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Like the phoenix, Florida club rises again

By Emmanuel Mwendwa | Feb 1st 2015 | 5 min read

Saturday evening marks the dawn of a new era for the re-invented Florida club. The night spot, previously known as F1—reopened its brand-new doors, barely months after its landmark, space-ship-like ‘ancestor’ was shut down and later demolished.

Several generations of Nairobi’s urban social scene and dance party goers, were literally weaned on a medley of localised club, foreign-influenced funky and pop hits, performed by numerous home-grown bands during live concerts at the venue.

In its heyday, the mushroom-shaped red-and-white club held on to its glowing reputation as the capital’s top entertainment hotspot since the late 1960s prior to its acquisition by the Florida group of clubs.

A significant percentage of Kenya’s little-known stars from the 60s through the heady 70s, rose to fame as performing artistes or resident bands at the night-spot initially known as Bonanza Club.

The late 60s’ city artistes like Fadhili Williams, Daudi Kabaka, crooner Salim Abdulla Salim aka Sal Davies, Steele Beauttah and Ishmael Ali Jingo played at the club, which served as their individual or band’s career launching pad.

Notably, Jingo’s popular 70s club-banger and funky-driven chakacha hit Fever features as a soundtrack for the Last King of Scotland movie.

The nightspot later changed its name to Sal Davies Night spot; then Club Arcadia and eventually Sahara before being snapped up by the Florida group.

Curiously, the Florida club, along Koinange Street, alongside the equally popular Starlight club on Valley Road, were both situated within a couple of hundred metres radius to each other.

Reference points

From a historical perspective, both clubs are still regarded as reference points, significantly instrumental in the growth the localised 1960s pop and 1970s funky-driven music scene and hits, most of which are hard to find nowadays.

But it was Florida which, long after Starlight closed its doors, would attract high-profile international artistes either visiting or passing through Nairobi. Among these were reggae artistes Burning Spear, King Yellowman, Glenn Washington, Joseph Hills’ Culture band, Apache Indian, dancehall star Shaggy and South African jazz maestro Hugh Masekela.

Congolese artistes Tabu Ley, Koffi Olomide and Wenge Musica band, among others also performed at the club. The TP OK Jazz crew fronted by Ley and Madilu shot Muzina track clips besides other song videos at the club.

Over the years, other clubs like Sombrero, Studio 54, Small World, Hallians, Marike, Bamboo, Club 1900, Tamango – later on Ainsworth, Bubbles, Excelsior, Beat House, L’ora Blue and Visions succumbed to shifting trends and emergent nightspots to close shop.

But the re-branding of Florida no doubt engraves the club as perhaps one of the oldest names still in circulation, besides the only nostalgic reference point for the 1970s and 1980s city’s disco music aficionados.

“We intend to inject a fresh lease of life and new identity into an enduring tradition of the old Florida, which was intricately entwined to the city’s popular club music scene evolution.

The décor inside now differs visually from the previous interior – it is original, more classy and sophisticated,” says Chris Rhys Howarth, the re-branding creative director.

He describes the Florida as the “newest old club” in Nairobi, seeking to offer the city’s high-end middle class target market, an invigorating and fresh-feel disco dance music experience within an engaging and glamorous atmosphere.

Enriching experience

Unlike other city night spots life-size multiple soccer screens dominate the menu on any given evening, none of these sports bar trappings are on the cards.

“Our objective is to literally raise the bar in city’s club scene, for a clientele keen to be immersed in exclusive entertainment. The goal is to redefine going out as an enriching experience – have fun dressing up and dancing the night away without undue distractions,” remarks Howarth.

Of crucial importance is creating an ambience appealing for the working class to troop in regularly, into a nightspot whose atmosphere takes away the rigours of a hard day or week at the workplace.

The Florida group brought together a team of creative minds and tasked them to engineer the club’s comeback.

“It has been a challenging experience, and every day I would walk in, amazed by the ongoing transformation. After several weeks of hard work and long days, the new club’s doors are re-opening,” enthuses Alex Holi, the project manager.

The new Florida’s outstanding features include a VIP space – exclusive private, plush seating behind a one-way-glass, small bar, personalised services and piped music – besides the general sitting bar, lounge area and smoking rooms.

But it is the dance-floor’s art décor and eye-catching murals effects, bouncing off numerous 3D mirrors adorning the walls, which grab the attention of revellers, strictly required to be above 21 years old.

Avid disco goers will also savour the thrill of dancing to a mixed-grill of latest feel-good party house music synchronised to the Madrix 3D meteor club lighting system.

“The launch night begins with a special invitation VIP event graced by a popular Sao Paulo-based top Brazilian DJ Marcus Coppini – ranked the 10th best top disc jockey globally. Later on at midnight, the doors will be open to usher revellers with welcoming themed dance during Showtime,” adds Holi.

In the long-term, the club located along Banda street plans to embrace the Florida nightclubs tradition – offering regular themed nights showcasing varied musical styles, hosting different DJs as was the case in the past.

Virtually most of Nairobi’s outstanding DJs including Florida’s general manager Steve Aziz nurtured their disc-jockey skills at the club, besides DJ Kareez, DJ Tubbz, DJ Cliff, DJ Hussein Abdallah, DJ Magic Myke and DJ Mdosi.

Some of the current crop of reggae DJs like Kriss Darlin and the Dohty Family crew once plied their trade at Florida besides DJ JahKey Marley, whose Jambo Sounds, brought reggae music to the upmarket club from its downtown fringes.

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