By GERSHOM NDHLOVU
During the gift-buying frenzy period a few days to Christmas, I did not know what gift I was going to buy my brother who was supposed to come from London to the little town I live in, to the south west of the British capital. I trawled the shops and websites but couldn’t come up with any idea until I saw a re-mastered CD of Rikki Ililonga and the Musi-O-Tunya entitled Dark Sunrise.
I placed an order hoping that it would turn up in time for its wrapping and placing it under the Christmas tree. However, in the days before Christmas it snowed very heavily disrupting the delivery of post which in turn delayed the arrival of the CD. As it also turned out, my brother and his wife could also not come.
The CD arrived two days before New Year. A day passed before I could unwrap it from its cellophane and, of course, the first disc of this two-disc set I played was the Musi-O-Tunya one. The reason is simply that anybody my age remembers this group particularly its song Wings of Africa.
I know that competent people have already reviewed the CDs and it is therefore not my mission to do so. It is the memories that listening to these songs bring to me. The songs transport me right up to my place of birth in Kitwe, where I did my primary and secondary schools. But most importantly, I am transported back in time to the neighbourhood I grew up in Kwacha township.
Older boys who were my elder brothers’ peers, used to play these songs on their Philips mono record players whose speakers they used to put in gourds to boost speakers. And because our neighbourhood did not have electricity then, they used batteries which they could put out in the sun to recharge them. We also used to listen to these songs on Livingstone-assembled two band ITT radios.
But it also reminds of the numerous songs we used to listen to blaring from the juke box at the nearby Mukwae Tavern, ranging from solo Zambian musicians such as Nashil Pitchen Kazembe, Peter Tsotsi Juma, Smokey Hangala to groups such as Super Vina, the Witch, Mulemena Boys and many more. Newer groups like Juligzya Band, Serenje Kalindula Band, Makishi, Masiye, etc, also emerged.
When I went to the University of Zambia while frequenting Chibuku taverns in Kalingalinga, Mutendere, Kaunda Square and other Lusaka townships, there I listened to a lot more Zambian music most of which has now disappeared from the public domain. And when I briefly worked on Radio Mulungushi, now Radio 4 of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation in 1989, I was exposed to a lot of Zambian music.
Sadly, this music in private hands was on vinyl which was largely forgotten, even gotten rid of because compact cassettes replaced record players and later CDs came on the scene. But sadder still, most of these bands fazed out of the scene either through economic circumstances and also that most of these musicians died from AIDS. In some cases, entire band members were wiped out.
This music has largely disappeared from the public domain and there is no way of laying hands on it. Music is a bigger component of a nation’s culture. Zambian music is no exception. The re-mastering of Rikki Ililonga and Musi-O-Tunya’s music should be extended to other musicians and other bands for its preservation and diffusion to wider audiences. The market for such music would not be lacking as the voracious consumption of CDs such as Zambiance, attests to this yawning market.
If anything, a Malawian on Facebook was asking for the music of the Burning Youth, a band that created a storm on the Zambian music scene in the mid-1990s.
I mourn this loss of Zambian music the same way I mourn the loss of art works of one artist by the name of Donald Ndalachani Chisanga who could qualify as the Zambian version of Banksy, the elusive British artist who paints on public walls under cover of darkness. Chisanga painted the walls of taverns in the Lusaka townships I have mentioned above.
One memorable painting of Chisanga’s was a wall mural we referred to as “Ninali Kumaliro Mbuya” depicting a monkey telling a mouse how he is never seen on paydays and when he reappears, he is always asking for beer from friends.
This is probably why Zambia needs a ministry seriously dedicated to cultural issues so that the country does not only renew what has already been created, but promote the creation of new cultural artefacts of all forms, not excluding music.