Sunday, September 1, 2013
TORTURED BEYOND ENDURANCE: THE VULGARITY OF ART AND MUSIC IN ZAMBIA
TORTURED BEYOND ENDURANCE: THE VULGARITY OF ART AND MUSIC IN ZAMBIA
By Katele Kalumba
I suppose events are simply a sort of annotation of our feelings- the one might be deduced from the other. Time carries us forward by the momentum of those feelings inside us of which we ourselves are least conscious. Too abstract for you? I am thinking about music, really. My antic Sony record player was behaving today. I pulled out an old vinyl record. It used to be called an LP, short for long play. It was crackling and hissing out some Mosi-o-tunya tunes. I listened for the voices and guitar stunts of the people I knew: Rikki Illilonga, Paul Ngozi, and others. Something that could connect me to myself, in the deep and not light sense, because surrendering to my immediate sensation would certainly be imprudent. It would be indulging in the facile effects that pure taste in music and art, I mean cultured taste, would stigmatize. Nothing snobbish about that inner search, I must stress. The reason for my refusal of what is ‘easy lay’ or ‘cheap’ in music because it is easily decoded and culturally ‘undemanding’ is for one simple reason. Everything that offers pleasures that are too immediately accessible smacks of vulgar sensuality. I often feel aesthetically pushed to label it ‘facile’, not matured.
And so as I listened to my vinyl record play, my mind curled into a far away space and remembered the charm of Mahotela Queens, the beats of Soweto Skokiaan jazz and indeed the enticing sax of Dollar Brand. Dollar Brand goes by some Muslim name now and, like his contemporary, Miriam Makeba, looks very polished indeed. As I indulged myself nostalgically, I was one generation behind my Mosi-o-tunya Band sounds I realized. My attempts to catch up only resulted in getting more and more frustrated as this type of music played. My mind was resisting it. Why for Pete’s sake? I want to feel Zambian! This is Mosi-o-tunya playing Zambian music. I realized without too much strain, there was something about me that was being violated. If you ask me to define it, I would not be precise. But Shiva Naipul in his novel entitled “North of South’ ( I think it is a Penguin publication in the mid seventies) captured it for me. I, a Zambian only identified myself in terms of experiences generated from the South of Zambia. My music taste was tainted by my spatial relationship with the South of Zambia.
Some right side of my brain kept telling me to pull my pants up and go and tell my good friend Brian Chengala off! Was he not the Mosi-o-tunya Drum whiz kid? He keeps doing a Shakarongo stuff that sounds like Voodoo Cho mein on a Paul Simon “Spirit of the Saints” cut. I kind of like it somewhat especially coming from Chienge.com! Well Brian, do not be shocked my dear friend, I have not lost perspective. I am just searching.
I refused to accept those Mosi-o-tunya sounds on my LP as Zambian because I kept hearing Osibisa in them. Very West African. While Nkrumas and Ojukwus, Senghors etc were political giants of West Africa, my deeper understanding of myself was more influenced by some Khosa man called Nelson Mandela languishing on Robben Island. The beats of Soweto protesting against apartheid had greater meaning for me than the “Wololo wololo” sounds of Osibisa.
I changed the music violently. I did not have an LP but an old tape of Nashil Pichen Kazembe. The man had courage and personality. Forceful in his lyrics and less generous in his music style. A poor carbon copy of the Congolese maestro Franco, I concluded quite fast. If you understood and appreciated Franco (and all his authentic African names he was called), there was no way you could accept anything mimicking it. It simply isn’t done. Rumba is Rumba and the Congolese have it, period. And in some strange way, consistent with Shiva Naipul’s observation, the Congo (whatever other surnames and first names it has had, I mean the Congo just north of Zambia) has failed to imprint itself onto our cultural psyche. I know you may disagree. I understand but music as culture carries with it messages which we own. “Ubushimbe Na bu mpesha amano”, or “Ye ye ye ye ndelile njabi mayo” some lyrical lines in what have now become two respectable folk songs from our Sinjonjo era of the 1960s, said something about us. Northern Rhodesians, who lived North of South. Despite greater cultural affinity, in terms of our Kola origin, the English ruling class in our colony had been very effective and efficient in re-aligning our taste, they had successfully alienated the majority of us from our mother, the Congo. We were English. Rumba could not really define us.
