Located on North High School Road, the club is hidden away innocuously among gas stations and ethnic supermarkets. Go inside behind the mirrored windows and you will experience a mixture of club, sports bar and grill. Yes, food is available from the kitchen all night, in case dancing until 3 a.m. has helped you work up an appetite for hot wings.
A quick glance around the club on a Saturday night reveals people from all races socializing, drinking and dancing. There is no single word to describe the music. You wouldn’t think a set list that includes South African techno (Kwaito), Madonna’s “Holiday” and hip-hop would work. But somehow it does.
Around the walls, Budweiser and Coors signs are mixed with Kenyan Tusker beer posters. The four pool tables are doing a roaring trade. One of the bartenders, Jesus, is wielding liquor bottles like numchucks whilst nonchalantly chatting with customers. Multiple televisions hanging from the ceiling screen soccer, rugby and Indianapolis local news broadcasts.
At 10:30 p.m., the bar was nearly empty and a single dancer was strutting her stuff in time with the music. By midnight, the dance floor is full, the smoke machines are working overtime and the heavy beat reverberates through the whole building. Away from the dance floor, people stand shoulder to shoulder, chatting loudly in various languages. Don’t be surprised by their friendliness — by the time we left the club at least five total strangers had introduced themselves to us and struck up lively conversations.
A common dream
Opened in February 2001, Club Zambezi is the creation of Muzi Ncube from Zimbabwe, Tino N’gbesso from the Ivory Coast and Ken Nyangira from Kenya. Initially the idea was to create a slice of Africa in the Midwest. “We opened the club to expose African culture into the USA,” Nyangira says. “Indianapolis being the crossroads of America and the Midwest, and the population was growing; we thought here would be the best place. It is also a dream of mine to own a nightclub.”
Ncube and N’gbesso met while playing for the same soccer team in Indianapolis. The two then met Nyangira at an African festival and discovered they all had the common dream of opening a nightclub. After three years of searching for a suitable building with a liquor license, they eventually “got lucky” and purchased their current place. “We didn’t have any nightclub experience,” N’gbesso says. “We didn’t have any experience in restaurants. We just jumped in and said, ‘We want to do it.’
“The first year we opened Zambezi I was getting about four hours of sleep a night. At the same time I was a bank manager and I had to go to work and manage people. I was working on my master’s also.”
Having no experience in the nightclub industry aggravated the usual strains on their time, money and personal lives. “It’s not easy for any woman to see her husband as a club owner and being there all the time with all those ladies,” N’gbesso says. “You can imagine what I went through.” To ease the strain on N’gbesso and Ncube, Nyangira quit his other job and began working as the full-time manager of Club Zambezi. “We put so much money into it we didn’t want to fail,” N’gbesso says. “Now we cannot be surprised by anything because everything that could happen to us has happened to us.”
Diversify to survive
After a year of almost exclusively attracting Africans, the three owners realized the club had to diversify to survive. Although Indianapolis has an African population of more than 11,000, the club needed to expand their music list to attract more customers. “Many people didn’t know what it was about so they weren’t coming in, or [they thought] it was only for Africans,” Nyangira says. “So we changed it to an ‘international bar’ where we play music from all over the world. The International Night is Saturday night. If you come in from any country and want to have a good time here, bring your CDs and we will play them on International Night.”
N’gbesso agrees. “To share our culture with the Americans was hard,” he says. “If somebody comes to a club and it is the type of music they want to listen to they will stay. Once they get to our club and hear how we play different kinds of music, some people are not comfortable. Slowly they have learned to like it.”
Nyangira says the change to an international club has had a profound effect on the clientele of the club. “Everybody comes in here and sees a difference now, and keeps coming back,” he says. “We have been getting noticed by a lot more people, not just Africans.”
As with most clubs, it is the music that attracts customers. Club Zambezi boasts a long lineup of African DJs, all with their own unique style. Among the more prominent are Kenyan DJ Amo from Baltimore, DJ Tabani from Zimbabwe and DJ Ibrahim from West Africa. “They play similar music but have their own styles,” Nyangira says. “We are lucky to have such good DJs.”
A typical week at Club Zambezi begins with Underground Mondays and techno on Tuesdays. Both these evenings tend to attract a younger audience. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are reggae and hip-hop, and Saturday is International Night. Sunday is karaoke from 6-10 p.m. where anyone can sing pretty much any style of music they like. “If you have an African CD you can put it in and sing along with it,” Nyangira says.
Aside from dispensing alcohol and pumping out loud music, Club Zambezi regularly organizes barbecues and sporting matches at Eagle Creek Park on West 56th Street. The most recent match was a rugby game between a team of Africans, the Kenyan Exiles, and the Indianapolis Fire Department rugby team. Naturally, post game drinks were served back at the club.
The club is also a popular place to watch professional soccer and rugby matches on satellite televisions. During the 2002 soccer World Cup, the bar was regularly bursting at the seams. “Soccer is the main sport we play on the televisions here,” Nyangira says. “In Kenya we watch soccer but most of all we love rugby and cricket. Others [Africans] from the south love soccer the most.”
Despite attempting to cater to diverse audiences, Club Zambezi is still a strongly African club. On the independence days of various African nations, the insides of the club will be decked out in national colors and their music will be pumping from the speakers.
Club Zambezi will be organizing a weekend of festivities to celebrate Zimbabwean Independence Day. The celebrations will begin this Friday and Saturday nights (July 4-5) at Club Zambezi with a “Battle of the DJs” where Zimbabwean DJs will play their tunes alongside local DJs. Zimbabweans from all over the USA are expected to attend. There is also a soccer match to be held at Northwestway Park on West 62nd Street and Moller Road on Saturday. Kickoff is at noon and a barbecue will be held after the match.
Club Zambezi is located at 4010 N. High School Road, Indianapolis. For more details call 280-8114 or visit their Web site at www.clubzambezi.com.