On getting to the Red Flame, we got a rude surprise: the place was boarded up. A few of the regular patrons who had also not received the memo, stopped by and we all learnt the news from a nearby Chinese restaurant: the owners of the club had been evicted for conducting criminal activities on the premises. They had received prior notices and warnings from the City for months, but had ignored the warnings. Meanwhile, notorious gangs had been frequenting the spot with fights and gun fire exchanges becoming increasingly common. As you can imagine, this made the surrounding businesses very uncomfortable, and they filed multiple complaints. So, the City finally shut the Red Flame night club down.
Now that we knew the back story, the next question was: What were we going to do for the rest of the night? We were all dressed up and certainly had no intention of going back to school to study. This was our one night out and we were going to make it count. So, Yemi called a friend on the phone and asked him to recommend another club or bar. He gave her the name of another club: Dance Fever. It came highly recommended for the music and of course, the drinks. Apparently, the DJ was a Nigerian and we were bound to love his selections.
However, Yemi’s friend did warn us to be careful, as the club was right in the middle of a rough neighborhood. Once we got inside though, we would be fine. That’s what he said. Not quite long after we set out for this new spot, the twitching started again. What was this about? And why now of all times? I simply ignored this last warning, determined to have a good time. I never asked the other ladies how they felt about visiting this particular club, but they all seemed to be on board with our change of plans. So, to Dance Fever we went. Mistake Number 1.
After getting lost a few times, we finally arrived at Dance Fever night club. Yemi’s friend was right. The neighborhood was rough. Several police cars passed by the club as we were getting out of the car, and we could hear sirens wailing not too far away. Nonetheless we went inside because none of the other patrons seemed to be disturbed by the surroundings. We decided that we too could overlook it for that night. Mistake Number 2.
At the entrance, there were two bouncers, and for some strange reason, they both looked very familiar. Truthfully, only one of them looked like a real bouncer, like he could pick up a man with one hand, and break all his teeth and both his knee caps without using a baseball bat. The other “bouncer” looked like he was just a sidekick. A powerless, wimpy-looking, toothpick of a man, who coincidentally had a wooden toothpick dangling carelessly from his mouth. Ironically, it was this sidekick who almost spoilt the night for us.
He asked to see our ID cards. That was standard. No problem. We all presented them to him to prove that we were old enough to be there. However, he peered at Mariam’s ID card longer than usual, and said that it looked fake. He said that she looked too young to be 21, which was true, except that she really was 21. The rest of us began to argue with him, talking at the same time as if the man could understand each of us speaking at once. He simply ignored us and told the big, muscular bouncer not to let us in.
That was the stand-off when a young man emerged from the club, an un-lit cigarette in one hand, and a lighter in the other. He asked the bouncers why they were detaining such pretty women. The minute he opened his mouth, I knew he was a Nigerian. And I don’t mean the obvious fact that he had an accent. No, it was really the way he said “Pretty” that gave him away. He sounded just like my cousin who had just moved to the US a month before and was already trying to sound American. Yes, that dead giveaway accent really came out when he said that word. It came out as “Preedie.” If not for the uncomfortable situation we were in, I would have burst into laughter on the spot. But, there was nothing funny about what the bouncer was doing, and I knew Mariam would not appreciate the joke at that point. So, I just shut up.
On hearing the stranger’s question, the sidekick told him that a high schooler was trying to get into a nightclub with a fake ID. Mariam almost knocked him down in her rage, but Josephine, the logical one, held her back. Yemi, Oge and Josephine began to yell at the bouncer, but he simply ignored them. He was clearly lying and Mariam did not appreciate being accused of a crime that high school students were known for. Maybe the stranger did not realize it at first, but as soon as my friends began to yell at the bouncer, he finally understood it: we were also Nigerians. That changed the game completely.
