Sunday, June 11, 2017
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Monday, May 1, 2017
The Eloquence of Dancing Bottoms Where Everything Crawls Back to Art:
Prefatory Notes on LIVE LIKE AN ARTIST
By Robert Muponde, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is a life spent on carefully quarrying the soil and stones of experience for that blinding yet familiar insight (if you imagine the striking ordinariness of lightning and the terrifying deadliness of its familiarity).
David Sunny Mungoshi’s critical voice significantly shaped the republic of letters in Zimbabwe. At some point in his career, he presented his critical persona in the legendary garb of one Chigango Musandireve; a witty, robust and acerbic critic. The barbed but playfully scorching witticisms have now been recalled into service once again, but presented as a bouquet of poems that traces the broad and complex expanse of an artist’s imagination and life. Sunny and dark, jovial and wistful, cantankerous and conciliatory, bombastic and sober; these poems are stories of a life lived fully in its contradictory, diverse and beautiful paradoxes. The yearning and despair, the nostalgia and scepticism, the harking on the past and the love of the present and the timeless; all are emotions and attitudes which are adeptly quilted in the very texture and intentions of the poems. The sense of urgency and quest for significant meaning is tempered with the cautionary tales about the new buccaneers in our midst, who seize the day (as everyone should) but blow up the ozone layer and leave us with bridges ambitiously laid over dead river beds. The nostalgia for a golden past, whether personal or communal (the shared glory of a simplified and unified universe), is laced with a sense of urgent time (to rethink and reorient) and slippages of time (when poorly handled and misconstrued). Nostalgia does not preclude pain and loss, disappointment and betrayal, and the “cold unfriendly days of your childhood”. It is viewed as the quest to travel light in a meaningful past and present.
I am tempted to provide commentary on all the poems, but am mindful of the fact that I insisted on writing only one page, or a few paragraphs perhaps. It is not possible to capture the entirety of the experiences presented in this book, but a few examples might do.
Living as an artist, as someone not driven by profit but prophecy, not by revenue but revelation; the whole persona of the artist is imbued with an aura of creation, of origins, the coming-from-nothing (not in the sense of the much-touted rags-to-riches stories). The art does not easily sell because it is priceless, like life itself.
The quest for freedom (free-spiritedness) and happiness in “the riches of poverty”, whose cypher is the vagabond who has nothing to guard, is equally as intense as the expression of poetry embodied in “eloquent bottoms dancing/To a choreography that shakes the world”. With this primed contrast and juxtaposition, David Mungoshi jolts us into an awareness of different levels of aesthetic intellection, combinations and rhythms.
The voice is that of a versatile raconteur who has jostled with and surfed the cycles and turmoil of time; a key witness in how time ravages, repairs and recycles; and is himself both oppressed and quickened by the imminence of mortality, obsolescence and dereliction if, as in “A Poem About Time Going By”, he does not seize the moment and inspire significance in his own life and experiences. Living like an artist requires time itself to be experienced in multifarious ways. In this collection, time is experienced chiefly as a fad and a good, a heart-breaking occurrence that can start all over again, an insistent and repetitive memory; and a crutch, “time --insulating your sensibilities against memories”. The voice constantly reminds us that even for the poet, memories are “Our choicest pickings from best-forgotten episodes”.
His poetry, better appreciated as story, tends towards the expression of the delights of telling a story and the artifice of inhabiting one. When David Mungoshi throws around words like beau and belle, she-devil and Lolita, he is very much aware of the indelible footprints of cultures other than our own that have directed his reading and narrative pleasures. He is asking the reader to go with him to the ends of the world he has travelled imaginatively but with a sure and kind hand guiding him/her. What could have come across as an egregious exhibition of erudition in the poetry of other writers (such as Dambudzo Marechera) is experienced as a mellow and humane worldliness in which knowledge of other cultures is not only a good (pun intended) but a valuable accessory.
The story of time and cultures shapes the poetic expression; it is mythopoeic as in “The Legend of Sekwa the Lass” who was “too well-endowed for her own good”; prophetic and playful; caustic and cautionary; wise and jocose; serious and sentimental. Sometimes the pleasure of telling a succinct story invested with the power of an image is what is behind the imagination of pieces such as “The Green Door”. At other times it is the image, or a series of images that slip into the place of a poem and evoke powerful glimpses of epochs, mores, character and the configuration and uses of social mobility (see “The Twelve Bar Blues Story” and “Stories from My Picture Album”). Then, you have occasions when the poet wants to pontificate on human conduct and deficits such as in “Bang! Bang! Bang!” (where a woman experiences sex as a shotgun). The call to a moral compass is shrill.
