Tag: entertainment

Zimbabwe’s comedians draw tears of laughter in troubled times

 Victor Mpofu aka Doc Vikela performs during his stand-up comedy at the Bang Bang Club in Harare, on February 26 2015. (Pic: AFP)
Victor Mpofu aka Doc Vikela performs during his stand-up comedy at the Bang Bang Club in Harare, on February 26 2015. (Pic: AFP)

With Zimbabwe’s economy on its knees and life a daily struggle for most people, there is one luxury that many can surprisingly still afford — laughter.

“We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at funerals. We laugh even when things are not going well for us and we should be moaning and groaning,” says award-winning dramatist and poet Chirikure Chirikure.

Out of difficult times, with unemployment rampant and poverty widespread, a new generation of comedians has emerged to give the stressed nation’s funny-bone a much-needed tickle.

Simuka Comedy – made up of Victor Mpofu, better known by his stage name Doc Vikela or simply The Doctor, Michael Kudakwashe, Samm Monro and Comic King – attract full houses to their regular shows at The Book Café, a popular arts joint in the capital Harare.

The young comics spare no sacred cows as they poke fun at anyone from veteran President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace to corrupt traffic police officers, former white commercial farmers and local celebrities.

Donning a doctor’s white coat and stethoscope, Mpofu dishes out what he calls “doses” of humour to audiences sick of hard times after 15 years of economic decline blamed on the policies of Mugabe’s government.

The “Doctor” has his audience in tears of laughter as he imitates the 91-year-old president announcing the list of countries he has just visited on one of his frequent trips abroad – while the government can’t find the money to pay civil servants’ salaries.

He also takes a dig at Mugabe’s 35 years in office.

“Zimbabweans, for all our literacy – with a 99.9995 percent literacy rate – we are the only country that will fail to answer a simple question: who is your former president?”

For many, Mugabe, who has been in power since independence in 1980, is the only leader they have known.

Explaining the growing popularity of their shows, Mpofu said relentless hard times made people look for comic relief.

“Humour is a medically proven stress reliever,” he told AFP.

“Things are tight and people need something to take the stress off their lives. People would rather spend their little cash laughing and drinking.”

Comedy fan and regular showgoer Enright Tsambo agreed, while noting that the drinking part of a night out was seriously limited by a lack of cash.

“We can’t afford to drink as much as possible so some of us just buy one beer and spend an evening laughing at a comedy show,” he said. “It takes the stress away.”

In a country where insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to a year in prison, the comedians have found a way of tackling serious issues without making direct statements, so they get away with jokes that could get ordinary citizens arrested.

Fun and trouble

Away from the comedy venues, Zimbabweans share jokes across social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp and through street theatre shows – and some of them have landed in trouble.

“We have had several cases where people have been prosecuted for freely expressing themselves and in most cases they will just be sharing or cracking a joke,” said Kumbirai Mafunda, spokesman for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

He cited the examples of a woman facing charges of insulting Mugabe after she sent a picture on WhatsApp purportedly showing the president in the nude, and a man who was arrested for joking that Mugabe was so old he would have a hard-time blowing up his birthday balloons during national celebrations earlier this year.

Mpofu’s colleague Samm Monro, better known by his stage name Comrade Fatso, pokes fun at the internal feuding which has seen factions in Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party waging bitter fights among themselves in the race to succeed him.

“Zanu-PF is the biggest opposition to Zanu-PF and now what is (opposition leader) Morgan Tsvangirai supposed to do?” Monro queried in one of his sold-out acts at the recent Harare International Arts Festival.

The University of Zimbabwe also came in for ribbing as the record holder for the fastest conferment of a doctorate – after Mugabe’s wife Grace was awarded a PhD three months after registering.

Monro is also among newscasters on the satirical Zambezi News, which parodies the state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, renowned for its pro-government spin.

Zambezi News bulletins, shown online on YouTube and on stage, feature characters such as the Minister of Impending Projects and the Minister of Mines, who owns a mine called Mine Mine – “because it’s mine”.

In the news bulletins white farmers whose properties were expropriated during the country’s controversial land reforms – partly blamed for the country’s economic collapse – are called “formers or farmers because most of them are former farmers”.

One of the country’s top production houses has produced a play, All Systems Out of Order, portraying the collapse of amenities such as public toilets as a symbol of the state of the country.

