*I first published this in Metropole Magazine
Your beer almost spills. Not because the words are blasphemous. You can’t even remember entering a place of worship. It has even crossed your mind to interrogate your idea of the existence of an all powerful, all knowing deity. It is the stark incongruity that threatens to push that sweating glass of beer out of your grip and cause you to apologise all night to people whose clothes will smell of beer because of you. It is how the guys in the live band of this Garki club switch seamlessly from a song about holding women’s bottoms to one that begins with the words: “The gospel is not for Sunday morning/ Sunday morning alone/ Each and every day/ That the lord has made We gat to give thanks and praise to the lord”
You turn to your friend who has sworn to you that this little known but old club is the best new discovery in Abuja, not hiding the horror on your face, worsened now by how everyone around is whipping out white handkerchiefs- sober people, drunk people and people buying and selling sex.
“Do you realise what they are singing,” you scream in your friend’s ear, not sure if your non-Nigerian friend has really taken the time to listen to the lyrics of the songs playing or if she is just having a good time enjoying the too-loud music.
She smiles a smile that says, ‘shut up and enjoy’.
You agree that it is fine to believe that ‘the gospel is not for Sunday morning alone’, anyone can believe what they want, but you are uncomfortable with the idea of invoking jealous gods and making them compete with the thick cigarette smoke, sweating beers, and the many women hanging around, waiting to be picked up.
An old man whose eyes have shrunk in size every hour since you came here and who only comes alive twice- first after securing a young lady of immense buxomness to sit with him and next when this Gospel song by Buchi starts playing- looks longingly into the eyes of his lady friend as he sings aloud: “I thought about the good good things/ He has done for me/ I thought about my lovely children/I thought about my pretty wife/All I could think of to say was/Thank you Jesus.”
“This is crazy,” you scream to your friend above the noise and burst into laughter. As the song plays on however, you realise you are the only one who isn’t animated, who hasn’t joined in the chorus: “Mma mma/ Jesus onye ebere”
It has to be the club, you think. Maybe the clientele.
A few months later, you are in a bar at the Hilton. You wonder if the band will get better as you order drinks. Different people do their acts and the only people that clap at first are the foreigners. Then a young man with a raspy voice takes the mic and starts to sing solo: “When a man make-a-love to a man/ That one is homosexual/ When a woman make-a-love to a woman/ That one is lesbian.” Everyone stops the side talk and suddenly there is amused laughter coming from all the corners of the room. You smile.
The song is short. The applause is loud. The young man signals to the band and when the first words reach people’s ears, it animates them even more than the previous song: “The gospel is not for Sunday morning…”
Your smile disappears fast. But then you remember the story of the only sane man in a village whose inhabitants were made mad by the water in the river. You turn around and again, you are the only one who isn’t ecstatic. It is unfair to bring sadness into this room, you think. Your third drink arrives, and like the sane man in that story who got tired of being the only sane one and eventually drank from the village river, you let go and join in the only words of the chorus that you know: “Mma mma/ Mma mma/ Mma mma Jesus/ onye ebere”.