Last night we went to Coconuts for a concert (after a nice, long nap, mind you - Maputo's nightlife starts ridiculously late and we can't deal with the 3am start times without some rest beforehand). We had a great group of people that included Brazilians, Americans, Italians, a Welsh guy and a Dane, all of us living and working in some spot in Mozambique. The evening started out with a dj, and we danced like mad to his eclectic mix of music.
The concert was supposed to start at 11pm, the headlining artist being Dama do Bling. She is one of Mozambique's top hip-hop artists and has her videos shown regularly on Channel O, South Africa's main music channel. Recently, the Dama do Bling came under harsh criticism from the moral crusaders of Maputo because she continues to dance her provocative, sexy moves even now that she is a couple months pregnant and starting to show. Apparently it's okay for a non-mother to gyrate and bump on the stage, but it's offensive to the good values of society if she is expecting a child. These criticisms caused a lot of discussion between people here in Mozambique, with many people praising Dama do Bling for being herself and not conforming to the traditional expectations of how a woman should behave.
We were all excited for the show, if nothing else because the environment inside Coconuts was contagious. It was packed full of Mozambicans and you could feel the energy as they waited for the Dama do Bling to come on.
Midnight passed, then 1am. We danced and drank. 2am came around, and no sign of a concert. Finally, at the fashionably late hour of 2:30, a full 3 1/2 hours after the posted start of the show, the dj announced the opening act.
Some girls came on the stage and did some dancing, then were followed by some guy doing R&B. Then the dj announced a true legend of Mozambican music, and an older man whose name unfortunately I was unable to catch came on stage, decked out in a white suit with a matching fedora. He sang beautiful music (all on playback, unfortunately, as was the case with all the other artists) and made the crowd go crazy. Then the dj announced yet another opening act, a rapper called Deny OG. Next came Lizha James, the self-titled "rainha do ragga", queen of a style that is a derivative of reggae. Lizha James and Deny OG are pretty big names in Mozambican popular music, equivalent to the Dama do Bling herself. We were pretty surprised that there were so many opening acts, and with so many "big" names.
By this time it was nearly 4am and we were certain that at any moment the main artist would come on and put on a killer show. The dj called all the opening artists to the stage. An announcement was made. "We would like to apologize to the audience and fans of the Dama do Bling, but she will not be able to perform tonight." We looked at each other somewhat shocked. The man continued, "she was feeling bad last night and went to South Africa to see the doctor. Earlier today, the Dama do Bling had a miscarriage and lost her baby."
We were shocked and saddened, and honestly a bit annoyed that they hadn't had the decency to make this announcement before everyone paid for tickets and waited around the entire night for a concert that never happened. Then we understood why the had called in so many artists for the pre-show - they were trying to make it up to the audience.
Tired and ready to go home, we called a taxi and all piled into the vehicle. There were 6 of us packed in there, since we all were going to within 3 blocks of each other, and it can be difficult to get cabs that late at night. Of course, while driving down the main seaside road, we got stopped at a police roadblock.
This is quite common in Maputo. The police are constantly pulling over drivers to hassle them about one thing or another, hoping to find some minor irregularity with the registration papers, or a car that isn't equipped with an orange safety triangle, or a driver with a license not translated into Portuguese. Any minor problem allows the police to threaten a multa, a fine which they always say will be extremely expensive. Usually encounters with the police end without incident. Some people willingly pay them off, giving "a little something for a soda", the preferred euphemism here for a bribe. Others, in posession of an official UN id card or a diplomatic passport, only need to flash their international heavyweight papers and they usually face no problems.
Last night, the police made us get out of the car and stand on the side of the highway. This is a bit uncommon, but they have been cracking down more at checkpoints because of a recent crime wave in Maputo. We obliged, and showed them our id cards. They hassled us because of the number of passengers in the car, and rightfully so. While one cop was talking with us, our taxi driver was busy paying off the other one. It took 150 meticais (about $6) to solve the problem, plus an extra 20 ($1) for the infamous soda.
As we were about to get back into the car, a shot rang out. Startled, we all looked at each other. "What was that?" I asked Rico.
"An AK-47," he replied.
The policeman looked at us with an intimidating face and explained that a car had failed to pull over at the checkpoint. In retalliation, the police SHOT AT THE CAR. Not a shot in the air, not a shot with a rubber bullet, but an honest-to-god, flesh and metal destroying AK-47 bullet. We were shocked, and hurried back into our taxi before anything else went down at the checkpoint.
I think I'm still processing the fact that police here willingly shoot at cars that ignore their waving roadside flashlights. What if that bullet had hit one of the occupants in the vehicle that continued down the highway? What if someone walking along the road had been in the way?
Add another one to the list of things I will never forget about my Mozambican experience...an AK-47 fired not 20 feet from where I was standing.