“There is so much pain, and people find solace in looking at themselves and laughing at themselves,” said theatre producer and actor Obrien Mudyiwenyama.

A night out in the world’s second most expensive city

Luanda: a city where everyone seems to have money, kids drive better cars than some senior execs in New York do and attending a mundane New Year’s Eve party costs at least $100. For the past few years now, the Angolan capital I call home has had the dubious distinction of being ranked as one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, city in the world for expats. The latest reports by Mercer and ECA International rank Luanda second on the list.

Many an article about exorbitant prices has been written by a foreign correspondent while sipping on a $10 latte in one of the city’s $482-a-night hotel rooms. At the notoriously pricey Casa dos Frescos, a supermarket that caters to expats, a melon can cost almost $100 (Luandans jokingly call it melão de ouro or the golden melon), while a rather small burger at the Epic Sana hotel will set you back a cool $25.

Excessive, right? Especially so in a city where an estimated two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day. As Lula Ahrens explains in this excellent post, there are two main reasons behind these exorbitant prices: a crippling civil war and general corruption. After three decades of sustained civil war that lasted until 2002, the country’s infrastructure was decimated and important industries such as agriculture and manufacturing never had a chance to develop in an independent Angola. As a result, almost everything has to be imported. Corruption and an entrenched bureaucracy further drive up the price of goods, as does the high demand for limited supply of housing, foodstuffs, and luxury items. Luanda is a booming oil town that attracts expats; they, in turn, demand certain products and services that are in short supply in the country.

If you’re visiting Luanda and want a good time, you’ll need cash – lots of it, preferably in US dollars. Conventional wisdom will tell you that when visiting a foreign city it’s always better to go out with a local, and this could not be truer in Angola. Locals will help you navigate the fluid Luandan nightlife scene and keep the notoriously unfriendly bouncers at bay. The savvy ones will also show you how to party without breaking the bank.

Visitors will quickly realise that there are two Luandas: the formal, established Luanda frequented by expats and the local elites, and the vast, informal, sprawling Luanda of musseques (slums) where the majority of residents live. This divide will immediately become apparent when you notice the sheer number of unemployed street sellers snaking their way through traffic. The streets are Luanda’s true marketplace where many citizens buy their wares. They also shop at open air markets which sell everything from fresh meat to shoes to vacuum cleaners to mirrors.

Luanda cityscape at dusk. (Reuters)
Luanda cityscape at dusk. (Reuters)

As any great night always does, yours should begin with food. On my blog Luanda Nightlife you’ll find many restaurant reviews which are organised by price so you won’t be shocked when your bill arrives. Alternatively, you can always ask locals for restaurant options. The good ones will point you to places where all the foreigners hang out; the best ones will give you the option of eating with Angolans or foreigners. If they decide on the latter, your destination will most likely be the Ilha (Island) area, a peninsula jutting out towards the Atlantic Ocean with one side facing the Luanda Bay and the other facing the Atlantic.

The Ilha is the perfect microcosm of Luanda’s reality: opulence coexisting with abject poverty. For first-time visitors, this juxtaposition of wealth and poverty can be jarring. Porsche Cayennes and BMW X6s compete for space with the city’s ubiquitous candongueiros (taxi vans). You’ll find women in colourful traditional dress on the side streets grilling fish their husbands caught, while down the same street posh restaurants will be serving the same dish to patrons for much, more more.

It is on this strip that you will find some of Luanda’s best restaurants: Cais de Quatro, renowned for its international cuisine and fantastic views of the city from across the bay; Vais e Cais, a bay-side restaurant specialising in fresh seafood; and Luanda’s own Chimarrão, which borrows the rodízio concept from Brazil and turns into an open air club at night. A meal at any of these restaurants costs an average of $60; add about $30 if you plan on having drinks.

Further down the Ilha, past the mansions standing side-by-side with slums, past what was once the zoo, past ‘billionaire’ Isabel dos Santos‘s Miami Beach restaurant, you will find Chill Out, Coconuts and Lookal, which are all rated among the city’s best restaurants. At trendy, cosmopolitan Chill Out don’t expect to pay less than $100 for your full meal. Stay a bit longer and the place will turn into a house-heavy open-air ocean-side club full of expats and ladies of the night. Coconuts is more understated; it’s a favourite among locals and expats alike. Despite its beach-side location there is no party after dinner.

