The orchestral ‘tune-up’ proved to be the first song. The collective noise emanating from the corner might only qualify as music in some obscure atonal sense beyond my Western-tuned ears, but the fear in the eyes of the musicians willed us to find harmony where there was none. I suspected they were winging it.
Young girls and old women stepped out of the lengthening shadows to hunt down partners. As if playing the coy partner in a mating ritual, the foreign audience was collectively tiptoeing backwards towards the anonymity of the gloom at the back of the unlit room. The local ‘dancers’ forcefully took our hands, pulling us back towards the centre. They exchanged nervous looks before turning back to us with joyless glassy smiles. The eight-year-old who reached up to my waist gripped my hands with all her childish might and jumped wildly from side-to-side, while swinging our entwined arms upwards in series of random violent movements, creatively adapted following furtive glances towards her equally clueless peers. A climate of frivolity was intended, but the tension was palpable.
But then, quite suddenly, the equatorial sun slipped down over the horizon and plunged us into darkness. The cacophony continued and the crazed arrhythmic tramping of feet thundered on. With the crowd now reduced to a collection of confused shadows, Grainne, Johanna and I wordlessly identified each other and with a keen mutual sense of opportunism we slipped out the side-door before somebody found a candle. Now, we moved quickly, skipping down the hill like nimble goats.
Not all culture is good culture. Sometimes it’s not even culture.