One man's music is another man's meaningless sex

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Show me a beautiful girl and I'll show you a smug businessman with his wad out, on the pull. Easy. Look: there he is, 3ft away, blowing off to his subordinates, hand reaching out for a pat, a tweak, a grope. Come on, darling. Come on. You know you want it. (Hey, fella; these jungle- bunnies? All for sale, know what I mean? Right.)

This one isn't having it, but he won't take no for an answer. Probably wouldn't take yes for an answer either; you know the type: Club Class salaryman in a lightweight suit, eight hours from home and family and itching for commercial sex, preferably on expenses. Recognise him, anyone? Fifty-ish, grey hair, looks a bit like Leslie Nielsen? In Harare, second week of last month? Your husband, maybe? Well now: there he was, down in the Archipelago Nite Club, putting the bite on the sort of girl who would make you feel old and, my dear, ugly, no matter how young and svelte and gorgeous you may be. Divorce him, that's my advice; soak the sod for everything he's got.

White trash. Yuck. We didn't like it, at the Archipelago. Captain Gould and I had popped down after a hard day at the airport, trying to find something nice to fly. Exhausting enough in itself, never mind the white trash, the other kind, the home-grown sort, sclerotic white supremacists, snarling about the blecks. ("Look what we lift the bleck chep, and look what he's done with it. It's a disgrice.") After a few drinks, it gets worse. "Two beers, gin-and-tonic, a whisky," grunts a jug-eared, cock- faced old towser at the flying club bar. The barman brings him the beers and whisky. "End a gee-an-tee," barks this Aryan loser, this remittance man, this unconscionable stranger to modern dentistry; "Oh fer Chroise sake, go utside an come beck when you're aweke, jah?" And the words "you bleck bastard" hang barely-unspoken in the air.

We can't take any more. We are civilised liberal humanitarians. Our moral sensibilities are outraged. The only thing to do is to take a taxi back into Harare and go to a night-club in search of loud music and commercial sex, but here we are now in Archipelago and it's full of terrible backpackers Having An Experience (fat girls flailing on the dance-floor and predatory Australians in goatee beards) and businessmen on the hopeless pull, and the only game the beautiful young women are on, in their tiny skirts, is the game of being beautiful and young.

Time to leave. Time to go to Harare's Other Nite Spot: Turtle's. "Take taxis after dark," said the warning notice in the hotel, so we walked. It's a beautiful city, Harare: spruce, clean, a crispness in the air, and everyone shakes hands all the time, just like in France, and asks each other how they are.

As we walk towards Baker Avenue, shadows detach themselves from the wall and peer at us suspiciously. As we pass, one of the shadows scuttles across behind us, opens a tiny manhole cover and wriggles down inside. Another shadow skitters across behind it and starts lowering bruised vegetables and sticks of discarded wood into the manhole, then climbs in and pulls it shut. There are people living in drains here, but we don't care; we are being dragged by our testicles across a strange town at 1am, heedless of risk, hoping inchoately for some epiphanic explosion of utterly meaningless sex - absolutely the best, the only kind when you're in this frame of mind.

Turtle's Nite Club is in a basement, sealed off from the rest of the office block by stout iron bars. Our hands are stamped; we push through a curtain into a steamy Gehenna. We are the only White Chaps in the place; we feel conspicuous, luminous almost, but not uneasy. There's an intricate but peaceable rhythm clicking and chinking out from a young man with a rudimentary drum-kit: a hi-hat, a tomtom, a snare and a tiny bass drum the size of a Rolo, muffled with an old tweed coat. For the next 20 minutes, he keeps up a meti- culous, complex rhythmic pattern as people drift in - there's no stage, just a cleared area of the floor - and join in. Every now and then, three young beauties in red frocks sing; a guitarist appears and picks up the rhythm; a strange and gorgeous, honey-coloured girl with albino-white hair gives us a quiz- zical glance, but we aren't interested; the music has disconnected our troublesome gonads and it's like being unchained, as they say, from a lunatic.

On comes a man, dancing to himself. He's wearing a C&A tank-top and grey flannel trousers; has long dreadlocks under a Dunn & Co trilby, and startling, high-boned, almost Peruvian features. You can't not look at him; he dominates the room.

The guitarist keeps the lick coming, immaculate as a code. The drummer adjusts his pattern: I thought it was coming round every 15 bars, but now it's gone to 17. The man in the trilby begins to sing, and you can't not dance. He's astonishing. Accustomed to the vastly expensive, high- technology money-machine of modern Western rock, I am at first taken aback, but soon work it out: this man and his band have genius, which is all you need.

The man next to us sees me and the Captain grinning like baboons and baboon-grins back. "This," he says, "is where Paul Simon got it from. But he didn't get all of it!" Trilby-hat is called Thomas Mafuno; the music is Chimurenga; Mafuno is its father. It's like walking into a pub and hearing... no; there's no rock music equivalent. It's like walking into your local church and hearing Bach improvising on the organ. More musicians drift on; some drift off; but the music continues, and there's nothing else in our minds.

"Hi, I'm Jane, and I just flew in from SA today," says a voice like warm chocolate. She sits down between us. Puts a hand on the Captain's leg. Puts a hand on my leg. "Hey," she says, "where you guys staying?"

Music? What music? To hell with music. !