How to party in Kenya’s Rhumba capital, where ‘pesa otas’

Picture sitting under a tree shade on a hot Saturday afternoon, cold beer in hand listening to Papa Wemba’s Rail-on playing in the background as you scan Lake Victoria and the town’s architecture from a bird’s eye view. This is a typical weekend for a Kisumu resident at Suzanne Owiyo Art Center.

As the sun works its way down further west, a few more souls will arrive with Herman Kardon, and JBL Bluetooth speakers to wind down the week at the Riat-based establishment which runs a mini bar and kitchen but allows drinks from outside at a modest corkage.

Fifteen kilometers away, on the opposite side of town is a similar setting at the lake’s edge, but a little wilder. Car speakers are blaring music, occupants chewing khat, while chama groups or friends catch up over ugali and freshly fried tilapia straight from the lake. This is Hippo Point a public beach that offers carwash services, food, and free space to enjoy the lake’s cool breeze.

If you desire a more serene environment, a five-minute drive from Hippo Point towards the former Kiboko Bay hotel will lead you to a small park-and-chill spot also facing the lake. Unlike the two other spots, here you will have to bring your own seats and drinks or you can just chill in the car as you watch the sunset.

Back towards Hippo Point, exists a neat mini beachfront resort called Le Pearl that offers a great view of the lake, and amazing delicacies on a budget – I can vouch for their fish wet fry.

A little drive further towards Dunga Beach you will arrive at the magnificent Dunga Hill Camp, offering unique ambiance in both outdoor and sheltered settings perfect for sundowners and evening parties. Hill camp is the only beach establishment where you get to enjoy a live band, boat rides, and, fresh food all in one. Occasionally you will spot hippos here in the evening.

For a more formal yet relaxing setting, Acacia Premier Hotel’s rooftop pool bar will offer you a scenic view of the city and a serenading live band on weekends.

When night falls, however, the entertainment offerings widen. Around Patel’s flat, off Kisumu Kakamega Road, Rhumba lovers have an entire street of joints to choose from starting with the latest entrant in town, Pitstop home of rhumba and African cuisine. It is flanged by Mamba lounge to the right offering a comparable vibe but in an all-outdoor setting and club Otro, which serves a more diverse audience with varied music tastes. To the left, towards Kakamega road, there are numerous new bars with incredible outdoor spaces known for great retail price offers on drinks.

Across the street along Nyerere road, sits the mother of all the rhumba scenes in town Da Vundu Bar home of electric performances by Congolese and occasional Benga bands. This top spot used to be held by Club Vimba around the same locality but it closed down two years ago under unclear circumstances.

Closer to the Central Business District (CBD) Samba Marina is known for hosting great Rhumba Deejays and offering affordable accommodation in its hotel wing.

Other popular rhumba spots include Kondele’s Dondez Club with a large outdoor space and an unparalleled fresh variety of white and red meat,  Highway Bar a few meters from Kondele’s roundabout, and club Barizi opposite Nightingale Hospital.

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For a more upmarket feel and for lovers of afro-pop and contemporary music, the CBD is the place to be. 

Alleways Beer Garden notorious for its Aluta parties where patrons party continuously for two to three straight days, especially during public holidays is a top choice. Alleways boasts of great dishes from their in-house chef (try the pan fry kienyeji chicken) and still maintains an eco-system of kuku choma, mayai pasua, and smoky vendors right outside the club. The club hosts a peculiar vibrant crowd with an apparent sense of comradery lauded for keeping at bay vices such as drink spicing and theft which have characterized the downfall of several popular joints.

A few blocks away at Alpha House is Cafe Ole with an equally great party energy. It is still new in town and is just a matter of time until it blows up.

For a more controlled crowd, La vue Lounge at Tufoam Mall offers an ideal space for good music and conversations and a panoramic view of the town, while Mega City’s Da Bar holds the number one spot for an upmarket ambiance boasting great cocktails, food, and craft beer.

Still, within the CBD, younger audiences frequent Level 4 formerly known as club signature which has maintained its lively deejays and spacious dance floor.  Africana rooftop bar at K-City business park similarly offers great music, and food and is known for its relatively fair prices on drinks. 

A reveler recording a live performance at Dunga Hill Camp. Photo by Emmanuel Oyier

Further away from the CBD to Kondele, we have the Fabric Loungue popular for midweek theme nights like the and its young revelers.

I would have mentioned the famous Black Pearl Lounge in the top three-party scenes in the town but they have temporarily closed for renovations.

Regardless of your music taste, the ultimate party experience in the city is at Club Da Place– China Town, the deservedly self-proclaimed Enjoyment Headquarters. The Mamboleo-based club hosts top-tier Deejays and live performances from established artists from East Africa during the legendary Kikao Sundays and is a football fan’s paradise given its numerous large TV screens and a dedicated football section and TV panel for big games.

There are definitely a lot more entertainment spots in town that I haven’t mentioned but I sign off with this great-to-know establishment, the Kenya Association of Professional Counselors where you can reach out to a counselor if you suspect your vibrant nightlife is costing you your financial, social or professional wellbeing, because in this city it is often party and pesa otas meaning money is just a piece of paper, spend it until it’s not.