Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.
To throw off the bowlines and sail away from safe harbour, and to Explore, Dream and Discover, I have resolved to do things in Sierra Leone I wouldn’t have usually done in the past – although hopefully no more forced exploring after being locked out of my house…
I love this quote by Twain and in an effort to aspire to fulfill it, I am making a special effort in Freetown to do things, I wouldn’t have usually done.
So when I was invited to go to a concert at the national stadium in Freetown I jumped at the chance to go see the West African renowned performer Tekno! Now for those of you not in the know as to West African music, first, what is wrong with you!? And second, – as I was definitely in the first category – Tekno is a highly popular (especially in Sierra Leone) Nigerian, who apparently, has an acute inability to attend the concerts he is meant to be headlining. He failed to attend the first two concerts in Freetown that he was meant to be headlining the proceeding two nights, and yet everyone was highly optimistic that he would attend this one, even if history would seem to indicate the opposite…
Just to break this up with a photo – The Africell Christmas Tree in Freetown
The night started of with a few casual drinks with my housemates and we decided to head in around 10pm. Our first stop China House, a highly lively bar located within the grounds owned by the government and where my office and the whole Ministry of Health and Sanitation is located…
We grabed a few drinks (to which we initially struggled to drink owing to the lack of the bar having a bottle opener… but we managed to finally get them open), and got down to dancing to the ear-splittingly loud music that was blaring and could possibly have been heard in neighbouring Liberia.
My favourite experience of the night then occurred where a Sierra Leonean dwarf danced with us! It was great fun and he was an amazing dancer. We eventually had to move on though unfortunately, heading to the stadium to see Tekno! We walked a very short distance to the stadium, only to see a throng of people trying to get in and nearly everyone being refused entry – principally since they didn’t have tickets… but we did, so we pushed through a little and nearly got to the front where they let two of the girls in our group and as soon as this occurred, hell broke loose.
It began with surging, pushing and ended with lots of punches being thrown and an angry crowd… The whole time I could feel people going through my pockets, somehow and I honestly have no idea how, but I didn’t lose any money or more importantly my phone.
Not a great start. But one of the guys we were with managed to convince a few of the guards (who incidentally were all dressed in military fatigues) to let us through another gate. Which worked marginally better and we managed to get through, although it was a tight squeeze and I had to convince the guard that our driver was actually with us (sad but true he was the only Sierra Leonean with us and as a result, singled out), thankfully I got him through. This whole incident probably didn’t help the anger issues of the crowd outside who realised that we got in through another gate and surged around that one trying to get in… But we left that all behind pretty quickly and proceeded to the stadium grounds, with a escort of the same guards dressed in military fatigues and who possible were from the military…
Inside the grounds (but still outside the stadium itself) we walked around (and thankfully lost our escort which was beginning to be slightly uncomfortable) the many local shops selling clothing and locally made jewelry. We also made frequent stops to dance with the locals who particularly enjoyed dancing with the girls who had some amazing rhythm. One girl in particular, took the crowd by storm! And much to our enjoyment, there was a lot of shouting and hollering for her to dance. After doing a circuit of the stadium grounds, we decided at midnight that we should try and head into the stadium proper to see the concert.
Little did I think getting into the stadium would be as adrenaline filled and as dangerous as it turned out to be. It started like the gate with a large group of people stopped by security for having the wrong tickets to enter into the area we were trying to get into. After a few minutes of being pushed, pulled and otherwise shoved through the crowd with more hands going through pockets, we made it into a bullpen area (roughly 3x3m2, where everybody had been stopped again at the actual entrance to the stadium). Here though it became exceptionally unpleasant. As everyone tried to push past security, one of the guards pulled out a hand held taser and started tasering people indiscriminately. It was a surreal experience and our group quickly got out of the way and moved into a part of the bullpen where we were not going to get tasered or squished. This went on and on. The crowd would stop pushing and retreat and then push again, throw punches and get tased again… Most of us managed to get through during a brief lull, we had the correct tickets but I couldn’t help the feeling that it was a strong case of expat privilege that we got through largely unmolested – albeit a few phones did end up with new owners… In the entrance hall, we waited for the few that were still outside. At this point, I felt very uncomfortable seeing a few people dragged into separate rooms by security away from prying eyes. Very sad but that things like that just seems to be the way things happen here. Finally, the remainder got through in one piece and thankfully had not been zapped.
We entered the stadium and our tickets were on the grass in front of the concert – great spot as you could easily sit down and it was not very crowded. Unfortunately, the concert itself was not exactly amazing. Some of the music was ok, but unfortunately the sound system just wasn’t that good. Still it was nice to sit and chat with others and listen to the music.
At 4am after having told the crowd at least 10 times the headline act Tekno was coming, he had still failed to turn up. This was apparently more than a member of the crowd could bear… in reprisal for perhaps the continued taunting that Tekno was coming when he wasn’t, a crowd member launched a glass bottle at the stage from the stadium seating area. The bottle proceeded to loop down and down, and smashed onto the stage. This roused the crowd, and once the first bottle had been thrown more and more and more followed.
These glass bottles were initially directed at the stage and then gradually a few became aimed at those of us on the grass in the stadium. This led to a swift reprisals from those on the grass, who in return launched glass bottles into the heavily crowded stands. This led to chaos in the stadium crowd, as whilst, on the grass it was easy to move and most (although not all of the bottles) were dodged, this was not the case for those flung into the stadium side of the crowd. After watching this for around 10 minutes we decided before it got any worse that we would make tracks, it was a bit past 4am as it was. And that was it. The main act Tekno apparently turned up at 5am but never performed, apparently because the sound system was not working, although the reliable rumour was that he was just too drunk to perform… it really was a Tekno no show. I should add we made sure we were well and truly out of bottle throwing range when this all occurred.
Yet it stands out as a fascinating experience and I feel that those bowlines have been thrown off.
Stay tuned for my next post and here is a small teaser.
A slice of paradise in Sierra Leone – The Place – Tokeh Beach