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To sixty-seven

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

I should dedicate this to my mother.

She hardly reads the paper, there is so much on her table. The other day I visited, she did not even ask if it was true I was back in the papers. But, also, she did not ask about marriage.

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I think, she did not just ask about all the important things. Or, perhaps, she asked about important things. Like that song I had promised to send her.

That song was “Sarai”. From the most recent album by Jah Prayzah.

My mother says she grew up in Zimbabwe. On some good days, she can listen to Shona songs and offer translation. Of course, I always verify them on the internet. And, with John – another who claims to understand Shona.

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When we were young, we had this habit: to get her to talk, we would play Shona music. She would offer translation. The family bonds would start deepening.

The first one – and the one that made me fall in love with Shona music – was “Kunzekwadoka”. We had that whole Paivepo album, on tape.

The stories about the song are deeply personal. Something only shared when one is high – or low.

Then, there was that other song. “Ndinemubvunzo”.

I have a question. Or, perhaps, to capture the spirit of the song: I have fears.

My mother took me through the song. Like she took me through my first steps. Line by line. Word by word. I think, it was also her favourite. She, also, must have questions. Or fears. We all do. We wonder, and ask: why us?

Like, when we are faced by a loss, a shocking moment, or chaos we ask: why me?

It is as if, somehow, when being thrown into life, it was with a promise that the good will follow us. The bad will elude us. It never is. It never gets to be.

The good. The bad. The ugly. The beautiful. All are served to us – from the same plate sometimes.

It is sad that life makes us that powerless.

Then, there was “Mutserendende”.

The love for this one was not really from my mother. In Zomba, at that College that is part of the ‘now-defuncting’ University of Malawi. In that hall that night, there was a band. Alpha Strings, I think they called it.

A lecturer in the music department, Mr. Faria, led that band. One of the songs they did for that night was Mutserendende.

We, meaning the students, did not dance to the song. There was a lecturer visiting. He was from Zimbabwe.

If Lawi’s “Lilongwe” is the nostalgia song for Malawians far from home, this was his Lilongwe song moment. A reserved soul, with dreadlocks, lost all that reservation on that stage. There was an eclecticism in his dance: a Ndombolo here, a Reggae jump there, a Ngoma step somewhere, electricity-magnetism movement there. He was everywhere. He was, also, home. In that moment.

Later, when I was to ask the translation of the song from my usual sources. They were less reliable.

It was not a line by line translation they gave.

“It talks about admiring the past, the life before us.”

“Like perhaps gazing too long at a closed door?”

“Yes, like you just need to live the life given to you now. Don’t regret. Don’t think others had it easy. It’s your time.”

There, I fell in love. Again. With the song.

“Ngoma Nehosho”.

That night at the club we sometimes hang out at, when Saul Chembezi played the song, was not the time I fell in love with the song. The romance started way back.

Chembezi just made me shed a tear. We had long given up that anyone would play a song we liked anymore. Wehad already finished our quota of the songs that wewanted the band to play. Never had we thought we should ask for Mtukudzi. After all, the band had been struggling with some Malawian numbers. What more Zimbabwean?

From somewhere, Chembezi had the mic. He sang “Ngoma Nehosho”. My soul sank. With satisfaction. The night was over. I checked out a few minutes later.

In checking out, I was playing “Dzokauyamwe”.

This one, I fell in love with as late as 2014. The other day, far from home, the rhythm spoke to me. Like, perhaps, how God speaks to the Prophets.

I was shuffling through his music. Then, there was this song. First, that tapping on the drum. Then, an arrogant guitar. It quietens. In milliseconds, that tap on the drums again. The guitar again: now, daring, roaring, sure and determined – like perhaps the pain of a heartbreak. It is rode on by the voice.

The same voice that, in 66 years, gave us 67 albums. Now, it goes to rest.

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