Posted on Dec 20th, 2007 in Live by A-Trak
We were first supposed to go to Nigeria exactly one year ago for some Kanye dates but it was canceled because Jay-Z and Beyonce had just gone and they found it dangerous. So when I found out we were going this year I was like “oh great”…. but then I thought: we’re only going for 2 or 3 days and we probably won’t see anything else than the plane, the hotel and the venue so heck, this won’t feel any different than El Paso, Texas. I wasn’t shook anymore. Then as we got closer, they told us we had to get shots against hepatitis A and thyphoid and start taking malaria pills. “How victorian!” said my girlfriend. The band was flying out on the 12th but I had booked this 10.Deep x Fool’s Gold holiday party in New York on that date. Can’t I fly out on the 13th? Isn’t the first show on the 14th? “You can fly with Kanye on the private jet,” they tell me. Alright, if you insist.
This is when the sleep counter starts. After the NY party (where my laptop was stolen!!) I packed in the middle of the night and got a slim 2 hours of shut-eye. A car service drove me to Teterboro airport — that’s where PJ’s take off — and I met up with the motley crew, made myself a hot chocolate — take that, La Guardia! — and we boarded the air-o-plane. There was a big storm in New York on Thursday so we hung out on the runway for a few hours, but it wasn’t so bad. In fact I remember eating a seafood salad and thinking “I feel like the president!” That, my friends, was an omen. Sidebar: the biggest advantage of the PJ is no crying babies.
Have you ever felt so tired that you actually can’t sleep? I dozed off first the first 2 hours and that was it for me. The rest of that flight was a thousand-mile gaze and long conversations about growing up, decorating apartments and the difficulty of finding a good-looking iron. We stopped to refuel on a small island off the coast of Morocco and we made our way to Nigeria. I slept that last hour. Hooray.
We landed in Lagos and were greeted by our tour security guy, Sully. Sully has a metal plate in his head. He also once boxed a kangaroo while stationed in Guam. 3 rounds, $50 per round. He lost all 3. I’d hate to run into that ‘roo because Sully is big.
Sully was joined by an additional security guy on this trip, this dude who was once in the secret service in South Africa. They gave us a security briefing, reminded us never to wander off alone, mentioned those kidnapping stories that were in our tour book, and stressed that we should brush our teeth with bottled water. Roger that. We walk off that jet and things just keep getting more president-like. And I’m not talking about the little wave-hello. I’m talking about the ride to the hotel. We’ve got military security in other jeeps in front and behind us. Their sirens are blazing and there are these private security guys in black suits running on either side of our jeeps. These guys are huge and they all have either machine guns or these long tazers (which will become the leitmotif of our trip). One of these guys is literally hanging off the side of our jeep as we drive off, and we start the half-hour ride to the hotel. This ain’t El Paso, folks. This is clearly Lagos. The streets are clogged with hoopties and people selling water, gum, carpets, puppies (anything!) on the side of the roads. We kept seeing these old yellow Volkswagen scooby-doo vans crammed with people — again, with guys hanging off the side of them half the time. I think that’s the public transportation out there. Those things were everywhere. For the last 10 minutes of the ride we were in a less dense area, clearly wealthier, and we pulled up to the hotel. Sound check in an hour.
The hotel was very luxurious, but all things technological were still pretty janky. There was a flat-screen TV that didn’t really work and no internet. I took a shower and the power went off. Felt like big brother was playing games… sexy games. But then it came back on a minute later. Turns out these short outages happen many, many times a day. There was a pamphlet for the concert in my room: the Star Mega-Jam wtih Kanye West and T-Pain. It looked like a Reggae Gold album cover. Their little paragraph on Nigeria (“one out of five black people in the world is Nigerian”) was quite different from the one in our tour book (“you will get arrested and will need to bribe officers”). That sound check was pretty funky. Our production managers, monitor engineers and lighting designers had quite a task cut out for them. But we were just excited to be playing in such a different context. Sure, the monitors sounded like a boombox and we couldn’t use our in-ears, but like Tony Williams said while smoking a cigar: “We’re in Africa!”
