From 2001 to 2011 I lived in Milano, a city cosmopolitan enough that almost nobody I know is originally from there. A lot of immigrants come from within the country (myself included: I am from a different region), but others come from all over the world: in 2010, legally resident non-Italians were more than 200.000, about 17% of all Milanese. And yet, if you are a white Italian, there is almost no way to meet up with people from different backgrounds than yours. Of course, we shop in the Egyptian foodstores; we contract Romanian professionals for home renovation; we eat at Chinese restaurant (or rather, Japanese ones manned by Chinese staff who thinks we can’t tell the difference). But we don’t meet after work, to see a movie together or unwind over a beer. I did, of course, have some foreign friends, and some who are second-generation Italians, but it felt like they were embedded in communities that I just never got to meet.
This did not make sense. A smalltown boy like me moves to a city to experience the glorious weirdness of people being different and doing different things. If you didn’t like that, you would not move out from the village in the first place! Talking to a few friends, I found they agreed. So, one night in early 2011, a tiny crowd of five diverse Milanese gathered at my apartment. Actually, three of those are now on Edgeryders! They are Nadia (Swedish with Ethiopian-Sudanese background), Medhin (Italian, with Eritrean background) and myself. The two not on Egderyders were Dan (South African) and Davide (Italian). Only one of us, Medhin is born and bred in Milano. The plan was to make parties, where we would dance to music from the best clubs. Not the clubs of London or New York, but, as we like to say, of “Lagos, Karachi and Molfetta”, Molfetta being a small and unknown town in Southern Italy. Hey, we smalltown people from the province can be cool too!
We are all passionate about music, and have developed an interest in the way various local and regional musical cultures have explored electronic music in different ways, making club music way more diverse than pop and rock will ever be. We thought that, through the appropriate choice of music, we could convey a simple message:
Milanese from all over the world are welcome. We moved to the city (or did not move out, in the case of those born there) to enjoy each other’s company, and that’s what we are going to do right now.
This is surprisingly difficult. Medhin and Nadia explained to us that, when you look different, spaces that make a big deal of diversity can feel contrived and awkward, because you suspect you are there to fill the diversity quota. Not good. We thought we could beat the feeling by the choice of music and inviting people in such a way that everybody would be a minority, and so we could finally relax.
Dan found us a title: Vuka! Which means “awake” in, I think, swahili. The Milano Film Festival gave us a space for our first attempt. We decided to start small, but prepare for scaling to a small business, a professional club night. The thinking behind this was that making Vuka! financially sustainable we would make it a stable infrastructure fo this kind of socialization. Davide is a professional event organizer, so he was ready to take over if we got too successful. The plan was simple: first, gather a core community, with a lot of diverse people, to set the tone; then, grow.
We did three Vuka parties; the first one at Milano Film Festival, the second one at our home (my favorite) and the third one in a club to the south of the city. They were small things, but we did manage to get the kind of crowd that we wanted. And people loved it! We received a lot of emails of thanks, how much they appreciated being in an environment that was global in an uncontrived way. Come the second party, people started to show off dancing styles that you don’t normally see in Western clubs, and you even got some small impromptu “challenges” between particularly good dancers. The Africans always came out on top, though Turks put up a good fight. Then we had to stop, because the summer had arrived and the city was emptying for the holiday season. Unfortunately, in the auumn of 2011 the group of the founders was quite dispersed: Nadia, Davide and I had moved out of the country, and Dan had drifted off. Vuka! rested upon the shoulders of Medhin and Stefano, a professional dj that we had met at the first party and had come onboard, but I guess they found it hard to allocate the time to keep it rolling, because I don’t think there has been another Vuka! night after June 2011.
Every now and then I watch the Facebook page with all the videos posted by Medhin and Stefano, and I miss it terribly. I was beginning to make friends there.
I would like to try to set up something similar in Brussels, where I plan to move in a few months. Every city should have a Vuka!, and I should be invited.