Following the sudden passing of jazz music promoter recently, Soares Katumbela, a friend and media veteran, KEINEETSE KEINEETSE goes down memory lane
Robala ka kagiso Soaresh Bashi Sambalanda Katumbela. Wena pholwana ya phala, o goletseng gareng ga mathalerwa. You were as they say, ‘a calf of an impala that grows up in the midst of wild-dogs’. Your going conjures only one word ‘Mishodzi!’ You were a sensitive person son of my mother.
When we gathered to pay our last respect, we were with armed thought police and their brethren… word police of high swivel chairs were among us to make sure we did not over praise you and remind ourselves of the diamantine quality we have lost.
Our eyes burnt with disconsolate and sulphurous tears that would not dry; Mishodzi is our Dikeledi, tears! That beautiful Ikalanga word which is often a name, to many a fair maiden. I am past childbearing age my brother to name one Dikeledi, in memory of this salty river that courses down my face.
But what a calamity, this calculation of yours? Or was it a calculation at all? Or merely a continuum of the national tragedy bought upon us by various factors and vectors of our imprisoned souls. Or was it an issue, just simply, of a dangerous karma?
No, I am yet to believe any of the explanations proffered by the radio mall and other philistine detractors purveying as they are wont to the sanitised explanations of political authorities. ‘Dikoloto’, did they say? What a pack of nonsense? Who more than Soaresh understood the rules of engagement in the entertainment industry? Who was it that was humble but persistently consistent in bringing good quality music that gave life to our dying cities and villages? It was you Sambalanda who brought us a healthy bout of fresh air. Who, who but you Soares Katumbela aka Mr Streethorn, understood more the hazards of showbiz?
Hamba Kahle mpodo la maqxilongo! In your absence we shall sound the metal, the gong and the horn. Ching-ching may sound Chinese but turn will into the music of a clash of Machetes, sounding sweeter than all Khiring khorong of high wire ATI, the king of the current monkey! Malowe sounds of battle; a distant but woeful cry of hyenas devouring the carcass of our father’s calf! Are the Sananapo that we killed, whose bones we chewed for the marrow, Sambalanda? Mme kana seboko se jele se sengwe ga se none! You are flesh of our flesh, Sambalanda. Blood of a kinsman calls for compassion. We need closure to this tragedy that hangs around our heads spread evenly tiny pieces of flesh of our own brother that we are forced to inhale. Cannibals, we have become. For we devour our young!
Let me give you a provision of a mouthful of words, and a few lines from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Burial of the Dead’
…What are the roots that clutch,
What branches grow out of this stony rubbish?
Son of man.
You cannot say, or guess,
For you know only a heap of broken images,
Where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter,
The cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
Only there is shadow under this red rock, (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
(T.S. Eliot; Selected Poems, 1954)
Indeed, it is an acid time for us, and the giant that sleeps. One o sena saese poo!
You rose at the moment of fall of national economies and like a sphinx built an industry many can only covert with green murderous eyes and evil intensions.
Your work this side was completed. Those few split seconds between thought and action, between epiphany and that blasting inferno. The chilling cry of Jabu Khanyile and his Bayete Band rings once more in the minds that forced you to contemplate the painful agony of your departure. The choke of exploded gases as petrol fire bursts oxen fragments into their nothingness. Yet, if I may, as I am inclined to ask Lister Boleseng to come here and indulge us by playing the reeves and contours of Monk Huggins’ ‘Lord Have Mercy’! The song is enough to transport us into another world, a tear-filled world of Ray Charles’ ‘Crying time’ at the experience of so serious a loss. Your departure unsettles us Mchana and negates the mood of progress. Let Lister play on, the bewitching honks and seductive mastery of instrument and consistency of intellectual effort the qualities that perhaps only the two of you gentlemen possess in common.
Bayete! Soaresh, Bayete! Sambalanda!
You were a front-liner Mfo, but cleverly avoided what today we call ‘common cause’ the pestilent and pandemic of HIV/AIDS, that has mowed down our generation. Known friends and relatives, our young and old people indiscriminately, taking them hurriedly to an untimely grave.
