my pleasure!”
See you in Norway.