And, of course, that is my statement on ZAMRock. Yes, the Buchi Hall boys, the Great Witch were Zambia’s idols of the early seventies. Well, to be honest, of music idols we had nothing better. After, listening to James Brown and watching how young and very lovely looking University of Zambia babes were throwing their bras and what-else onto the master of Soul’s stage, who could not have been inspired to be like the Rolling Stones? That’s it. I just figured out our problem of music taste. Here was a nation evolving and seeking expression as a Black nation by inviting Black Soul masters like James Brown. And yet in Buchi Hall, a group of young boys wanted the manner and arrogance of an Englishman now called Sir Mick Jagger. He has been knighted by the Queen, has he not? Well, this out of space Briton made thick lips something admirable. Before, it was very African and not too appreciated to have thick lips. It is incredible how taste changes with powerful symbols.
We never are capable of creating powerful symbols, I indict you all, my fellow countrymen! Despite his stage acts, Jagarri Chanda could not be a Mr Morgan Leafy, in the novel, “The Good Man in Africa”. Only Sir Mick Jagger deserves that title. And so, as I think of the Great Witch and “I feel groovy”, I could only recall “ The Autobiography Of An Ex-Colored” which was anonymously published by James Weldon Johnson in 1912 about the Negros (now called African-Americans). The Witch sounds were about emasculated identities which failed to register on the cultural Ritcher Scale significantly enough to mean something. Really “The Great Witch” failed to cause a music earthquake or sunami that would jolt us into a deeper understanding of something about us. Something away from “The North of South”. Well, for the Witch, and Jaggeri Chanda in particular, I still think they should be given some Order of Distinguished Service for breaking the hearts of many young dames of our time. May be music enthusiast and legal counsel, Mumba Kapumpa will put in a word for them somewhere, one day.
Memory lane, yes it is and I feel justified at my age well after half a century! There was a young beautiful girl who used to walk the corridors of NamBoard around the mid 1970s. Then, Dominic Mulaisho the quiet young man from Feira, was Managing Director ( more appropriately General Manager) of that incredible parastatal company whose mandate was to make losses in order to ensure cheap mealie meal in the cities while paying slave prices for farm produce from rural folks. Looking at him each time I had those rare moments to go and explain to the man a major project with my boss, some Scottish lady called Arabella Downes, I always suspected that the dud spent sleepless nights remembering his English literature teacher. How else did he come up with that incredible literary piece, “Tongue of the Dumb”? By the way, someone told me recently that some abusive teacher punished her at school by asking her to read “Tongue of the Dumb” in the hot tropical sun. What a way to make a student hate my mentor Mr. Dominic Mulaisho. Has he ever been honoured by the powers that be with something? He too deserves it!
I have digressed. I was remembering a beautiful young lady of Kimberly brick color skin, quite charming really. She was called something Osborne. Once in a while, I used to see another girl, shy looking I remember, rush in and out to whisper some family things to what I came to realize later, was a sister. A rather clearly authentic ebony African feature about her, she too was called something Osborne. I couldn’t resist commenting to my friend, Ronald Nsofu who lives somewhere in Lusaka, about the Osborne Sisters as a musical combo. Well, one day I pulled up some male gismo and asked the NamBoard Osborne about the other Osborne. Boy, did she have much to say! It must have been a case of “sibling something” as they call it in psychoanalysis. In the end, I realized that this shy Osborne was not the go-getter girl in town type but surely a vocal stealth bomber. How did I conclude?
One day I sat with a mate called Douglas Mulenga (who lives somewhere in London and has forgotten how to speak Ex-hey!) listening to really ambitious characters the likes of Yandikani Lungu, and another Chewa or Nsenga man ( no big difference which one) who sang better than my name sake KK while wearing goggles. He sung funny songs about animals making funny noises. He was some Lazarus Tembo. I think Dorothy Masuka, from the South of Zambia, then very much a Zambian icon, was there but slightly singing off-key because our Zambian castle beer had not been too user-friendly to her. Mosi beer was not on the market then I remember. The other shy Osborne, whose name I now knew was Jane Osborne. She had not messed up her style like another girl who sung “Kabuku” by then. Boy did she hold us drooling for encores. Another equally ambitious girl, Kafula I guess was the name, singing in a less polished schoolish voice, the lyrics, “Imwe mwe balume bandi, imyendelene yenu …etc” also put a signature onto the Zambian music scene. These two were some of the early female popular musicians.
That night, the old style Emannuel Mulemena performed some rather hot and suggestive tunes not about UBZ being yellow and black but something else which require some Female Likishi moves. Who can remember these things for Pete’s sake? My memory is failing me. You see at that time, Alick Nkhata did not need to sing. He was the definition of a maestro, but of what music. North of South, I think with a little seasoning of Bosco Mwenda? When I listened to his music and later, to his music ensemble, then called the Big Gold Six ( they had been renamed from the Zambia Radio Band), I realized the impact of Alick Nkhata balladies. They were powerful entertainers of a certain class of the colonial white underclass who were charmed by effort from which ever African source. Well, to be balanced, my good friend , now like many musicians of the time, late, “Best” Mwanza, ( I miss him fondly for his encouraging me to be an amateur music enthusiast), was the Earl Klugh of Zambia. An accomplished guitarist who could stand his own ground with the best of Jonathan Butler. But that tradition, was equally for us, North of South. Yes, the Big Gold Six had some nice Zambian traditional tunes played in modern pop scores. I guess for reasons of commerce, we could not explore fully and discover, something unique about our music.
