While I've heard that Lagos is the place to go to for a good party, I'm quite sure I'm not the only one who's heard 'Tales of Lagos' before. You know the type: horror stories that paint the city a place where people get knocked down by cars... while trying to help up other people who have been knocked down by cars. Or where you are liable to be parted with your money be it by extortion, theft, murder or magic. The funny thing is that I get told these tales by Nigerian friends who immediately thereafter suggest that I come and visit.
Ten years later...
I arrive at Murtala Mohammed International at night (and an hour or so late) to confront immigration officers almost as rude as those I met on my first trip to New York:
"What is your name?"
"Why are you here?"
All with no eye contact: classic.
I emerged to find no one waiting with my name on a placard. Tried calling my hostess Lisa but my units had run out. [I knew I should have made fewer of those 'goodbye for the weekend, suckers!' phonecalls at Kotoka.] People kept approaching me like they knew me, only to ask 'Taxi?' once within earshot. I felt like a dying man watching the vultures circle patiently overhead. Luckily a guard saw my plight and offered me his phone. Turns out that Lisa's driver was nearby. I thanked my good Samaritan and he asked me for money.
Once inside Lisa's very nice car, the radio came on. Naija pop is already making waves back home, although - as Lisa would later explain - we are about seven or so hot songs behind what is current in Lagos (Kini Big Deal by Naeto C and D'Banj's Gbono Fe Le, in case you were wondering. Gongo Aso and Wind Am Well haven't even blown up here yet. I think we're still on old 2Face, PSquared and Yahooze, which Lisa informs me are totally played out). Even the Western pop music playing sounded more fresh than the trips down memory lane that dominate Accra's airwaves. All very impressive... except for the accents. I would later ask Lisa whether all Nigerian DJs were, in fact, American. Apparently Locally Acquired Foreign Accents (LAFAs) are not an exclusively Ghanaian phenomenon.
Lagos is sprawling and it was a long drive from the airport to Lisa's workplace. We moved at full speed, which was at times quite hairy given the fact that it was dark and all the big truck drivers had knocked out their back lights before hitting the road, no doubt in some strange Lagos pre-driving ritual. I stopped counting the number of times we had to suddenly slow down as monster trucks jumped out at us from what had been empty darkness up ahead.
After we picked up Lisa, we met my co-host Jinmi at a gas station and switched cars because that's just how they roll in Lagos! The man pumping the gas was humming 'Fire on the Mountain' by Asa, another hot tune. [Pause: if you haven't heard Asa yet then please stop reading, buy (not download... buy) the album and marvel at her awesomeness for awhile. Oh, and if you are Ghanaian then please tell me why we have not had international artists of this standard since Osibisa and instead insist on churning out goosy gander music.
Done? Good. Back to the story...]
Lisa and Jinmi's appartment was amazing, and made me immediately question my salary back home (another story for another day, Synovate). After spending a little time catching up, she took me out to Bambuddha for drinks. Now, Bambuddha is essentially what Crapsody's wants to be when it grows up: intimate, sophisticated, ambient and, frankly, cool. All that and they play a far more eclectic range than your typical R&B or lounge music. I had the pleasure of speaking to the bar's Operations Director, Toks Alalade, and, after sipping the best Mojito I've had in ages, begged her to open a branch in Accra. She said she had thought about it but that Accra is too small. [Sadly, she is completely right. The night Crapsody's opened, all the bars on Osu High Street were empty.] Lisa and I later left to head off to the clubs, but after seeing me pass out twice, she thought that sleep might be a good idea.
It wasn't until the next day that I had a chance to get a really good look at the city. I stepped onto Lisa's porch and almost fell over when I noticed that her appartment was by the sea. After I smacked her for neglecting to inform me of this earlier, we drove out of Victoria Island and into the city to shop for her party that night. While we were lucky enough not to get stuck in Lagos traffic, I saw Okada drivers and observed how much more aggressive drivers are over there. Ghanaian trotro drivers: all is forgiven... keep on doing what you do.
Oh, by the way: Lagos is filthy.
It had rained the night before and water lay stagnant on bad roads littered with refuse. Now I see why my Nigerian friends go on and on about how clean and green Accra is in comparison. That said, Nigerians seem to have far more of an appreciation of art than we do here in Ghana. From the sculptures in front of corporate buildings to the beautiful Terra Kulture; the gates of Tafawa Balewa Square to the diversity and scale of Nigerian architecture. Between PALF and this trip, my eyes are really opening to just how undeservingly arrogant we are as Ghanaians when it comes to arts, literature, etc. We have a lot of work to do.
We drove into the heart of Lagos to get food for Lisa's party. Zakito's describes himself as 'the King of Small Chops'. We were disappointed by the quantities at first but the samosas, spring rolls, chicken, prawns pieces, dough balls, etc, etc (my mouth is watering just remembering) that he prepared for us tasted amazing and lasted well into the next day. Personally, I think the man should misquote Arundhati Roy and call himself 'the God of Small Chops'.
The party itself was lots of fun. Lisa gathered a group of interesting, fun-loving people around the pool and we sang karaoke so long into the night that we eventually had to move upstairs into the appartment, where some of the girls showed off the latest Lagos moves.
The next morning, Lise pulled out her Ace of Spades and dropped me off at the Silverbird Cinema to watch the Dark Knight. Won't spoil it for anyone but:
1) Yes, it's one of the best (and darkest) comic book movies of all time.
2) No, they weren't just being sentimental: Heath Ledger ate that role, spat Jack Nicholson out at the other end and should be Oscar-nominated.
If this is the same Silverbird setting up shop at the Accra Mall, then DVD rentals across Accra may be out of business quite soon. These guys were showing movies on the same timeline as the States, which means that I can look forward to calling my friends in London to tease them about films they haven't seen yet.
That was that, really.
From there, I had to shoot off to the airport, a very chaotic place (another bonus point for Ghana: Kotoka is smaller but so much better organized). I made it back to Accra by Sunday night (having gotten no work done, mind you), was back at work the next day...
... and I cannot wait to visit again.