BLANKETS & WINE XI – REVIEWING A KENYAN SUMMER
The Blankets and Wine Festival has been a mainstay in Kenya’s entertainment scene for over a decade and continues to be a platform for the best Kenya has to offer. Catering to everyone including families, it’s a gateway to the contemporary Kenyan urban middle-class culture at large; combining music, fashion, food and art in a fun-filled event.
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January is traditionally a time of great famine and drought – financially, of course. Pestilence afflicts wallets across the land. Thus, an event on that first weekend teeters on a thin line. Capitalize on the dying fumes of the festivities past or risk the barrenness of bleak beginnings that is the start of the year. Well, MDQ, whose brainchild Blankets & Wine is now over a decade old, rolled the dice and planned a twofer. One right before Christmas and the other just after New Year’s. Yours truly was blessed enough to attend both.
The grounds were at the Ngong Racecourse, off Ngong Road. A fine location with lots of space and easily accessible from the CBD. Gates were open officially as of 12 pm but of course, the fun usually starts in the afternoon. Tickets were Kes. 2,000, 3,000 and 3,500 for the early bird, advanced and gate tickets respectively. As advertised, there is a lot more to the festival than just the music.
You are encouraged to carry a bottle of wine and a Maasai blanket as per the name. Alternatively, you can purchase them at a variety of vendors on location. Truly a boujee paradise for the urban middle-class Kenyan, there was everything you could want. Locally brewed craft beer, funky fashion pieces from Kenyan designers, jewellery makers and so much more.
Complimenting the handcrafted stands were also sections with the big boy names, awash with their own products. Singleton, Johnnie Walker and a host of other brands all had swanky tents set up, complete with comfy seats and tables with chilled buckets of drinks as the centrepieces. Dedicated bars were onsite to ensure your thirst for cold ones was well quenched. Options were what it was about. You could have your drink and jam to the music all while watching the concert via the multiple screen setups availed or you could go right up to the base of the stage and wild out. The choice was yours. A good choice in my opinion.
To add to the well-thought-out setup was also the Onja Onja section. Literally translating to ‘taste taste’ in Kiswahili, this was B&W’s food section and of course, it was tantalizing. Seeing rows and rows of beef and chicken roasting on grills always fills my heart with content – because my belly will be filled with food. I’m a simple man. Sumptuous stir-fried pork and a soda later, my body was ready. Add in a rotating roster of DJs to give the area a different vibel and the kids zone close by, you could literally have a good time right there.
The live performance though was the main draw and blown away, I was. The roster for the entire #KenyanSummer, as it was hyped, was potent. Everyone from Mbithi, Kash Kaaria, Prisca Ojwang’, Sol Generation, Kagwe, Fena to the headliners Goldlink and Koffee all performed over both events. The musical range was amazingly vast and varied. The enigmatic Kabochi hypnotized with his dark, psychedelic yet funky and upbeat tracks while Koffee’s reggae banger ‘Toast’ had the crowd chanting hysterically. Sol Generation’s Nviiri and Bensoul, of course, dominated their sets and had the sizeable crowd running wild thanks to their super hits ‘Pombe Sigara’ and ‘Lucy’. Wielding that effect too were artists such as Kagwe and the legendary Blinky Bill, who brought on surprise guest artist Octopizzo. I get why FOMO is a thing and these editions proved it. There is something that you just can’t replicate on a record.
The only caveats were the misbehaving weather for the first edition which would have been countered by a dome but more so were the cases of insecurity. Reports on social media drew attention to theft during the event and muggings as people dispersed after the conclusion. The Blankets & Wine team, thankfully, did address said mishaps and adjustments were made for the January edition. Overall, both events were a success judging by the number of revellers who showed up and enjoyed themselves.
Kenyan music has been steadily growing and evolving over the past few decades and with events such as this, the potential for musical cross-pollination rises exponentially. Music and culture go hand in hand. Thus Blankets & Wine, coupled with Koroga, Africa Nouveau and so many others are well suited to exporting Kenyan music to the next level.