The bright illumination of the sun settled on the beautiful garden in front of Stadtgarten concert hall in the city of Cologne, Germany that morning. “Let’s sit in the sun’’, Thomas Rees, a music and travel journalist from UK, suggested. The sun was such luxury following the biting winter that gripped the heart of Europe earlier this year. With that behind them, Rees’ suggestion was warmly received by all except the African journalist on the team who wasn’t keen on getting “fifty shades darker’’. It was the second day of the research trip with six international music journalists invited by NRW Kulture International.
It took about an hour from Hotel Esplanade in Bonn by tour bus to reach Cologne-Germany’s fourth largest city after Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. The cologne craving in this writer had been ignited long ago with numerous colourful pictures online as well as visuals of tourists on shopping spree in Cologne, written as Kln in German. Cologne was a former Roman colony, hence the name.
Multi-tasking could not be overrated in this scenario where there was a lot to capture and remember. Juggling with the pocket-sized battery loving camera and the mobile phone camera, a good distance was secured behind the group as the artist director, Stadtgarten, Reiner Michalke received his multi-racial guests. Walking past the restrooms, the lot found a basement concert space called 1997 Studio 672. This is the hot spot for nightlife entertainment where a variety of music genres are performed.
As a matter of fact, the entire venue hosts 400 concerts annually. It came as no surprise that Stadtgarten, named after an association of Cologne musicians, won the Venue of the Year Award by the German government in 2016. There were a lot of visible credibility- well-positioned fire extinguishers, one exit-one entrance, a lush park furnished with tasty delicacies. With the contractual agreement signed by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the City of Cologne, the venue is now called European Centre for Jazz and Contemporary Music.
The lunch was a nice networking idea and a revelation of sorts. Almost every journalist on that table knew something about Nigeria. Rees has heard about Afrobeat and Lagos traffic. Josef Woodard (USA) knows very much about Nigerian musicians in the international space especially King Sunny Ade and Femi Kuti. He is curious about the new crop of musicians; hence a kept a note handy when the conversation was flowing. To make it a 2-way learning session, he advised that Django Bates should be understudied. Herbert Hopfl (Austria) has met Nigeria’s music export to Europe, Keziah Jones and had a picture of both of them “bawling’’ to show for it. Sebastian Scotney (UK)’s father worked in Ibadan and used to send postcards from there to him as a child. Scotney, now a grandpa, knows the British-Nigerian Jazz musician, Ola Onabule and other artists of Nigerian descent. Henning Bolte (Netherlands) who had been to Egypt is a jazz music festival veteran. His music repertoire was something to tap from asides the hug bottle of sparkling water at the centre table.
Next, the group moved to LOFT where the vivacious Dr. Benedickt Muller, clad in unbuttoned checkered shirt and jeans was waiting with a warm smile and a big piece of cake right at the bar. His fast speech was heart-racing, making it difficult to grab a piece of the edible while taking notes. The look of LOFT is quite deceptive from the outside. It could have been just another residential building; but it was a former perfume factory. But in 1986, its Foundation was laid just simultaneously with the opening of Cologne Philharmonic Hall and the concert hall in Stadtgarten. After an elaborate renovation, the space is the hub of musicians with its recording studio, lounge and mini dance floor. Ascending the building, the volume of fliers and handbills gave a clue as to the frequency of cultural activations at the LOFT.
Dr Muller’s father, Hans Martin Mueller, a flutist and former teacher at Musikhochschule rented the unused space as a performance space for improvised, contemporary and jazz music. Most jazz musicians from Cologne who have risen to international fame had honed their skills at the LOFT. In fact, the Cologne Triennnale and DLF have held concerts at the LOFT.
Later that night in Bonn, a double concert with Lage Lund Trio and the duo of Philip Catherine and Martin Wind thrilled the music enthusiasts at Kulturzentrum Brotfabrik. This venue was a baking factory until 1986 when it became a social cultural municipal building equipped with a restaurant and bar.
One big lesson from this research trip in Cologne is that most of the cultural hubs were initiated by individuals who are musicians. Most of these venues were abandoned or unused buildings that were renovated with private funds. All of the venues are easily accessible and full of pre-planned music events all year round.
That model may be replicated in Lagos. Along Broad street, about five minutes’ walk from Freedom Park, Lagos, there is an old building, a complete waste. When Marc-Andre Schmachtel was the Director at Goethe Institut, Nigeria, he opened the eyes of Lagos to the possibility of activating abandoned buildings for cultural purposes with Dance, Theatre and Music events at the old facility. The facility has since returned to its ghostly state.
The best that had happened to many abandoned facilities in Lagos was to make it a worship centre. Meanwhile, a cultural space has huge economic potential as it presents an opportunity for talents to be brewed while creatives can get jobs either as performing or non-performing artists such as curators, stage managers, set designers, lighting technicians, to mention but a few.
Cologne, the largest cultural centre for Rhineland, has over 30 museums and galleries including Roman archeological sites. Glancing reluctantly behind the tour bus, the vision dimmed gradually on the city which boasts of 70clubs and countless bars.