The weekly AfroFunké Thursdays at Zanzibar, founded by African Afro-Roots Reggae star Rocky Dawuni and talent booker/photographer Cary Sullivan, on November 11th turned out to be a milestone event, and quite a surprise for most in attendance.
For some Santa Monica, California locals, it was just another night out for a couple of drinks in the plush Moroccan-styled Zanzibar. For others trying to grab a rare show of an hour or so from Rocky Dawuni & The Revelation Project live, they were anticipating his fusion of reggae, African rhythms and soulful, funk-filled grooves. With DJ Jeremy Sole spinning his unique mixture consisting of mostly Afro-beat and World Beat vinyl pieces, the colorful and dance-ready young adults made the atmosphere resonate with energy, love and such a respectful sexiness, everyone seemed like family.
Without paying much attention to the few video cameras set up in the back of the club, not to mention a handful of scattered photographers, my casual thought was that Rocky’s performance was getting some extra attention tonight. No one really paid it any mind, but little did we know…
Just before midnight struck after Rocky Dawuni completed a few songs from his forthcoming album titled, “Book of Changes,” he stood purposely to the side of the stage and made an announcement that confused the audience: “Tonight, we have a very, very, very special guest with us. Everyone, I want us to give a very warm welcome to royalty. We have Mr. Stevie Wonder in the house joining me on stage!”
Some cheered, but to be honest, most of us before we could actually see Stevie Wonder being guided through the middle of the dance floor, parting us like Moses did the Red Sea, our mouths fell agape. Indeed, it was the man in the flesh, Stevie sporting his purple Sean John velour sweat suit, making his way to the stage, of course with the support of two of his people. With harmonica in hand, he joined Rocky Dawuni & The Revelation Project and they jammed amidst the now noisy cheers that at first drowned-out the music for minutes. Even the bartenders stopped pouring drinks for a while, and this would have been a great time if you were outside, to enter free – since the bouncers seemed to be distracted inside as well. The atmosphere was electric!
As another guest, Rolling Stones’ renowned percussionist Remi Kabaka, came on stage as well, the crowd erupted after every note Stevie sang or played on his harmonica. And the class act that he is, he respectfully performed alongside the Afro beat vibe, not at all trying to take over the spotlight with his soul classics. It was, after all, Rocky’s night, so Stevie respectfully accompanied Rocky’s lead. At times Stevie did lead a call-and-response type of playful game with the crowd, hitting impossible notes with his golden voice, making it enjoyably tricky for us to follow, but it was Africa we (including Stevie) saw in the distance. It was a night ‘Hotter than July’!