Whitneys homecoming showed her greatness


For three solid hours last Saturday evening, I sat glued to the TV as BBC and CNN simultaneously screened live the funeral or homecoming service of African American singer Whitney Houston, who had been found dead the previous week in a Los Angeles hotel after a night on the town.

It must have been in 1993 that I really started to follow Houston. One Saturday afternoon, we were having quite an exuberant time in a hotel pub when Houstons hit version of I Will Always Love You started to boom from the jukebox. I then began to listen to the song closely. Houstons soulful rendition of this country song was something else. I was bowled over and became a fan.

Many babies born in that year were named Whitney. She became a global role model unlike the gyrating women we see on ZTV singing and dancing to propaganda jingles. Those Mbare Chimurenga Choir women are not role models in our society.

There is a vast difference between music and propaganda. Moreover, whatever stale message they would like to convey is overshadowed by that indecent dance.

Thats why that choir wont have a lasting impact despite heavy airplay it will disappear in the same way Pax Afro and Last Blair Toilet Chiyangwa did.

Would any of the Zanu PF top brass allow their wives and daughters to emulate that dance even in the privacy of their homes? No! We all want the best for our children, but thats certainly not the best. That stuff is for the exploited classes or masses in poverty-stricken Mbare.

Houston had crossover appeal; she became popular across the racial and cultural divide. Media crews from China and Russia were camped outside the funeral venue.

The homecoming service also served as a cautionary tale.

Houston, who was given a befitting send-off at her local black Baptist church in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey, where it all started with her singing in the church choir as a young girl, had a troubled history of alcohol and drug abuse.

I think she became weighed down by the burden of expectation.

The expectations placed on her by an adoring world became a burden a heavy one on her. I know the feeling having travelled down that road before where everyone expects you to get the prize for best student year in, year out.

One simply withdraws, not consciously but subconsciously, as one becomes gripped with fear of failing to live up to those expectations.

This does not happen overnight, but its a slide which can take years in the making.

People close to you tend to think that you are merely being irresponsible whereas it is much, much deeper than that. Parents with gifted children had better take heed of this.

Houston must have grappled with much bigger demons having become a global superstar.
So, I can empathise with her when she was found in crack cocaine dens, when she fell into the gutter.

That was not a pretty situation to be in, to say the least. All that talent had gone down the sewer.

But she enriched many lives right up to the very end she was true to herself in good and bad times, in life and death as seen in her homecoming. I found it quite fascinating that black Americans still have some basic elements of African culture despite the passage of five centuries since they were uprooted from the continent into slavery.

It was quite instructive to discover that blacks are still finding security and solace primarily in each other before they go to broader society.

The service was mainly an all-black affair; despite Houstons global superstardom, her little community reclaimed her. To them, she was like the girl next door.

Yes, there is a strongly identifiable African culture within the American culture. Blacks have resisted being completely subsumed by the dominant white culture. They sent off Houston on their own terms, in their own way and in their own church. The expressiveness and exuberance was pure African stuff.

I saw assertiveness without arrogance in those black Americans. They have moved on and are truly liberated psychologically, unlike the resentment and psychosis seen here in the fixation with being seen to be revolutionary and not cowards whereas people have simply refused to mentally demobilise over 32 years after the war ended. There should be an acceptance that there must be a major change of direction.

The homecoming reawakened in me a real sense of ancestry. In the 1990s, I befriended Xoliswa Mkentane, a South African Xhosa. He was a fighter with the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress.

We naturally bonded because I am of the Fengu sub-group of the Xhosa tribe, my grandfather having voluntarily come here as a missionary with the Wesleyan Methodist Church 120 years ago.

When Mkentane accompanied me to the family farm just outside Harare for the burial of my cousin, it was like he had been whizzed back in a time machine into the world of his ancestors.

As he heard the elders speak soon after we arrived, he remarked to me in total amazement: I have never heard such pure Xhosa in my life and to imagine its here in Zimbabwe! It got worse for him when people sang the Xhosa funeral song as he knew it from home which he had left 15 years earlier:

Amagugu alelizwe ayosal emathuneni (All precious treasure remains in the grave)/Ndiyosala ndingedwa ethuneni lami (I will remain, me alone in my grave)/ Ndiyolala ndingedwa ethuneni lami (I will sleep alone in my grave).

Is there a more philosophical acceptance of the inevitability and finality of death? When I glanced at Mkentane, he was crying. That was a homecoming of sorts for him in faraway Zimbabwe.

Houston was the black girl who made it big thats why her homecoming was watched by the whole world.