Lookal currently seems to be everyone’s favourite spot. It’s a bar, lounge, restaurant, club and beach all rolled into one; the seafood is fantastic, the beer is cold and the music is loud. Your wallet will be about $70 lighter after a meal here. At night, all the girls and their cash-wielding boyfriends come out and several DJs compete for influence over its vast dance floor. There are regular live shows as well. Last year Taboo from Black Eyed Peas made an appearance; a couple of years before that house DJ Erick Morillo played to a sold-out venue.

If your Angolan guide chooses a restaurant favoured by locals – as a true guide should – you’re in luck and so is your wallet. You see, Angolans are inherently extroverted people who love a good meal and a good party; we’ve been enjoying fantastic food in reasonably priced restaurants well before Luanda made it onto Mercer’s ratings. Among the more down-to-earth restaurants in Luanda is La Vigia, a type of Angolan open-air ‘bistro’ that’s frequented by locals and visitors alike. It’s famous for its massive grilled grouper or any other fish really. A meal here costs about $35.

If you end up on the Ilha anyway, Casa do Peixa da Bela has what many have called the best mufete in town.  This traditional Angolan dish consists of grilled fish accompanied by beans stewed in a palm oil sauce, boiled plantains and a delicious onion and parsley vinaigrette to baste your fish with. In nearby Quintal do Tio Jorge, you can enjoy traditional Angolan cuisine while listening to live Cape Verdean music. It’s in a backyard, it’s not the cleanest, you will probably encounter the local drunkard, but a cold Cuca (the local beer) costs $1.50, the delicious fried squid starter is $10 and a heaped plate of fish with potatoes, palm oil beans and banana won’t cost you more than $15-$20.

 Quintal do Tio Jorge serves the best squid in the city. The restaurant, run by a proud Cape Verdean, has become an institution in Luanda.(Pic: Claudio Silva)
Quintal do Tio Jorge serves the best squid in the city. The restaurant, run by a proud Cape Verdean, has become an institution in Luanda.(Pic: Claudio Silva)

To get your dance on, head to Maiombe instead of Lookal. It’s a genuine Luandan club with booming kizomba, zouk, kuduro and Congolese music. $20 will get you entry and several drinks. W Klub and Brasília are two other local favourites where you can have a decidedly local experience for very reasonable prices. But the best, of course, is to get invited to a proper Angolan party in a resident’s backyard. Those are free and invariably more fun.

Claudio Silva is an Angolan living in New York City. He has also spent time in Washington DC, Lisbon, Reading (UK) and attended university in Boston. In 2009, he started Caipirinha Lounge, a music blog dedicated to Lusophone music. Claudio contributes to several other blogs including Africa is a Country and Central Angola 7311. Connect with him on Twitter.

A male-only soapie for Egyptians this Ramadan

On the set of Coffee Shop, a new Egyptian soap opera to be televised next month, there was a decidedly male presence. The director was male, so too the scriptwriter. The producers were also men. The lighting operator was a man, as were the sound team. Weirder still, all the actors were men. In fact, of the 30-strong cast and crew scurrying around the set, not one was a woman.

It is this that sets Coffee Shop apart from the dozens of other soaps that will be aired in Egypt throughout Ramadan, the month-long fast that is also Egypt’s busiest and most lucrative TV season. Specially commissioned multi-episode soaps have been enjoyed by families during Ramadan since the 1960s and are often associated with romantic storylines and female stars. Controversially, Coffee Shop will have neither. Its cast is male only.

“The basic aim of the series,” said Sayed Said, Coffee Shop‘s creator and chief scriptwriter, during a break in filming, “is to show that you can make a good show without depicting naked women.”

Said conceded it was possible to make good television that featured women – “as long as they’re veiled”. But he argued that even veiled women were not a necessary part of his show since Coffee Shop is set in a street café, a largely male environment in Egypt.

Each episode will centre on arguments between two cafe regulars – Amr, an Egyptian patriot, and his friend Sherif, who hankers after a western lifestyle. “Every time Amr ends up being right,” said Said, “and Sherif ends up being wrong.”

‘Different from western ideas’
Said dreamed up the concept after becoming frustrated by the sexualised content of other Ramadan series, which he believes is offensive to Egypt’s conservative population. “I’m just trying to reflect the opinions of the everyday Egyptian citizen,” he said.