You survived that minefield and other life-threatening conditions prevalent in our midst, survivor you are Sambalanda! How then can worry of the so-called failed business or anything related to it cause you to panic? I just do not believe this train of thinking. How can an issue of thebes and bo-Lemang Dijo have forced you into a corner? You were a seasoned dealmaker, kana. And you always survived where it was difficult or gloomy, and survived well enough, to come to fight again another day. You were a warrior and an undisputed Ntanga of the north and south.
Go well Soaresh! You lived life at large from a very tender age. A lot could have gone wrong, but you were clever and stayed out of trouble, you persisted and were steadfast enough to become a pillar of our national strength. We salute you great son of our soil.
We as your survivors fail to countenance how we will live in your absence in this our arid land; a land of harshness, a land of curses without mercy but plain pain, shared around indiscriminately like a pinch of snuff.
Here we are surely in that Africa of Achille Mbembe, a land where, as he puts it, “we have buried the dismembered head of a dissenting relative”. Sleep well son of Katumbela, sleep well Soaresh Bashi Sambalanda. Sleep well you unsung King of Makossa and master of the spin. Streethorn!
You started off with the rebellious sound of the Airie Rasta Jah man, the furious call-up to arms wrapped in the fiery chants of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and the Wailers. For you were of the generation that sang, ‘we shall remake the world, remake, too many people are suffering….!’
You, like the rest of us, idolised Reggae legends, from Burning Spear, to Gregory Isaacs and Mutabaruka. You also later loved the pornography of Shabba Ranks, because he alone in a generation stood up, as an angel of procreation or was just hanky-panky? It was not your choice anyways, you simply gave us what we asked of you. It was easy for you to prostitute and indulge in all these musics, for you never really got down dancing yourself, we took the floor for you and all you ever had to do was to get us to dance some more.
And you followed us in all our complex music tastes and arbitrary inclinations. You discovered that music, all music really is a manifestation of godliness, and you said it once yourself that ‘Jesus himself sang for the world to follow in his footsteps!’ So, you had made music your work. Let me remind you of a poem we once recited together in the cloudy consciousness of a fire we had caught together;
Fable of the mermaid and the drunks
All these fellows were there inside
When she entered, utterly naked.
They had been drinking, and began to spit at her.
Recently come from the river, she understood nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way.
The taunts flowed over her glistening flesh.
Obscenities drenched her golden breasts.
A stranger to tears, she did not weep.
A stranger to clothes, she did not dress.
They pocked her with cigarette ends and with burnt corks,
And rolled on the tavern floor in raucous laughter.
She did not speak, since speech was unknown to her.
Her eyes were the colour of faraway love,
Her arms were matching topazes.
Her lips moved soundlessly in coral light,
and ultimately, she left by that door.
Hardly had she entered the river than she was cleansed,
gleaming once more like a white stone I the rain;
And without a backward look, she swam once more,
Swam towards nothingness, swam to her dying.
For me, you were such a sensitive soul as the mermaid amongst drunkards Mchana, that is why you left in such a fury to join the company of recently departed kith and kin Binta and Moremi. But why in such a cloud of rocket smoke. And why so son Mchana, after Binta and Moremi? Where did you leave your gentle consideration for us Mchana? Had we all in turn become traitors who betrayed you by enforced silence?
Our attitude to look the other way? In truth or in your exasperated gaze? For in this life, yourself were a paragon of self-restraint. You could not even have hurt a fly. You loved peace and silent contemplation of music as other creative expression in all its various forms.
Basically, you were a Goddot of the arts. Carved wood and woven baskets as well as tanned skins of animals, all human artefacts that imitate the work of God adorned your space. You were a meticulous lover of order too.
Weather-beaten remains of antiquity you kept as company. Some fossil of snail shell, things really that made sense only to your trained eye and sense of contemplation, the artist, for your world was organic, plural and multi-form.
You revelled in the melancholic tunes of Lingala music, the precursor of modern day kwasa-kwasa music of DRC, the legendary fellow prowlers of the night; of Franco Luambo Makiadi, the misogynist, loved Loketo and Yondo Sister’s dance and footwork, as well as Manu Dibango, the makossa man and legendary Cameroonian maestro.
You loved too, the polysemous yet recalcitrant music of the Kora, stuff of Africa north, and the fiery music of the times; the impatient chants of Fela Anikulapo Ransome Kuti, Salif Aka Turre, just as he loved Salif.