Were you there?
Can you picture it?
Saturday, 29 February 2020.
A hot summer season with a surprising cool night (leap years, we are told, are strange; this one will soon prove to be quite extraordinary). There is an ice-cream parlour—Cramer’s—in Windhoek’s city centre that has a wide concrete verandah. It is popular for its relaxed atmosphere that attracts patrons of all colours, classes, and creeds. On some nights one can find performing musicians; on others avid parkour athletes run, jump, and twist through their movements. Once a month, in the spring and summer, in the evenings, a salsa party is hosted. Tonight is such a night.
Since March, 2015 this party has been a strange but welcome fixture on Windhoek’s social calendar. It is peculiar because the city in which it is hosted are not known for having a robust social dancing culture. Sure, there are indigenous rhythms running the breadth and width of the country, and, when given the chance, many people dance. But this occurrence is unique because the curated music and the accompanying movements come from far away—from New York, Havana, Cali, Santo Domingo, San Juan, Kingston, and Dakar.
Despite the party’s oddity, it has become so regular it is possible to predict its motions: the audio setup; arrival, curiosity, and caution from first-time attendees; the opening dances that breaks the ice and the second, third, forth, and umpteenth that keep the dance floor warm; there is meeting and mingling and ice-cream on tap; salsa flows into cha-cha then bachata before segueing into some earthier beats from Central, West, and East Africa—there is a mandatory stop in Jamaican dancehall; and at the end of it all, the last dance before everyone heads home looking forward to the next party in a month’s time.
No one knows it quite yet, but there won’t be a next time for a long while.
So: tonight, in this small city, on this dance floor, people shake hands and hug in greeting and parting; they enjoy the evening, meeting friends, family, and strangers; they dance like there is no tomorrow. (Fate has a strange sense of humour.)
Can you imagine it all?
Anything that is not done regularly is soon forgotten and then lost. Muscles atrophy without constant exercise and athletic reflexes dull if they are not honed with discipline; skilled artistic work becomes shoddy when one’s craft is not diligently practiced; languages fall out of use and become extinct; even physiological features that are no longer necessary for survival are shed by evolving creatures.
See this: take a community with a healthy social life, add a pandemic that necessitates varying degrees of lockdown, isolation, and social distancing, cancel all public events for about two years, and see where you wind up when contact becomes a thing of dread and proximity breeds fear.
Needless to say, there is no dancing.
If the situation persists long enough the practice might be forgotten.
Then it might be lost.
Know this: the sweetest dance is the one that just ended, the best one is always the next.
Only a dancer could have such an annoyingly positive outlook.
Were you there?
Saturday, 25 June 2022.
A cold night in Windhoek. Not cold—hyperborean or gelid, these words will suffice in the place of colourful expletives. There is a place called The Village—think modernism meets rustic chic: it has a courtyard shaded by trees, two restaurants, a koi pond (with koi—alive, mind you), and an atmosphere that is cherished for its sophistication. In the building they call the Opera House, there is a dance floor—actually, it is just a floor, really, but dancing is like a first-grade game of minesies: if it touches it, it owns it. So, there is a dance floor. The lights have been dimmed—muted hues of red, orange, and purple play against the walls.
Can you hear it?
Music is playing: Hector Lavoe, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, the Buena Vista Social Club, El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico, Maite Hontelé, Africando, Gente De Zona, ChocQuibTown, Prince Royce, Romeo Santos, Farruko, Becky G, Quantic, Burna Boy, Sauti Sol, Pheelz—many more. The word you are looking for is “eclectic.”
Can you picture it?
Despite the extended hiatus and the cold some muscle memory remains. People remember how to meet and mingle, they talk and laugh. These aspects of social life have not been forgotten.
And there is dancing.
Dancing that keeps Windhoek’s winter chill at bay. Dancing that harkens to a time that was. Dancing that enjoys the now. Dancing like—no, not like—because there might not be a tomorrow. (Only the foolish fail to learn from a two-year lesson.)
All has not been lost; the pandemic did not win.
Can you see it?
This is the Sabor! social, the first of many. It is more than a party, it is a celebration for having made it this far, for being alive in this time. Rain or drought, summer heat or winter bite, the new anthem is this: Más música. Más baile. Más vida. Más sabor!
More music. More dancing. More life. More flavour!
Until the next social, Africando, Macondito, Guayacán Orquestra, Sonora Carruseles, Rosalia featuring The Weeknd, Prince Royce, Croma Latina, Ibrahim Ferrer, Mamma Sissoko, Rema, Tayc, and Lojay featuring Sarz will take your ears and feet back to a night that was a damn good time.
Es Para Ti Gnonas—Africando
Maria De Las Ramblas—Macondito
Oiga, Miré, Vea—Guayacán Orquestra
Se Boto La Comay—Sonora Carruseles
La Fama—Rosalia featuring The Weekend
Lao’ A Lao’—Prince Royce
Composito Confundido—Ibrahim Ferrer
Monalisa—Lojay featuring Sarz
Rémy is a Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer. He is the founder, chairperson, and artministrator of Doek, an independent arts organisation in Namibia supporting the literary arts. He is also the editor-in-chief of Doek! Literary Magazine.
His debut novel The Eternal Audience Of One was first published in South Africa by Blackbird Books and is available worldwide from Scout Press (S&S). His work has appeared in The Johannesburg Review of Books, Brainwavez, American Chordata, Lolwe, and Granta, among others, with more forthcoming in numerous publications. He won the Africa Regional Prize of the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. He was shortlisted for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing in 2020 and 2021 and was also longlisted and shortlisted for the 2020 and 2021 Afritondo Short Story Prizes respectively. In 2019 he was shortlisted for Best Original Fiction by Stack Magazines.