I should say, in spite of the accessibility, educated jokes and puns; Live Like An Artist has its own fair share of shortcomings. Some of the poetic images in, say “Treat Me Like I Really Am Something” and “Peasant Woman’s Beauty”, are well-intended stereotypes that err on the side of caricature. Delectable belles, she-devils, lasses, studs and beaus, are meant to widen the archive and wordplay, but end up being mere
idiosyncrasy on the part of the poet. However, the frame of reference is indeed wide (beyond these clichés) and adroitly incorporates musical genres, canonical literary texts, and fashion. The poems are themselves a mixture of the purely narrative and the consciously poetic in terms of rhyme and line construction. The affectations of style and language are “all just for fun and effect”, I agree, and allude to the beautiful paradox that is central to the life of one who lives life like an artist where everything crawls back to art and, like eloquent dancing bottoms, raises chuckles and questions.
Northcliff, Johannesburg, 30 March 2017
Phone or WhatsApp: +263775187608
Phone or WhatsApp: +263775187608
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Thursday, April 13, 2017
You cannot believe the excitement that I went through recently on coming across my article done way back on Tuesday, March 7, 2006! It was an article that I did for the Moses Magadza edited Southern Times. It is on Zimbabwean sungura musician, Nicholas Zakaria. It was entitled “Nicholas Zakaria release Chewa Hits.” I post it here for the benefit of those who have been following Zakaria since then. I know that he has released various albums ever since. I am just over excited. Never mind the changing times. Here it is below:
+Zimbabwe now has many highflying musicians who are well known throughout Southern Africa. Nicholas Zakaria is arguably the humblest and the quietest of them all. Always clad in modest attire, he talks less about others and his achievements.
Six months ago, at Simon Chimbetu’s burial, in the absence of Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi, he became the obvious spokesman for the Zimbabwean musicians present. A very tough looking introvert, Zakaria doesn’t begrudge his successful former students, the late System Tazvida and Alick Macheso. “Mbiri yavo imbiri yanguwo. I take pride in their fame,” he said in a recent interview. Even when Macheso complained about copycats Zakaria did not say “But you copied me yourself.” He only said if people copy you it means you are good. That was quiet an ironic sting.
If you listen carefully you will realize that although Zakaria plays the same style as Macheso, his music is decidedly calmer, mature and more meditative. While Macheso’s Sungura is more innovative and appeals more to the nerves, Zakaria’s is soulful and finds you only with the benefit of a series of replays. His more popular albums include Mabvi Nemagokora and Ndine Mubvunzo.
On stage Zakaria’s dance is not a dance at all. These are ordinary up and down rhythms of one who knows the source and centre of sound. He plays his lead guitar as if he has never listened to it himself and would rather go away and dig in the garden instead. But beneath it all you see a very private pride and that mischievous Chewa man’s satisfaction that says I play not because I have no other things to do but because I like it.
Born at Zimbabwe’s Belgownie Estate in Mazowe farming area, Nicholas Zakaria's origins are in Malawi and he is fluent in Chewa although it is not established if he is Chewa. Although Chewa people have roots in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania, they are now virtually in all Southern African countries. Outside their countries of origin, most of them are in Zimbabwe and South Africa where their parents or grand parents migrated as migrant labourers.
Because their general impoverished condition stems from the days of colonial conquest, the Chewa people have participated in many liberation movements in the region. Their names were found within the ranks of Frelimo, Zanla, Zipra, Anc and other such organisation. Their role in the politics, sports and arts of the region is very difficult to ignore.
However it is sad that their official population figures have not been properly established in a region where migrant labour was and is still a huge economic reality. Considered peripheral, they are generally a peaceful lot who have however kept in touch with their traditions through constant journeys back home or through song and dance. A true Chewa man is simple, generous, joyous, daring and resilient.
Researches reveal that Chewa is interchangeable with Nyanja. Some documents reveal that “Chewa people speak a language called Chinyanja.” Their ultimate origins are the Luba-Lunda kingdoms in Zaire from where they wandered southwards. Sometimes languages like Ngoni, Nsenga, Nyasa, Peta, Maravi, Chikunda… are considered to be Chewa/Nyanja dialects. But the Chewa people have intermarried everywhere they have gone showing that Africa is their home
It is in that light that Zakaria’s new album called ‘Chewa hits’ is very important. This is a compilation of twelve Chewa songs from Zakaria’s major albums of his music career. On most of his albums, Zakaria had always included several songs in Chewa. This has continued since his founding of the Khiama Boys arounf 1984. Macheso’s backing voice and baas guitar are very evident in this album since these songs were done while he was still at Khiama Boys.