Our set was at 2am, by far the latest Kanye performance ever. T-Pain wasn’t getting a very warm reaction from the boisterous crowd behind that big fence, but he did his thing. I guess they have this habit of throwing bottles in Nigeria. I don’t think it’s meant to be aggressive, I think it’s just them being crunk. Anyway we set up the band on stage and right as we were about to start, this bottle of water came flying like a hail mary from suuuuper far and almost hit one of the string players.
As soon as we finished our set they rushed us to the van and we jetted to the hotel. Back in our rooms we all hung out a bit, the keyboard player “smoked some Nigerian $5 shwag out of a watermelon” and we went to sleep… for 3 hours. I heard this crazy story the next day. Apparently while we were on stage at that show there was a serious showdown behind the stage. This famous African actor showed up with a whole caravan of military and private security and wanted to come in to watch. Our security guys were under strict orders not to let anyone in, so Sully and his boy stood in front of that caravan and said they can’t get in. These military guys cocked their massive guns and said “(tchick-tchik) yes we can.” Our 2 guys said “no you can’t.” Then these private security guys came out of the actor’s vehicle with aluminum baseball bats and said “yes we can.” And Sully was all like, “you guys wanna do this?” And right at that moment, the military and private security that were on our side showed up. They all stared each other down, and the actor’s convoy decided to back down and leave. I’m sorry Nigeria but I’m not coming back.
In the wee hours of the morning we headed to the airport. No more PJ’s, I’m traveling with the band and crew now. We had a chartered jet to go to Abuja which is the capital. We waited forever at the airport as they wrote out all the boarding passes by hand, and then we waited longer in this restaurant where I paid $20 for delicious plantains served with spicy scrambled eggs. And then we were off to Abuja.
This city is much less rowdy than Lagos. It’s also much smaller and less dense. Our production manager was like “we don’t know when sound check will be, we’ll call you.” So I took a nap. I was woken up by a phone call at 7pm and found out that the venue was a catastrophe, they didn’t have most of the back-end gear and either we’d do a stripped down show with only half of the band, or it would get canceled altogether. Apparently they didn’t get a drum kit, they didn’t have functional monitors, the sound board only had 30 channels with maybe half of them working, the lighting desk got lost, then found, then lost again and the power generators kept cutting out. So we were just hanging out at the hotel, trying to get a gauge of the situation back at the venue. This hotel was a huge Hilton complex with 60′s architecture and lots of prostitutes in the lobby. There was even a band playing in the lobby with a singer that would ferociously hump the speakers and the female vocalist while singing James Brown covers. At 9 o’clock they called a band meeting up on the penthouse floor. Our poor production manager looked exhausted, she had been toiling away at the venue all day. She said it was pretty sure we were going to cancel, simply because the PA wasn’t even working at that point, but canceling a concert in Nigeria can be a security issue and we certainly didn’t want to get mobbed or detained so she was waiting for a call back to find out if they managed to amicably do so. I suggested we offer our keyboard player’s hand in marriage to someone’s daughter. Then the proverbial call came in and the gig was canceled. I was going to sleep! Joy to the world. But then an hour later we got another call. The PA was fixed, the show was back on. So we headed to the venue at 1am and did a very long line-check on stage. More bottles were thrown. This time there were beer cans too, and one of them almost hit our drummer. That show actually went a bit better that Lagos, in terms of crowd response. We finished at 3 and once again, we skidaddled out of there. There were some kids lurking around our van and I actually saw on the big men in black taze them! That “tzzzdt” sound will stay in your head, trust me.
We got to the hotel at 3:30am. Lobby call at 4:30. Nothing like an all-nighter followed by 3 consecutive flights to finish up 4 days of painfully short nights. But hey, I was ready to get back home. Goodbye Nigeria.