North Sea Jazz Festival 2017 (and the Height of Insensitivity)

So as the temperature drops and we seriously contemplate turning the central heating back on, let me take you back to my summer holidays. I was a pretty busy bee this year, squeezing in two foreign festivals and two weddings (one in England, one in France). But let me kick off by telling you all about the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

My friend Esther and I have been talking about heading off to the Netherlands for this one for quite some time, and we are sssoooooooooooooo late to the party! This thing has been running for over 40 years and is the largest indoor music festival in the world (seriously, the venue is insane – imagine sticking Wembley Arena, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Koko, the Royal Festival Hall and the Jazz Café together like Lego bricks, and you’ll start to get a rough idea of the sheer scale of the Ahoy Centre).

Now I know it’s called the North Sea Jazz Festival, but don’t let the name put you off – I made that mistake when a mate asked me to go in 2011. I imagined a bunch of plinky-plonky, squeedly-wheedling, beret-wearing weirdos and instantly said no. And that was the year that Prince showed up.

While there is plenty of that classic stuff for all you diehard jazz aficionados out there – we saw legendary sax player and James Brown’s right-hand man Maceo Parker – the programme is so much broader than the name suggests, spotlighting past and present giants from the realms of blues, soul, hip-hop, pop, world music and more. High on our hit list of shows were Mary J Blige, De La Soul, Gladys Knight (my personal favourite – looking incredible and with a voice like fine crystal), Usher, Erykah Badu and Jamiroquai, and we saw all sorts in between. Sadly, we missed Grace Jones, who turned up naked, save for some strategic stripes of body paint and a wayward strap-on. Now that would have been a sight to behold.

This thing is great value, in my opinion. Shows kicked off from 1pm each day and ran straight through to about 1am every day for three days. Each artist commanded the stage for at least an hour, so you really felt like you got your money’s worth. The only downside is that there are soooo many people packed into the schedule across so many sites that there is no way you could see them all (just check out this year’s full line-up). You have to be super selective about who you want to watch, and stick to that list – roaming around at random runs the risk of not seeing anyone at all, as the spaces tend to fill up fairly quickly for the most popular artists.

On another crappy note, the drinks prices were astronomical (bear in mind we are talking teeny tiny plastic party-cup portions at that – no tumblers here). The event operates a token system which, once we broke it down, we realised was literally robbing us blind – they even charged us £1.50’s worth of tokens for tap water! Eventually, we started taking our chances with security by bringing in our own bottled water in a bid to avoid having to choose between bankruptcy and dehydration on a daily basis. Better still, if you’re that way inclined, you’d be better off purchasing a small stash from a nearby coffee shop and nipping out for a smoke in between shows. Seriously. That bar will bleed you dry in less than one round.

The only other rubbish thing was the organisation. Utterly diabolical. Be sure to turn up extra early because they seem to have specially selected only the most gormless of morons to man the doors, so get ready for an almost farcical degree of fannying about with venue queues and barcode scans and fictitious directions. Sooooo many blank faces. Speaking of which…

One of these lovely yet ultimately useless helpers was a super-cute Dutch guy who took a very sudden and keen interest in Esther and I as we queued up outside. This beautiful specimen was the spitting image of Bob Marley in his early 20s (my secret pin-up) and I was dumbstruck by how gorgeous he was. Everyone loves a holiday romance and I figured one of us was definitely in luck.

And then he started talking.

Kuda: So…where are you guys from?
Me: Oh we’re from London. We’ve been talking about –
Kuda: But where are you really from? What are your roots?
Me: Oh… well, my parents are from Jamaica and Grenada.
Esther: Mine are from Ghana.
Kuda: Ghana? And the Caribbean?
Me/Esther: Yeah…
Kuda: Aaaaaaaawwww, whaaaaat? Seriously?
Me/Esther: [blinking]
Kuda: Like… you’re not from that place? Where all the uuh… little people live?
Esther: [blinking]
My brain: [is he thinking of Munchkinland?]
Kuda: Damn – man, I was so excited… especially when you said you were African… obviously I knew you weren’t from round here, ‘cos you guys are so short.
My brain: [sound of a penny dropping]
Me: ….wow…you… you thought we were pygmies?
Kuda: Yes! YES! I was thinking like – oh my gaaaawd, I just met my first pygmies today! They’re real! But no – turns out you guys are just like, really, really short.
Me/Esther: [stunned blinking]
Kuda: Hey, it’s cool – we can’t all be big, I guess. [surveys our footwear] But I like that fact that you know, you guys aren’t trying to compensate with the big heels and stuff – you embrace it. I like that. You know, you guys aren’t suffering with that… you know… what Napoleon had?
Me: …short man syndrome?
Kuda: Yes, that’s it! But you guys are cool with being tiny – I like it! At least you weren’t bred.
Me: Say what now?
Kuda: You know… like those giant basketball players and stuff? They were bred. Like cattle. From slave times.
Me/Esther: [even more blinking]
Kuda: Well… it’s been nice chatting with you guys. Maybe I’ll catch you inside?
Esther: [silence]
Me: Yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaah. Maybe.

: )

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