“Our idea of art is very different from western ideas,” agreed director Wagdi Elarabi, rehearsing lines elsewhere on set – a real-life cafe in a semi-rural settlement just west of Cairo. “In Europe, Parliaments agree that boys can marry boys. But [here] that is forbidden.”


Men play backgammon on the streets in a public coffee shop decorated for Ramadan in Cairo on September 1 2010. (Pic: Reuters)
Men play backgammon on the streets in a public coffee shop decorated for Ramadan in Cairo on September 1 2010. (Pic: Reuters)

Coffee Shop will be broadcast on al-Hafez, a new channel that caters for Salafists – ultra-conservatives who seek to mimic what they believe to have been the lifestyle of ninth-century Muslims. Last Ramadan, al-Hafez broadcast a reality series that featured teenagers competing to memorise as much of the Qur’an as possible.

“It’s a response to the accusation that the Islamic media is very backward and uncreative,” said al-Hafez’s owner, Atef Abdel-Rashid, of his channel’s output. “We’re trying to show that it is creative and that we understand drama.”

For some, Coffee Shop will be further evidence that Egyptian culture has become more conservative since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The series comes a fortnight after the controversial appointment of a new culture minister, who – supposedly sympathetic to conservative thought – has fired several leading members of the Egyptian cultural establishment. It also follows the opening of a segregated Salafi café in a middle-class district in Cairo, and a segregated hotel in the otherwise westernised resort of Hurghada.

Said believes his show taps into mainstream Egyptian conservatism. “The purpose of drama is to reflect society,” he said, “but in [other Ramadan series] they use sex to sell the shows, and in my opinion that does not reflect Egyptian society.”

But others contested his view. “An all-male show can’t be reflective of society if it doesn’t have any women,” said Yara Goubran, star of a rival Ramadan series next month.

For Goubran, Coffee Shop is also an anomaly amid the wider context of Egyptian television. Just as some artists say they feel freer to express themselves since 2011, Goubran says directors are more prepared to depict liberal lifestyles in Egyptian soaps, which she believes most viewers have welcomed.

“It’s ironic that al-Hafez is emerging at a time when TV drama has never been more liberal, or taken so many risks,” agreed film critic Joe Fahim.

“There’s lots of sexual innuendoes now and themes that touch on sex in a way that would have seemed unimaginable in the past.”

More generally, Coffee Shop‘s deference to religious conservatism comes as another crop of Ramadan series seeks to question the hypocrisy of certain religious conservatives.

Three of this July’s most keenly awaited series (The Preacher, Without Mentioning Names, and The Second Wife) will depict religious figures who abuse their authority for political gain – a plotline that could be interpreted as a veiled dig at the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies, who have weathered similar criticisms from their opponents.

“What al-Hafez is doing is not only futile, but it doesn’t really make any sense,” said Fahim. “Not only do they misunderstand the public, but also they are in complete denial of the reality of the Egyptian street.”

Fahim said that while Islamist groups may have emerged strongest in Egypt’s 2012 parliamentary elections, it did not necessarily follow that the country was culturally as conservative as the parties it voted for.

The week the Brotherhood’s allies were elected, the No 1 film at the Egyptian box office was Haram Street, a sexually charged feature at odds with Brotherhood thought. “The same people who went to see Haram Street voted the Muslim Brotherhood into Parliament,” Fahim argued. “Writers are really pushing the button in a way that would have been unforeseeable in the past – and it’s all happening under the Muslim Brotherhood’s reign.”

Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian

New TV drama on SA screens

Isibaya is a new Zulu television drama series on South African screens. It is set against the backdrop of South Africa’s taxi industry and tells the story of a generational battle for wealth and power between the Zungus and the Ndlovus, two rival families that live in Thukela Valley. In the past, the two families battled over cattle but the taxi business has become the new hot commodity. Scenes depicting the Ndlovu home were filmed at taxi legend Godfrey Moloi’s mansion in Protea-Glen, Soweto. Moloi, known as the godfather of Soweto, was also the inspiration behindIsibaya. For more about Isibaya, read Rhodé Marshall’s review.


Rock on down to Electric Avenue

Disco lights shine through the jet of piss arching from the groin of an ill-mannered youth to the dusty face of the street. The lights spectacularly change the urine’s usual beer-tinted jaundice to a glorious mix of green, red, blue, pink and, yes, purple, in rapid succession. It is the randomised colours of the rainbow, a celebration of life.

