I am the furthest thing possible from a connoisseur of Ugandan nightlife/live music. I’ve done the basic rounds: Rouge, Fat Boyz, Just Kickin, Bubbles, Mateo’s, Steakout, Al’s Bar, Punchline, Backpackers, the now defunct Blue Mango, Slow Boat. When I got malaria I sort of lost my will to live, or at least to go out, and lately I’ve been more content to stay in bed and watch Scrubs than to get all fancied up and leave the safety of Kisementi. Besides, I can hear the music from three bars plus the restaurant downstairs from here, anyway (lending to a weird sort of aural schizophrenia), so really, what’s the point?
Which brings me to Iguana. Formerly Wagadougou (cited in Lonely Planet as “a good place to retreat to if Just Kickin is too crowded”), this bar shut down late last year for renovations — renovations that took place approximately three feet from my bedroom window, starting at 7:00 AM and accompanied by the loudest radio I have ever heard. They reopened as Iguana a few months ago, and when I stopped by mid-February to check out the art gallery downstairs, I was handed an invitation to their Wednesday Jazz Night.
A friend was down from Gulu (which has a whole new scene of its own — that’s a post that’s been a long time in coming), so we decided to check it out. The invitation was pretty and demanded “dressy-casual” clothing, and we allowed this to get our hopes up. We didn’t exactly expect a live saxophonist, but we definitely weren’t prepared for the dubious delights of Jazz Night: a single Kenny G CD, played alternately with an uncensored version of Akon’s “I Wanna F*** You.”
Though I definitely liked Iguana’s Blue-Mango-like couches and open-air, lofted-roof, second-story atmosphere, I wrote it off after that. Most nights they play your standard Kampala fare (that is to say, a blend of Jay-Z, East African Bashment Crew, Blu*3 and oddly hiphop-ish Toto remixes) — all audible from my flat, where I can sit anywhere I want — and Jazz Night was truly, truly awful.
But as I’m sitting in bed on Wednesday, reading, I notice that something is drowning out the screaming and bad rap from Just Kickin and Fat Boyz — something good.
It’s jazz. Real jazz. Played by a real, live band. With an incredible female lead singer whose voice is sultry and smoky and sexy and kind of reminds me of the woman who sang in the bar in The Last King of Scotland, in a very good way (I told you I wasn’t a connoisseur).
I think about heading next door, but I decide to open my window instead. I’m closer to the band than I would be sitting in the back of the bar, and besides, I have a book to finish.
P.S. An hour later, they started playing Meghana Bhat, and when the band came back on after midnight, someone had acquired a cowbell. I will never understand the culture of music here.