He turned to the bouncers and told them to let us into the club immediately because we were his sisters. That was a fairly common thing with Africans in the diaspora. The Senegalese woman who braided my hair every couple of months called me her sister. So did the Ghanaian man who owned the African grocery store two hours from our school. But the thing is I actually had some sort of a relationship with these people. What I did not expect however, was that a stranger at a club would refer to us as his ‘sisters.’ I did not think the bouncers would ‘buy it,’ but surprisingly, it worked.
Mariam snatched her ID card back from the sidekick who refused to apologize and we all matched into the club, led by our knight in regular clothes. That was when he introduced himself to us: his name was Ezekiel, and he was the sole DJ at Dance Fever. His stage name though was DJ Blaze.
Apart from the fact that I had never met a DJ who had such a pious-sounding, my-parents-are-serious-Christians type name, I knew I would never forget him simply because he literally saved the day. I mean, how on earth would we all go into the club, leaving Mariam to stand outside there alone? Thankfully, we never had to make that choice and it was all thanks to Ezekiel, a.k.a DJ Blaze. As Ezekiel was introducing himself, something else finally hit me: the reason why the bouncers looked so familiar. I knew them.
They were the same bouncers I had seen several times in front of the Red Flame. As soon as I realized who they were, I began to wonder about this nightclub which we were visiting for the first time. Furthermore, as I looked around the interior, I began to see similarities between the two clubs in the layout, the décor, and even the lights they were using. I decided to ask our new friend, DJ Blaze, the most pressing question: was this club owned by the same people who used to own Red Flame? His answer was “Yes.”
What if the same gang problem that they had at the Red Flame was already playing out at Dance Fever? I voiced my concern to both DJ Blaze and my friends, but they both dismissed it. DJ Blaze said he had been working at Dance Fever for about two years and apart from typical scuffles between unruly patrons, who were most likely drunk, the night club was pretty safe. As far as he knew, there were no gang-related or criminal activities going on at the club. Well, there was no more twitching and DJ Blaze’s explanation sounded reasonable, so I accepted it. So did my friends. Mistake Number 3.
After escorting us to the bar, DJ Blaze abandoned us to return to his station. His short break was over, and he needed to get back to work. My friends got their drinks of choice. I did not drink because as we had previously agreed, I was the designated driver and had to stay sober. This did not bother me in the least because it was not the drinks I had come for. It was the music. And DJ Blaze was setting the club on fire with the music.
He had carefully selected a good number of contemporary Naija hits by artistes we were familiar with: TuFace Idibia, P-Square, D’Banj, Davido. Name it. They were all there. And the people at the club absolutely loved it. He mixed these songs with the more popular American songs, and many others from all over the world, without missing a beat. He was simply amazing!
As soon as my friends finished their drinks, we all hit the dance floor. The dance floor was a clearly marked space with old-fashioned disco balls hanging from the ceiling. It was in front of the DJ’s station, which meant that we were all facing the DJ as the music played. All the way at the back, several feet behind us, were glass doors, which doubled as the main entrance and exit. We could see the silhouette of the bouncers outside the door from inside the club. So, it was not a very large place.
In between rotations of songs and especially when he was switching from one musical region to another, DJ Blaze would briefly insert the sound of shattering glass. The first time it happened, we all turned back and looked at the glass doors, thinking something had broken them. They were intact. But we could make out DJ Blaze’s wide-toothed grin as he watched our reactions. He did that a couple of times, until we finally got used to it and even began to expect it.
So we kept on dancing, trying to out-do ourselves with dance moves like Alanta, Azonto and even Alingo. But, as at yet, I had not had the opportunity to show off my favorite dance move: the Komole. It was common to see people komole-ing at typical Nigerian functions like weddings, birthday celebrations and certainly at church services. The music at such events had a certain traditional tilt, so it made sense to crouch or bend low at crucial points of those songs. But, can you imagine any person komole-ing in the middle of an American nightclub? I hadn’t but I knew that if the music was right, I would do it.
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