ETHIOPIA 4: the Donald

September 8, 2004

I saw an Ethiopian band and dancers at the hotel; a drummer, a guy playing a one-stringed fiddle called a masinko, and two guys playing these lute-looking, guitar-sounding instruments called krar. The guy playing the bass krar sounded for all the world like the bass on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” Sonically, I mean.
They were extremely out of tune; after every song there would be a long tuning pause, that was never particularly successful. Then they’d start playing, these great African grooves, sometimes in three, sometimes in four. Fantastic. Though it was effectively an Ethiopian version of a Ramada Inn lounge, they would go into these great, fevered jams. The energy just got more and more intense.
As Canadian tourists picked tentatively at their shiro and injera, at traditional basket-tables. Served by stoic waitresses in bowties, and nameplates that read “TRAINEE No. 35″ or “TRAINEE No. 8.”

The dancers came out and jacked their necks and chests in astonishing ways. I could barely comprehend how a human being could move their muscles like that. Occasionally they’d fade back and just clap along to the music. What was fascinating was that they would switch the beat they were accenting with their claps–the two and the four, and then all four, and then the one and the three–though the band jammed ever onward in the same rhythm, the clapping made the accent of the beat switch, sometimes fluidly, sometimes abruptly. Just great.
I finish dinner, the band finishes up, and I want to hear more. I get into a taxi and tell the guy that I’m looking to hear some Ethiopian music. He takes me to a dim bar where a guy in a suit is crooning into a wireless mic in front of a guy playing a Yamaha keyboard, with drum machine and automated bass line.
Uh, perhaps a more traditional kind of music? He takes me to a place called the Concorde Hotel. I walk into the bar–the uniformed security guards salute me quite formally, as uniformed guards do, disconcertingly, everywhere in Addis–and there’s a band like the one at my hotel, and dancers, finishing up a tune to much applause.
I go to the bathroom. When I return, the band is gone, the dancers are gone, R. Kelly’s “Step In The Name Of Love” is playing, and the bar is filling up with whores.
One of the whores corners me on a bar stool and asks me to buy her a drink. Yeah, OK, why not. Big mistake. She essentially stands guard over me for the next half an hour, giving nasty looks to the other whores that pass by.
OK–here’s the odd part–I think I was drugged.
I was drinking a bottled water. My heart started to beat kind of fast. I started to feel a little shaky. Oh FUCK. I recognized the feeling. This was the Donald.
The Donald is the feeling one gets when one takes Ecstasy, just when the drug is coming on, but before the euphoric effects. An anxious, panicky feeling. The origin of the notion of the Donald was this one time when I was playing a Dutch Summer festival. My guitar tech, Heinz (an English guy nicknamed for love of the beans) had these E’s with imprints of Donald Duck’s face on them. I downed a pill, waited a while, started feeling nervous and agitated. My girlfriend called, and I described my state of being. She said, “Is it the Donald?” YES! The DONALD! That describes this feeling EXACTLY. But she just meant, was it Heinz’s E’s with the Donald Duck on them.
So I was freaking out. I haven’t been on any drug since the year 2000. I didn’t know what to do. I kept looking at the red-lit Red Bull sign in search of psychedlic effects. How was I going to sit this out?
As it turned out, I wasn’t on E. I don’t know what it was. Maybe chat, the local speed-like leaf. I briefly considered hiring a whore to give me a backrub and wait out the drug with me. Then I just jumped into a cab and split, and whatever the feeling was wore off within the hour.