The Oktoberfest has come and gone. To be sure, Bralirwa’s annual beer drinking event was met with scepticism as memories of last year’s horrors replayed through Kigalians’ heads. “I am not going,” said one Innocent Papai. “It is a waste of money.”
“Last year was disappointing,” agreed Charlotte Uwase. Many waited for several hours to receive a beer, while some did not even get to taste a drop as taps were mobbed by stronger, larger, (and drunker) men. “We paid Rwf 6,000 to get into an event that was hell,” she continued. “But, I’ll give Bralirwa a second chance. I had so much fun two years ago.”
Indeed, Bralirwa seemed to know what it was up against, as this past Saturday’s events were well organised, well executed, and well staffed. Held at Gikondo’s Expo Grounds, the venue provided ample space. With one cavernous expo space holding the drinks and food and another, the stage, there were few corners to disappear around or trees to sit under. The lack of ambiance was sorely missed by some. “For old school Rwandans, we’ll take Juru Park, because we know everything in Kigali and that was a nice change,” said Domingo, who’s been attending every year since the inaugural Beerfest.
Pretty girls in barmaid costumes greeted patrons as they entered and promptly handed over a string of stamps. A generous 10 beers, two meals, and two sodas were allotted to each guest, and for once, there was no fighting. The spacious Expo had plenty of elbow room as one bellied up to the bar. Passing a stamp over, a cold Primus, Mutzig, or any of the several imported beers was quickly put in your hand, a far cry from last year’s jockeying.
Unfortunately, this ease of transaction came at a high cost, literally RWF 10,000 for a ticket at the door which was incredibly steep, and judging from the lack of attendees on Saturday night, the majority of Kigalians agreed. “There are not many people because the price was so high,” added Domingo, “You know young people don’t have much money.”
While the steeper price ensured a better event, there was something missing this year that was so integral to the previous Beer Fests: chaos, fervour, and sheer excitement. No frenzied dancing, no vomiting. This year’s crowd was severely more subdued (more mature, even) as they wandered in and out of the bar tent or concert hall.
“For me it’s nice because we are travelling and I missed Munich this year,” explained Marcos, a German backpacker who happened to be in Rwanda at the right time. “I guess Kigali is the next best place!” he laughed.
“I am happy, I am free,” was all Boni, a reveller, had to say before he faded into the crowd.
“This is a great night after last year’s disappointing events. The fun live music atmosphere that is present at most Rwandan events is still here,” said Christina Barstow.
Without question, the highlight of the night was the Urban Boyz’s performance, where the Expo proved to finally be the right thing at the right time with a great stage. Well dressed and well practiced, the trio put on an excellent show. They were full of vigour as they crooned and danced around the stage, the audience eating every bit up. “I love them!” shouted one foreigner as she walked by with friends. Locals joined in when the ‘Boyz’ sang their hits, and everyone swayed and threw their hands up during the encore.
While this year’s Beer Fest should be considered a success with many participants agreeing to have had a good time, Bralirwa should make more of an effort to lower the price to eliminate some of the exclusivity present at the Expo. The crowd was much too small to reach the level of party seen in previous years, and the fun loving atmosphere was the best part of the Beer Fest. Since they’ve clearly taken strides in organisation, it’s time to think about next year and adding a little more spice before they lose their half-hearted followers.