After a record-breaking long piss, the arc lazily breaks into a straight line of a trickle, then splutters to a sudden stop. A quick shake follows, breaching the mandatory three, and becomes a small act of self-gratification. Etiquette kicks in; he zips and the games begin.

Welcome to Electric Avenue, the epicentre of Nairobi’s nightlife.

The city’s classes are well represented in the sample here: clowns, ladies and gentlemen of the night, civil servants, wannabe artists, cooks and watchmen, corporate and chief executive types, taxi drivers, students, informal pharmacists and their victims — and even some grannies. On Electric Avenue, they are all sexogenerians.

The sun goes down, as a matter of habit, at a few minutes to seven. It is a vagary of living close to the equator and a chime for the aficionados of the nightly arts to serenade the town. Participant observation is the best way to appreciate the unfolding drama.

Behold the street wildlife. There is a pageant of antelopes. They glide by high in seven-inch heels, balancing their unearthly forms in bipedal locomotion. They seem to have no kneecaps. Waistlines are kept within bounds with “figure belts” — that remnant of the Eighties, minus the trademark butterfly of that befuddled decade. A delicate neckline peeks above the forced cleavage. The skin at the bottom of the neck is given texture by rashes, a virulent symptom of black skin angrily reacting to dead or fake Indian hair. It is the kind of picture that appears on the Men against Weaves and Extensions Facebook group, collateral damage for the battle between contrived aesthetics and dermatology.

The lions sit easy in wait for game. Their flaccid tummies sag with gravity. Too heavy to climb high trees, they go for low-hanging fruit. Darker hair means more years. Like Mugabe, like Gaddafi, like Biya, the shoe polish-like dye to blame. Their big bright collars pop out of their brightly coloured shirts to frame their fat napes, double chins and rotund cheeks, like a coconut fruit popping from the bum of a fully unfurled peacock. They might be red-hot gay, if not for their unshapely potbellies or choice of aftershave, or their patent homophobia.

Then there is the matriarchal, late-thirty something, six-strong girl pack sitting at a lone loud table in the middle of the club. These female hyenas are ready to chew off any intruding males’ ears. The crux of the evening’s conversation is punctuated by the occasional complaint about a dark spot that stubbornly refuses to go away, praises for acetone-free nail polish, Woolworths underwear, the wonder-working wrinkle cream and the comfortable seats of the little car. Among mankind, only Steve the mechanic gets positive mention. He knows how to fasten wheel caps.

The lions don’t pay attention, not even to those big handbags that may comfortably conceal a panga, a truncheon and handcuffs beside lipstick tubes, eye pencils and a tubular mini-Steve the mechanic in purple. Only the naive young male hyena may dare intrude, for he senses not the high-octane oestrogen.

But it is the political types that are hilarious to watch. Their sense of aesthetics permits the strutting of 5kg of fat just above the groin with utter impunity. The cheesy meaculpa for these one-packs is that they are a fuel tank for sex machines. No one breaks the news to the emperor about his really big tummy.

Only the button threads straining through the lower buttonholes of their shirts may screech. Maybe, too, the frustrated woman who calls an FM station to complain about the fuel tank and how it has robbed their man of his full glory.

Politicos are the real grains of dust in this city — simultaneously predators, scavengers and parasites — but also ethical agents in a strange moral universe and trendsetters of aesthetics. In their own inelegant way they still manage to set the standards for social aspiration. The title maketh the man; the abbreviated Hon is the most sought after.

Their pointed shoes, known as sharpshooters, are unfamiliar with mud and have broken well into the carpeting in their homes, offices and even their private chambers. They wear the big gold ring, gold-plated oriental watches and the gold bracelet with gold buckles on their belts
and shoes.

At 2am a kind of liturgy is playing out. Some religious rules of a sort are at play. It is time to punish the body. Livers are shrinking. Oral tissue is burning. Lungs labour to manage the balance of smoke and oxygen. Tendons are stretched by contracting muscles. The street gets jam-packed. It is pumping. The party has started all over again. If you missed the song earlier, it is replaying. Tomorrow, your ears will still be throbbing.

Godfrey Chesang lives and loves in Nairobi. This piece was first published in the M&G newspaper.