It’s the aftermath of Valentines weekend and as predicted, I have seen a number of happy couples announce their engagements on social media. Similarly this year will see an unprecedented number of my close friends getting married, (who happen to have West African connections) and I am delighted for obvious reasons but also because this can only mean one thing; there will be some serious times of partying ahead all with an Afropolitan twist! Here are just a few things I love about West African parties- whether it is a celebration of life or death- we know how to have a good time and honour those in our midst.
The Native attire– I love seeing the variety of outfits made of beautiful bold colours, intricate patterns and lovely fabrics. I particularly love the variation of geles (head ties), the matching shoes and hand bags, and bold jewellery worn by the ladies. Similarly I love seeing men wearing agbadas- looking all regal and stylish; here comes the chief!
The Tunes – Alongside modern Afrobeat (think Whizzkid or Davido), no party would be complete without hearing traditional, family friendly Afrobeat. At least one of these artists must be played Orlando Owoh, Sir Shina Peters, Ebenezer Obey or King Sunny Ade, without fail. Unfortunately Fela-the rebel’s favourite is too rude to play at most family functions.) Check out this extremely popular track from the 70’s /80’s by Sir Shina Peters – big tune! [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fag5ItyoYp0]
The (atrocious) Time keeping- This is a contentious one as some will dislike this generalisation, but almost all the African parties I have attended do not start on time nor do they make any attempt to. It is a well- known secret that if an African party is supposed to start at 7pm- most people will not arrive until at least 9 pm.
The Live band – This is one of my favourite parts of a proper traditional party. The band usually consisting of a singer, drummer, percussionist, guitarists and key board player-will ride melodies and sing songs of blessings in the native tongue ( i.e. Yoruba) heavily incorporating improvisation. If you pay them they might even give you a musical shout out by including your name into a song! A lot of the time the keyboards / melodies are frenetic and the rhythms varied and unpredictable but they always make you dance. (See video above for live band in action).
The Dancing- As a child I always remembered two distinct phases of dancing. Phase 1- everyone is able to dance- particularly the young people, as the DJ plays the popular tunes of the day, followed by phase 2- what I call ‘Big People Time.’ The Aunties would emerge, rotund, robust and agile ready to get down to the Native music selection- showing the younger generation how it is done! Check out this fantastic impression of an Aunty cutting some serious shapes! [/www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oACcj6Y8qA]
The Money changers– they will exchange your pounds into dollars (US) or Naira so that you can spray the wedding party for example. Money changers are easily identifiable because they are usually men with stacks of cash at the door.
The Gifts- I love the range of commemorative goodies / favours you get from the parties; random Tupperware with someone’s face emblazoned on it that you don’t know, calendars, key rings, pens, trays, box of salt, washing pegs, mugs, packets of noodles, toiletries, watches- you name it- I have seen it make an appearance in a ‘party’ bag. No product is off limits.
The ‘Characters’– There are no shortage of characters at Nigerian functions i.e. the big mama aunty, the ‘chief’, little children, elders commanding respect and ordering you around to get yet another can of drink – even if you don’t know them etc. Random strays no one knows but you can’t turn away-you know the one- a friend, of a friend, of a friend who always seems to be ready to eat.
The Cuisine– I love party rices. Yes it sounds stupid but what is normally standard jollof or fried rice, is given extra special treatment by caterers. Another treat is moin moin (bean cakes)- a rare commodity that always seems to be scarce at parties- reserved for adults only. Other standard dishes you are likely to see are coleslaw, endless trays of meats, fried fish, stew and plantain etc., Infinite buckets of canned soft drinks and super malt will also be on offer.
The Prayers- praying is an essential part of our parties whether it’s at weddings, a celebration of life (celebrating the newly deceased) or a naming ceremony giving thanks for new life, The prayers are typically said in both English and in the native tongue of the celebrant (s) and are normally led by the elders.
The Spraying This is one of my favourite traditions in Nigerian culture. For example, at a wedding reception the bride and groom are ‘sprayed ‘during their first dance (when guests place money on the couple- usually on the forehead). This generous act of public giving is a way for family and friends to openly bless the couple and give them a good financial head start as they begin married life together. This can be very lucrative as I know of several couples that have literally made thousands of pounds from this; it can also be a nice little money earner for children- if this is permitted. As a child, (I was a bridesmaid for my aunty’s wedding aged 10) my cousins and I were assigned the glamorous task of collecting money which had fallen on the floor during the spraying session. We picked up the seemingly never ending flow of notes and decided to ‘reward’ our efforts by pinching a tenner at the end (no we didn’t ask permission). We got caught by some aunty and needless to say we got ‘taught’!