And so, today is like yesterday. I heard someone bellowing out some hip-hop stuff with the lyrics of “Ntweno and mu Ntweno”, another wondering about how long he will live in “Kaya” and still another complaining about wages because he said something about “Twalibombele mwisho” and, some quite beautiful babe doing a lullaby for her son “Khuzwayo”, all quite interesting, really. This is Zambia, moderne ! Burning Youth, Danny, Lily T, B-Sharp and of course the Glorious Band, these are a few names from the sea of humdrum sounds that knocks on our ears for definition. They all come dressed in a “Casbah orientalism” that reduces “high sense” required by pure taste into cabaret music. It is “easy lay” music that makes it imprudent for any one to pronounce the word “beautiful”….save for B-Sharp smooth Jazz beats with Sir Jones on lead, Sebastian on Bass and Brian on Drums..
What am I saying? It is about something that music must make authentic. You see, I can not resist recalling, each time I listen to current Zambian pop, my reaction when I walked in a Geneva music shop ( I was doing a WHO Consultant thing then), and listened to a rather croacky voice like mine with some cool jazz-funk beats dishing out “Kamwana ka ntonto kamuchaya”. It was ArchBishop Milingo. I bought the CD right away. Why, because this was a Zambian on CD in a Geneva upmarket shop singing in Chewa or Nyanja or some such unpolished language of my brethrens from the East of Zambia, and he was supposed to be chilling in some limbo in the Vatican, I assumed. The guy was having a real fun time while we the natives back home worried dead about his welfare. Well, I do not remember anything about the later day Moonies episodes or his Korean connections. But that is Milingo! Bold, courageous really.
It was not for pleasure that I bought that CD, it was for identification. Damn, I wanted those up-nosed Swiss citizens to know that the music they were playing, and did not even have the natural instinct to classify as “International Music” (That is the section of the Music Store you find tunes that are not always kind to your ear ) was a Zambian. Milingo was main stream in Geneva. No one had heard him in Zambia,that I knew for sure. If they did, they could have explained to me what “Ghubudu ghubudu”, in his title song meant? I await a day when I will ask him. Entertaining in its courage but certainly a product of a clever keyboard with an RPS facility that makes Piano lessons unnecessary. Music never the less you might say. I agree. But not cultured.
Allow me closure before I offend too many. Some years ago, I lived at a joint now called 90 Kamloops road. It was called Kalingalinga road at the time I resided there. Like many things that have changed identity, I guess some donor funded the rehabilitation of the road and felt entitled to christen it Kamloops. Well, in the late eighties and early nineties, 90 Kalingalinga road was the place for the reformers who believed they could change the world. The Akashambatwas, Nawakwis, Mmembes, Sichingas, Remmy Mushotas, Sam Chipungu’s, Derrick Chitalas and many others. These unbridled political idealists made 90 Kalingalinga road their political rendezvous for conspiring to introduce multi-party democracy. With my Toronto Dominion Bank Visa Credit Card ( the only way I could buy from Niecos), I encouraged their patronage. But in addition, this strange house was the Joint to be for music names like George Mlauzi (my good old mate who never ages); Ackim Simukonda, Ballad Zulu etc. Young Justin Nyirongo launched his name from the small studio in this place when he recorded “Pepani Olila”. Yes, you had the ZNBC DJ Timmy Mvula encouraging these music “restless” to come to my place. Some helped others as session musicians when we took master tapes to DB Studios. Guys like Makulu of Airpower band was very generous, PK Chishala always looked after PK Chishala, and there was young Robert Mapara, an engineering graduate who never knew how to fix a battery on our small car but dreamed songs he would later sing as “Omart”. These guys were always sharing with each other some kind of music dreams about going South of our North to make it while chilling at 90 Kalingalinga Road. They even tried a political jingle about MMD, “We can do It, Yes we can” with Simukonda as lead singer! That was my humble home then. It was more of an open house where all dissidents of one sort or the other found refuge, sometimes through consumptive orality. Victims, all of them, of a greater evil to Zambian music and art, the tasteless branding of our cultural skins: “North of South”.
Sunday, September 25, 2005