Night Life

There's a Fly in My Soukous

Africans love to party.

Now, typically we try to stay away from broad ethnic stereotypes — except of course those that we personally know to be fact, like, Mexicans can run up to 60 miles per hour — but when the statement comes from the general manager of the African-based Club Kalahari (15000 Bellaire) and when said manager is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we tend to assume it's true.

"We are loving people, friendly, and always ready to celebrate," says Emman Legrand, current GM of Club Kalahari and nightlife staple in Houston's large African community. "That's why it's hard for [African] clubs to stay open — we are always attending parties at halls for ­everything."

Perhaps that's true — Royal Palace Hall (11939 Bissonnet), Rose Garden Hall (10880 Bissonnet) and the Arab-American Cultural and Community Center (10555 Stancliff) are regularly booked with such events — but Kalahari has managed to stay relevant for more than 15 years. And now guided by the same hands that pushed the defunct Club Sahel and Kenny's Café to popularity a few years ago, it doesn't appear to be slowing.

"I've been doing this for a while, so I know what the people want. We try to bring out Houston artists who are in African music, but we've had some performers from Africa here. Dany Engobo, Awilo, Diblo Dibala, they've all performed here," says the charismatic Legrand, a soukous artist himself for the past decade.

(When asked why he made the trek across the Atlantic 20 years ago, Legrand looks you square in the eye and deadpans, "to find a wife," before a sly smile sneaks across his face and laughter bubbles out.)

Located about 97 (or eight) miles down Bellaire off of 59, Kalahari is situated in the Mission Shopping Center — which is perfect for those who would like to learn some karate and then purchase some kitchen supplies before they hit the club. (It's actually six miles west of the Beltway, but a relatively quick trip on the Westpark Tollway.) It looks like the type of place that would include a disco ball and Christmas lights as part of the decor. (It does.) But its meager front belies the typically raucous gathering inside.

Even the interior, with its pizza parlor-type chairs, non-plasma TVs, large projection screen playing African videos, and tiled ceilings and floors, might be initially off-putting to those used to the glitz of Midtown. But late Saturday night, when the freaks and apparently the Africans come out, no better ndombolo dance party can be found. Sometimes lasting until four in the morning, Kalahari becomes a cosmopolitan hodgepodge as DJ Rickey provides a soukous-heavy mix of African music to Ugandans, Nigerians, Congolese and Americans, all usually between 25 and 45 years of age.

And each Friday of the month, with a live African band pumping out the rumba, Caribbean and Afro-Cuban amalgamation, you can expect every spot in its 200-­person occupancy to be spoken for.

"Fridays are so crazy," says Kimberly Robinson, a 31-year-old restaurant manager. "You can hardly move, it's so packed. It's a lot of fun. And there's a lot of guys to get to buy you drinks."

Lucky for the guys, the drinks at the standard beer and liquor bar are pretty tame in price. Kalahari Punch, a fairly popular mixed drink, runs towards the high end at a mere six bucks, while super-special African beers like Budweiser and Miller Lite run $3 a pop.

Last Call

Ask any film critic what the greatest film of all time is and one answer inevitably comes up: Over the Top. The Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling masterpiece is the pinnacle of cinema achievement, so this week the Nightfly called on Brad Grounds, former arm wrestling state champion and author of The Ultimate Guide to Arm Wrestling Technique, to make sure you totally own someone if they challenge you to an arm-wrestling duel on top of a pinball machine in an old diner.

1. Keep your hand as close to your shoulder as you possibly can. (Ummm... it's usually pretty easy to come up with a snarky remark for each one of these, but we got nothing for this one.)

2. Lock your upper arm against your body, and move as one unit. (0 for 2; we got nothing for this one, either.)

3. Train your forearms, wrists and hands. (This one is a bit too easy, so we'll take the high road...coughs, masturbation, coughs.)

Clear Lake-ians are notoriously weak-armed, so try ripping someone's shoulder out of their socket at one of these 77058 establishments: Scout Bar (18307 Egret Bay) — live music nearly every night of the week, so this place ain't all bad; The Outpost Tavern (18113 Kings Lynn) — advertised as "Not the newest or the prettiest," which means this place is like the ex-­girlfriend of night spots; Sherlock's Pub (2416 Bay Area) — "Trivia Night" would probably be your best chance at arm wrestling success, what with it being filled with nerds and all.

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Shea Serrano