We set out at midnight.
Our destination is the sweet spot between peace and oblivion. To appease the gods, we had searched fervently for Gordon’s (Unsolicited tip- Gordons plus Chivita is unrivalled) to loosen our tongues for the trip ahead. But, the witty custodian of the large supply store that housed everything liquor told us that it was out of stock across the state and that there was even talk of banning it. I took the story with a pinch of salt as she quickly spun to showcase other products, unwilling to let us go somewhere else. The truth is never as important as making a sale.
We settled on Mr Dowell formerly known as McDowell, this deity also had experience in facilitating similar trips of slurred speech, heavy eyes and misguided steps. I vividly recall my neighbour pounding the gate at 2 am eager to quickly head to Lagos, only the kind Mr Dowell could set such passion alight where the threat of darkness and the unknown surprises that come with it hold no fear.
With our libation secured, we head to House 14 our weekend rendezvous since the beginning of Big Brother Naija where the weekly Saturday parties provided the perfect excuse to throw a party and dance away our worries of how a broken educational system, silent leaders and a global pandemic had conspired us to keep us in school for seven years and counting.
With the unenthusiastic DJ refusing to earn his keep onscreen, we take matters into our hands plugging our trusted speakers to provide our own music. We are wise spirit beings who understand that you do not invoke the gods without setting the mood.
After many false starts, we find the perfect medium in the Cavemen and their latest album— Roots to usher us to the realm between lightheadedness and happiness. The Cavemen transport us to scenes we must have lived as titled chiefs in our previous lives. We circle each other, waists dipping intermittently while our legs are thrown with exaggerated force into the air, losing steam just before their descent as they gently strike the tiled floor to give our movements some semblance of elegance. The rhythmic drums are punctuated by sexy guitar riffs and choruses in a “strange” language. My companions turn to me for interpretation but I am Igbo in name only, the tongue is as strange to me. But in that moment language does not matter, we don’t care where they come from or what the words we are now chanting mean. We only care about how it makes us feel.
From a wish that a simple Google search can unearth premium weed to friends relieving heartbreaks and university memories or for just simply existing, lying flat on a couch composing lines and screening affection from your phone screen— Roots is perfect for everything.
The slow songs have us circling, wishing for a partner to Tango with. The fast songs export us to village squares and Atilogwu. Our waists are not made for this exertion so we close our eyes and take in scenes of dancing masquerades, titled chiefs and dance troupes in procession. We feed off an energy our bodies cannot recreate even if we dared. Like a Pentecostal revival, we are caught up in strange tongues opening our mouths to let the lyrics through confident that we speak blessings and goodwill like our ancestors before us.
The spirits were one with us as the Cavemen fill the room and as we find out moments later the entire street, as night guards perplexed by the merriment hurl stones on the roof to quell this joy. Their intrusion stops the music but it doesn’t kill the mood. We segue into Nigeria’s history of cults, their famous symbols and unfortunate run-ins with men who have taken oaths of fraternities and brotherhoods.
As we depart groggily, there is no need to explain what we had just experienced. Perhaps we will recollect and share the stories years later but from experience, I have learnt not to predict what the gods of merriment choose to do with nights dedicated to them. Some nights they have you playing games, crushing red cups and building pyramids. On others, they introduce you to highlife reborn as you get blind drunk cup after cup of the revered deity — Mr Dowell. They only require that you come with clean hearts and keen ears. The rest is up to them.
Roots is full of unfinished pictures like all music built for the senses. On some days if you close your eyes hard enough to escape the hot Danfo you are in, you can hear the children playing the Ogene and Shekere in unison on the red sandy streets of Enugu or taste the fresh Pami from the yellow kegs of Mama Chika Best.
When the stench of unwashed armpits jolts you back to your annoying reality, you’ll curse the government out of habit before closing your eyes to capture one last sight of your escape. But its too late, cursing conductors, blaring horns and bright lights have robbed you of your sweet escape.
But they can’t take away your memories and the promise you make to yourself every weekend that you will switch off your phone and damn the consequences from your boss who has not grasped the concept of boundaries. You will have your plug deliver bottles of diluted palm wine as your speaker blares at full blast egging Anita on as she rides you to glory. The Cavemen are right; this your Anita is capable of murder but they underestimate how pleasurable her weapon of destruction is.