Bongo Ball Review

When I found out that I was covering this year’s Bongo Ball I got the urge to scream out in excitement after recalling last year’s event where I was well and truly ‘Bongo’ed’ after a night of non-stop dancing and running around Crail Airfield like a toddler at Christmas!

The only real set back to last year’s Ball was the lack of mandatory heating which left guests, no matter how intoxicated, fighting for a space huddled next to the bonfire. This year however, the heating was bliss and I can’t say that I even felt the cold standing near to the doors. It certainly felt more sophisticated since there was not an outdoor BBQ where ‘ladies’ found themselves falling into pits in the queue with near-misses to being grilled themselves, and then glamourously flouncing around with 5 burgers wedged onto their stiletto heel…not a good look.

No, this year’s bongo was much better, despite the slow start where the venue looked only half full and the painfulness of early bus times where people were literally downing their last sips of pre’s on their way onto the bus.

As I arrived the ambience was already set with African vibes oozing from the airfield. Face paints of leopards, lions, and zebras were on the go and posers were taking advantage of the photo booth in their feistiest animal prints. We all knew what was coming…the main attraction…the rockin’ Zambula Band. Now this was what I was most excited for because last year they were such a hit and yet again they absolutely made the night. I cannot even express what these people do to the room; It’s like they have you in a trance trying as you imitate their African dance moves (and some interesting Miley ‘twerking’ from the guy lead singer). Everyone was grinding away to the amazing African tunes and absolutely loving life. It’s so nice to dance to some good music at a ball for once! And the band are far too cool, just sayin’. I admit I wanted to hug the Afro-headed lead female for being so wonderfully happy and smiley as she interacted with a very excitable and appreciative crowd.

If that wasn’t enough for you, the second dance floor was also overflowing with some gorgeous African Tapestry hanging around the tent but with a more rave-y vibe and dance tunes. It was quite hilarious to see the odd tiger onesy raving to ‘I’m every woman’ aha.

Two free drinks certainly went down well, and the cheap deals with a double for 2.50, you cant complain when comparing to St. Andrews’ prices! The free chips went down well at the Buffalo Food Truck where you could also purchase some African delicacies such as the speciality African chicken wings and other meaty specialities, although a  little spicy for the fainthearted like myself. But I loved that they went all out!

DJ Alex Bryson took over soon after the Zambula band and picked up everyone’s energy once again as the rave carried on late into the night, followed by Immanuel Jebson. As some retired to the shisha tent which was lined with pillows and trinket fairy lights (I didn’t actually see any shisha, only smokers bringing their wonderfully scented cigarettes into the tent? But maybe I was a little late!) whilst others alternatively clustered around the cosy bonfire.

Honestly Bongo has to be my favourite event in St. Andrews to date with good authentic music, outdoorsy-ness with fabulous presentation and the quirkiness (let’s not forget the projection of the Lion King on the wall for a little soft touch!). It really did bring a little taste of Africa to the St. Andrews’ Ball scene all in aid of a wonderful charity (Xavier project) and ventured from the not-so-strict ‘black tie’ dress code with far too over exaggerated DJs that you actually can’t dance to.

If you didn’t go to Bongo, you really missed out and you will find me next year in yet another animal print doing my thang on the dance floor and untastefully close to the coolest band evaaa (yep that was me). Cos I just can’t stop being Bongo’ed!

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Bongo Ball Review

It is truth universally acknowledged that a St Andrews student in possession of a Bongo Ball ticket must be in want of a good animal print.

Indeed, trawling our three streets on Friday afternoon in the pursuit of an appropriate African-themed/ Black tie outfit, in almost every shop could be found a Bongo Ball-er asking “Will I ever wear this again?” Being a fourth year Bongo veteran, I was well equipped with a croc-print blouse and face-paints. However, also being a fourth-year anthropology student, I found myself with some doubts over the “Africa” theme and even the very use of the word ‘Bongo’. 
 
 
Nevertheless, arriving at Crail Airfield and drawn immediately to our favourite fixture, the massive bonfire, we were excited for what promised to be as crazy, wild and memorable a night as our last two Bongo Balls had been. A brief visit to the music tent confirmed our suspicion that the disused cinema housing the main stage might be the cosiest bet until more guests – and more body heat – arrived. It did not disappoint, despite the icy temperatures, with brightly painted banners and leopard-print balloons adorning the peeling paint walls and dusty windows. One of the event’s main strengths is the unusual setting: people are simply more likely to get their freak on in unfamiliar surroundings (namely, a dark blustery airfield somewhere in Fife). 
 
A few aspects of the event could have been a little more thoroughly organised, with drinks tokens being handed out somewhat shambolically on the buses to whoever was sitting closest. Overall, however, this year’s Bongo was in many ways an improvement on the last: the shisha and burgers were free, and both could be consumed whilst wrapped up in blankets in a shipping container (it was too windy for the glamour of such a receptacle to be questioned). As ever, the Zambula band was fantastic and contrasted well with the packed-out DJ tent. 
 
 
But, my favourite thing about the event was also the element that concerned me most. Attendees weren’t worrying about their suede high heels and pristine white shirts. Instead they were engaging in gloriously sweaty dancing and pretending to be tigers. Under most circumstances this could only ever be a good thing, but here it sums up my problem: tigers are not native to Africa. 
 
 
This need not negate the amazing work that the Bongo Ball does in raising over half the yearly running costs for the Xavier Project, a charity founded by alumni Ed Page, which provides educational and entrepreneurial opportunities to Congolese refugees in Kenya and Uganda. Page works in Uganda and describes the charity’s approach as “holistic”, having incorporated micro finance initiatives into its programmes. 
 
 
However, I’m not alone in feeling that a theme of “Absolutely African vs. Beautifully Black Tie” constitutes something of a generalisation, never mind a dumbing-down. Of course, instances of terrible and offensive judgment in terms of outfits (such as guests coming blacked-up or wearing colonialist costumes) should not be blamed on the event organisers. Yet, I think most of us would be able to deal with a more nuanced approach, which might mention the actual countries involved rather than bringing a whole continent under one umbrella. Indeed, for many, using the word ‘bongo’ to capture the spirit of Africa (if such a thing exists) is problematic, given the way it has been used to essentialise the place in the past.
 
Bongo Ball is a highly successful event, raising money for a worthy charity that, as far as one can tell, takes an integrated and informed approach to development. Yet for me it also prompts wider questions about how the ‘Gap Yah’ generation conceptualises the far-away places we buy black-tie tickets to raise money for. 
 
Images courtesy of ANP, Amy Thompson @ Lightbox Creative, and Xavier Project. Font by Antipixel. Compiled and edited by Kerri Pandjaitan.

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