I arrived in Zambia only a few days after the news of President Sata’s death. While international media focused on the fact that Sata’s temporary successor was Vice President Guy Scott, a white man, this obviously didn’t come as much surprise to most Zambians. What I found more interesting than the political gossip following Sata’s death was that only gospel music was permitted to be played in public places until the mourning period was officially declared over.
On my first Friday in Lusaka I accompanied some friends to a club called Hollywood City. I had actually been to Hollywood City during my visit to Zambia the previous year and although the club looked the same as before, there were far fewer people.
Hollywood City looks like a giant warehouse in a somewhat abandoned part of town. The street outside is always packed with cars and party people dancing to the music blasting from the club. You don’t even need to go into the club to party as much of the dancing and fun happens on the street and around the entrance to Hollywood City. Inside, the club is one massive room with a DJ booth in the center and very high ceilings. Couches, tables, and a bar line the walls of the room leaving room for a spacious dance floor.
While the first time I went to Hollywood City it was packed with people all the way from the street to the dance floor, this time, there was only a moderate crowd. It only took a few minutes to realize that the smaller crowd was at least partially because the music was restricted to gospel. The club was emptier than usual because drinking and dancing to gospel music is awkward and even inappropriate.
As a result, most people were just hanging out and dancing a bit tentatively. The only few times in which people really felt comfortable dancing was when one particular track came on, a track called “Adonai” by Ghanaian artists Sakodie. Check it out:
We must have heard this track ten times that evening. While still considered gospel music, the track sounds a bit more like other popular hip hop and pop songs which makes it easier for dancing. The other convenient thing about this track is that most people don’t understand the lyrics given that it isn’t in any Zambian or even Southern African language. Perhaps, Ben, you have met someone who knows the meaning of the song?
After a short week in Lusaka, I headed out to the Copperbelt and specifically to the city of Ndola, where I’m living for the next nine months.
I had spent a few days in Ndola during my previous trip to Zambia but was still very unfamiliar with the city. Fortunately, I had a few old friends to help show me around, get me sorted with an apartment, and even show me around some of the city’s clubs. Within just a week I had been introduced to DJ Eazy T, the regular DJ at arguably the most popular club in town, Eastpoint. Eastpoint is an especially popular club for young people because there is no cover charge at the door and it’s conveniently located in the center of town which makes it accessible without a car or taxi.
DJ Eazy T at Eastpoint
Shortly after I met Eazy T at Eastpoint, he offered to begin helping me learn to DJ. I began to hang out at the club almost every night, learning to mix music as well as to understand the inner workings of club and its clientele. He also kindly introduced me to the CEO of SunFM, one of the most popular radio stations in Ndola, who invited me not only to spend time at the station, but also to go on air on a regular basis. Since then, I have been able to go on air several times a week and get used to the operational practices at Sun FM.
While I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made so far in establishing connections with local DJs and radio presenters, among other important individuals in the industry, I’ve found myself newly interested in exploring the role of women in these spaces. I’ve been able to become good acquaintances with several of the women who work at Eastpoint either as bathroom attendants, bartenders, or waitresses. These women work almost every day from 7pm until the club closes somewhere around 4 – 6am, depending on the night of the week. Even once the club closes the women can’t go home right away because there are no busses that run at that hour. The women make around 100USD per month. Aside from women who work more formally at the club, the majority of the other women in the club on regular basis are working on another level. Whether looking to find a wealthy boyfriend or more explicitly exchanging some kind of sexual act for money or drinks, it’s clear that the club employees are not the only women working the club. While I’m only just beginning to form relationships with some of these women–many of whom are also in the club almost every night–I am very curious to know more about their lifestyle. I hope that within the upcoming weeks I will be able to begin developing these relationships, if it is appropriate, and see how their stories intersect with youth music culture here in Ndola.