When Muthoni Ndonga, popularly known to her fans as “the drummer queen” decided to quit her job to pursue her passion for music full time, she did not know her decision would benefit many upcoming artistes.
Ms Ndonga was a part time drummer at a club in Nairobi’s Westlands area, but worked full time as a programme assistant at ICRAF.
In 2007, she realised that her talent was more than a hobby and decided to harness it.
Her club performances were not successful. “While I was employed I did shows once every month mostly on Fridays. They never picked up as I expected and soon differences emerged with the owner of the club,” she said. She had to look elsewhere for opportunity to grow her talent—thus the idea of Blankets and Wine, an outdoor premier Afro-based music festival designed to showcase this genre, was born.
From its simple beginning in 2008 when the event only attracted 130 guests, the monthly fair now draws up to 1,300 or more people.
The audience is a mixed bag. Individual fans mingle freely with corporate guests, the latter whose numbers have been growing along with the event’s popularity.
The picnic-style music festival is held every first Sunday of the month to allow families and children to attend. But the afternoon event that initially used to close at 6 p.m now has a session that runs up to midnight. Another special show every Easter period was slotted in. It starts on Saturday with an opening party ahead of the normal Sunday session.
But there have been hurdles. “Music consumption depends on human behaviour. In the past it took us a lot to market the show and when guests turned up they would leave dissatisfied because of small issues like sitting space, hitches that we are now trying to avoid,” she said.
The event is held at different venues every year. In 2009 it was at Tayiana Gardens in Ridgeways. Last year’s fair was at Hillcrest in Karen and moves to Mamba Village this year. This ensures audiences have a different experience every year.
Blankets and Wine targets the middle class, diplomats, expatriates, and tourists who appreciate African music and culture. Visitors carry picnic bags, wine and blankets (Kikoy) to the grounds.
Tickets range from Sh800 advance and Sh1,300 for those sold at the venue.
Two main corporate packages have greatly boosted the event. Under the basic corporate hospitality package, a company is allowed to buy space for its staff and for marketing.
This comes along with between 50 and 100 tickets for the employees depending on the price of the package.
Companies that opt for the premier corporate hospitality package enjoy similar benefits like those in the basic package but are allocated exclusive space.
“The corporate packages have attracted mostly companies dealing with experiential products and new ones which want to market themselves and are willing to take up one year subscriptions,” said Ms Ndonga.
This year has been the most successful for the event judging by the number of milestones marked. For example, between April and June, the event has been able to host two international artists namely Thandiswa Mazwai from South Africa and Ivory Coast’s Manou Gallo