HomeLife & StylePaul Roger Brickhill: An obituary

Paul Roger Brickhill: An obituary


I WAS formally introduced to Paul Brickhill by musician –cum-journalist David Ndoro in 2001 at the Book Café in Fife Avenue where David and Miriam Mandipira, my former Zimbabwe College of Music student, had invited me to come and watch Luck Street Blues performing.

By Fred Zindi

I had first seen saxophonist Paul Brickhill on television in the 1980s when he was a member of the Solidarity Band.

The late Paul Brickhill
The late Paul Brickhill

I remember making this remark to Paul when we got talking: “In this country, very few Rhodies want to play with Blacks.

I have only seen Keith Farquarson who played keyboards with Comrade Chinx and then Ilanga do that,” and he responded with: “Please don’t call me Rhodie. I would rather be called comrade.

Yes I have a white skin, but I am a war veteran and I fought in the liberation war against the Smith regime. I deliberately included Blacks in my band because music has the power to make men forget their differences and come together.”

I thought that was very philosophical. I did not debate this issue any more and I did not question his credentials thereafter. It was not until this year on Tuesday, August 19 at the Solidarity concert organised by Oliver Mtukudzi and Sam Mataure that his brother, Jeremy, reminded me of those credentials. He said: “Fred, when you write about Paul, remember to include the fact that he and I were war veterans, and that we put together our demob [demobilisation] money to start Grassroots Books which Paul eventually expanded to Book Café.”

I agreed, but somehow did not write about it until now. It was difficult to write everything about someone who has such a rich curriculum vitae.

Paul Brickhill, who played with many bands including Luck Street Blues, had a long love affair with the arts in southern Africa since his youth, which gave him the special gift to understand the unique needs of artistes and complexities of the industry in Zimbabwe.

Also a great visionary and equipped with a skilled team of arts and venue managers, Brickhill’s passion and unique understanding of artistes’ needs grew the Book Café from a humble café with a few music acts, to one of the most popular performing arts platforms in the country, which has come to be known widely in the world and saluted by artistes from all over the planet.

Paul Roger Brickhill died in Johannesburg last Friday. He was 56 years old. He was diagnosed with cancer in July this year and passed away on October 3. Comrade Brickhill, as he preferred to be known, was born in 1958 and grew up in Harare.

This is the time when the liberation war was intensifying rapidly. Like his brother Jeremy, Paul refused to serve in the Rhodesian army and escaped from the country to join the liberation struggle in 1976.

He joined Zapu in exile and immediately volunteered to serve in Zipra, where his elder brother, Jeremy, was already serving. During his service in Zipra intelligence he undertook many dangerous undercover operations and was a fearless revolutionary cadre.

An extract from his CV released by his family, reads: “Following independence in 1980 Paul began his life-long career promoting culture in Zimbabwe, founding the country’s first progressive bookshop — Grassroots Books — in 1981 and subsequently its associated sister publishing company, Anvil Press.

Together with his first wife, Pat Brickhill, he played a leading role in developing Zimbabwean publishing and bookselling. He was elected Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association in 1991 and served on the Board of the Zimbabwean International Book Fair for the following ten years. Together with colleagues in other African countries he co-founded the two major African publishing organisations — the African Publishers Network (APNET) and the Pan-African Booksellers Association.”

At the same time, Paul pursued his own personal journey as a musician, establishing a series of bands during the 1980’s, including the popular Solidarity Band, which featured several young musicians who were destined to find fame as the Bhundu Boys.

Paul’s saxophone travelled across the whole country in those years, most usually to be found in the poorer working class township pubs and clubs. In later years he and legendary jazz guitarist David Ndoro founded Luck Street Blues, playing almost 1 000 live shows in the years 1995-2005.

Paul, and his brother Jeremy, also played an important role during these years supporting ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe operations launched from Zimbabwe, hosting ANC cadres and providing logistical support to the South African liberation struggle.

Their activities led to the car bomb attack on Jeremy Brickhill by apartheid agents in 1987. Apartheid agents later confessed that they had been confused by the identities and tactics of the two brothers and were not sure which one to attack first.

In 1997 Paul expanded the original Grassroots Books concept into a multi-dimensional artistic vision involving music, theatre, film, literature, poetry, art and craft and thus was born the world famous Book Café. Since then the Book Café has nurtured and promoted music and the arts under Paul Brickhill’s inspired leadership.

Together with its sister organisation, Pamberi Trust, the Book Café has hosted over ten thousand shows and events, launched dozens of new artists, promoted Zimbabwean and African music, literature and poetry, provided a venue for topical and political dialogue and become a much loved and iconic beacon of artistic freedom and excellence.

In 2011 Paul Brickhill received a NAMA Award for “services to the arts” and in 2012 he was awarded a Prince Klaus Award by the Government of the Netherlands in recognition of his role in establishing the Book Café and his own life-long commitment to promoting the arts.”

Just last week Paul Brickhill received the Art swatch Africa Lifetime Achievement Award on the opening night of the Shoko Festival in Harare. I saw his son, Thomas receive this award on behalf of his father as Paul could not personally receive it due to poor health. I was pleased for Paul, but little did I know that he would have very limited time to enjoy this award.

In March this year Paul and I were invited by Davis Guzha, director of Rooftop Promotions, to pave the way for the adjudication team of WENE Music Awards. We incorporated the services of Debbie Metcalf (Mtukudzi’s ex-manager), Nigel Munyati, Joyce Makwenda and Albert Nyathi and chose Paul Brickhill to lead the team.

In no time at all, he had put together a comprehensive list of categories for those musicians who deserved to be nominated for the awards. The awards ceremony was scheduled for October 29, this year but unfortunately due to Paul’s illness and other factors, we decided to postpone.

Little did we know Paul was never going to make his WENE Awards dream? We ask, why Paul?

But in the final analysis, it is our conception of death which decides the answers to all the questions life puts to us.

Paul is survived by his brother, fellow war veteran Jeremy Brickhill, his first wife Pat and his second wife Jennifer, and his four children Thomas, Liam, Amy and Declan.

Farewell Paul. You did a lot not only for the arts in Zimbabwe, but also for Zimbabwe’s liberation.

If I were the authority with power, you would be buried at heroes acre, because you are my hero. May your dear soul rest in eternal peace.
lFeedback: f_zindi@hotmail.com

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