Fare thee well Baba Mhlanga
Thursday, 12 July, 2012He was and will always be what music means to me. He was a muso, a genius and a groomer of very high skill. I played marimbas at Thornhill, under the leadership of Mr Michael Sibanda, who was also a student of Mr Mhlanga.
I loved music then but when I arrived at Maru-a-Pula (MAP) School and sat through music lessons of Mrs Bennet and Mr Mhlanga, I became absorbed into an animated, colourful and futuristic but traditional world of music. ‘Baba’ as we all called him was the most amazing teacher, with his bald head, handkerchief, ‘old man’ chuckle and warm smile. He had a beautiful soul and affection for all of us. He saw potential and light where I saw weaknesses. For instance, I have always struggled with tempo whether playing the marimbas or the drums but he made sure that I worked on it. At Thornhill, we were taught to read and write music, but when I joined the Map Marimba Girls Plus, Baba’s scores were complex and I had to dig in deep into my memory, because he would hum the notes then pass the score on to me to read. He turned us into stars – I would not know musical technicalities or North America were it not for the opportunities that he created for us. I know life must end, but not his. It is difficult to write this knowing that I must refer to him in the past tense.
The last time I saw Baba was at the Fete De La Musique event last month, and I promised him that I would come to practice, ‘one of these days, Baba, I swear’ – I said. Before then, I saw him last year, at the same time, same occasion and I was so distant. I regret that with all my being. I took for granted how life and time are only divine elements that cannot be relied upon or controlled. I loved Baba, deeply and was very grateful. I always told myself that when I grow up, I would find him and proudly show him my degrees, albums, children and husband – and thank him for contributing immensely to the person, the artist I am.
Alport Mhlanga, a composer, ethnomusicologist, educator, and marimba maker, has performed and taught marimba since 1964. He was the mainstay at Kwanongoma College of Music for many years and was currently at Maru-A-Pula School in Botswana, where he was the Director of Marimba and Musical Outreach programmes.
The size of shoes that Baba left are never going to be filled. He was King and I am appealing to all those that knew this wise man to make it up to him. His music must be played and published, listened, heard and loved – I know within the deepness of my core that he had so much more to give. He never took. Like they say – The Lord keeps the best to sit with him and guide us from the heavens above.
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain
– For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon
I am stumped for words and feel like I could never say, but to share the pain I feel- the regret that I never gave him enough time. I adored him and we all did. Turn to the person you love, that has helped you, smiled and laughed with you, the one you think about and miss – call them, talk to them and tell them now! Now, that you love them, say ‘thank you’ and tell them that you appreciate them.
For all those that have helped me rise, pushed and supported me – cared and played, worked and did everything with me – know from the bottom of my heart and for the rest of my days – I say I am grateful. Intensely so. I do not want to wait for pain or loss of life to be reminded of the small things that make us as big as the universe. Strength, Light and Progression.