‘Chewa hits’ is very historic in that it is one of the very few all-Chewa-song albums in Zimbabwean history. This despite the fact that most Sungura gurus like the Chimbetu brothers, Somanje brothers, John Chibadura, Amon Mvula, Ephraim Joe and others could sing fluently in Chewa even if some of them might not have been strictly Chewas. Most of these musicians, like Zakaria, grew up on the Zimbabwean mines and farms where their parents were ordinary labourers. Influenced by the Rumba rhythms from their countries, played by their parents, they evolved a kind of Zimbabwean sub-Rumba now known as Sungura.
In Zimbabwe these young banjo-playing musicians migrated to Salisbury from the farms and perfected their guitar playing whilst working as the so-called garden boys. Wonder Guchu of The Herald has done an interesting research in which he discovered that these young musicians, including Zakaria almost always congregated in the African township then called Gillingham. Gillingham could have been convenient because of its proximity to Salisbury’s leafy suburbs where these lads found employment easily.The name of Gillingham is central in the development of Sungura and one day a more wide range research might be necessary.
It is no surprise that sometimes the Sungura drums and bass guitars are distantly reminiscent of the mbarure, the drums for the Gure Wamkulu. Sometimes the singing too as in Chimbetu’s Dyera and Macheso’s Mundikumbuke vibrates with the harmonies of some Gure songs and traditional songs common in Zambia and Malawi. Videos show John Chibadura twisting and cutting out his legs and performing the fast final circle the Gure way. It is important to realize the role of art in showing the syncretism of human traditions.
In a recent interview Zakaria admits that he was once a Gure dancer and that nobody matched his dancing prowess. However he sadly thinks that he now ‘sees the emptiness and meaninglessness of it all’ because he is now a Christian. This is sad because Gure Wamkulu ‘the big dance’ is central to the identity and culture of Chewa people. Considered a secret society, the dance is only a tip of the iceberg because beneath it is a whole community coming together to learn about the traditions, wisdom, history, medicines, secrets… passed down the line since Luba-Lunda. The Gure is considered to be in mythical animal state when fully dressed, something akin to the egwugwu of the Ibo people of Nigeria. Of course the Gure has been both abused by some insiders and misconstrued by the condescending outsiders.
Zakaria’s ‘Chewa hits’ album is generally prayerful and sometimes very sad. Although very implicit, these songs capture the loneliness of the migrant labourer far away from home, relatives and ancestors. The hottest one, which people in Zimbabwe will recall from yesteryears, is Zomveramvera meanung what you hear through rumours. In that song the persona calls for reunion with his ancestors and the source of his being. He feels thrown out of the family circle and even forsaken:
Makoro anga rero rino mwanditaya
munditayira chiyani, chifukwa chochoka mzomveramvera?
Ine pokara ndichita ngati mwana wamasiye
Ine kurira, kurira siku riri ronse.
But the sadness does not end there, as this album is dorminated by the crying and weeping motif. The titles of the some of the songs here tell it all: Kudandaula, Ndili Kulila, Ambuye Yesu. In ‘Ndiri kurira’ the persona regrets the time he has spent looking for charms to improve his image and wealth. Maybe the most soulful song in this album, with the lead vocals by Alick Macheso, Ndili Kundandaura records the migrant labourer’s constant struggles with poverty and segregation. The sad thing is that even with or without the luck charms he cannot get out of the vicious circle. Chewa, like all African languages carries eternal poetry which can be enjoyed even for it sake:
Ntawi imene ndinataya kufika pakari pano
Ndiribe kantu kari kose.
Ayeye ndiri kurira.
The idea that Zakaria is a devout Christian comes out clearly too as most of the songs seem to find answers in Christ and prayer. Zakaria’s music can easily pass as gospel music.
There is also belief in self worth and muman dignity – Uremu, which is the reason what most left home inorder to look for in foreign lands. There are teachings about establishing a family and building a home as in Bajna ,Akarongosi and Ayudhe.
It however remains to be seen how much Zakaria’s marketing will take advantage of the huge and widespread Chewa audience in Southern Africa. The greatest weakness with Southern African music is its failure to cross colonial boundaries. By Memory Chirere, Harare. 2006