BY PHENIAS SADONDO
I HAD travelled from Cape Town to Harare, seeking a hideout from the gruesome months that I had endured at the University of Cape Town.
While the vice was still on me and very much inescapable, I had been given a little relief when the examiners were going through my thesis. I took the opportunity to travel back home and rest a bit. Although naturally I should have travelled directly to Mutare and my beloved and exquisite Honde Valley — to breathe the fresh mountain air — I, instead, made a stopover in Harare to catch-up with friends. It had been a long 16 months after all.
A good friend, Jonathan Nyakotyo, was staying in the Avenues area. The somewhat notorious Avenues, along Herbert Chitepo Avenue near Enterprise Road, just a few minutes’ walk from the Portuguese Restaurant. Typical of someone recharging, I would spent most of my time indoors.
The balcony would give me the ideal panoramic view, an unmerited favour for someone with vertical restrictions. From car crashes at the intersection of Herbert Chitepo Avenue and Seventh Road, when the traffic lights malfunctioned, to vendors selling everything. Some wore reflective vests with the brand of airtime juice cards they were selling, while others had miniskirts and tight shorts meant to showcase their trade.
At the balcony, I would see it all. Cars would stop and pick. Others would stop and drop.
Some would be stationary for hours with dark tints forbidding some prying eyes from seeing beyond the glasses. Sisters would accompany their guests out of their apartments or escort them in. Such was the vantage of the balcony.
Then one day while scanning my environs from the elevated balcony — as it had become a routine — something caught my attention. Not something I was seeing, but something I was hearing. I never really concentrated on listening to anything from the balcony. But that day was different.
There was something booming from the speakers at the Portuguese Restaurant. There was always something playing old classics, RnB, reggae, blues, sungura and many more. But nothing caught my attention the same way. “Ndomutenda Changara, Mwari baba ndovakaita agouya pedyo neni”.
Who is this guy? There was no one to ask because I was home alone. All I did was to stand still and stretch my ears a bit. “Ndini uya uya wamaigara muchingotuka nemashoko”.
I had many questions. I wouldn’t call myself a Zimdancehall disciple but I had heard a fair share of that genre’s previous offerings headed by the ninja president, Winky D.
We played Location and Musarova Big Man. Killer T announced his arrival with Makarova Gunners and Vanobosher MaSuspect. King Labash was fading. Chillspot was rising.
King Shady and Makorokoza paMusawu, outta Gazaland, was also engraving his name. It was a genre on the rise, even elders were now paying attention.
“Ndini uya uya, ndini uya uya…” The song kept on going. I tried to place it to familiar voices, but couldn’t. Perhaps because I had lost touch with some developments due to the overwhelming load that I was carrying. I barely had time to breathe. The song was repeated several times that day. Later in the day when everyone was back home, I asked. “Oh, that one was done by Soul Jah Love. Akapenga manje”. I was answered. That’s the day Soul Jah Love was born to me. His lyrics got to me and got me thinking. His story-telling skills were exceptional.
Something told me he was narrating his sad life story but somehow managed to do it in a way that kept people on the dance floor. That’s talent! He reminded me of Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger — a book in which he hid his life story. He hid it in plain sight and laid it bare for exploratory eyes and inquisitive minds to find it by connecting the dots. The question though is whether you connect backwards or forward.
Soul Jah Love became a voice of reason. Year after year, hit after hit, his voice resonated with the youth, the downtrodden, and the disempowered. He gave hope to the written off. In Pamamonya ipapo, he injected hope to those despairing. “Ndinongomira pamamonya ipapo”, he chanted.
That was the message people were yearning for. And the timing was perfect too. Preachers took the message to the pulpit. Choirs made renditions. Motivational speakers borrowed the lyrics. Poets and wordsmiths weaved verses.
The whole nation was inspired. It became a national anthem. An anthem of collective aspirations and hope. Across the social strata and political divide, Soul Jah Love penetrated.
From Borrowdale to Sakubva, Glen Lorne to Rimuka to Makokoba, from Chirundu to Dulivhadzimo, Soul Jah Love brought all of them together.
There he was, Mwana waStembeni, standing firm and dictating things in a manner that related to them all.
Riding on those well-crafted songs, Soul Jah Love became a household name. While some concentrated on his private life and condemned the messenger, the majority focused on the message he churned out.
They identified with his pain. He became an embodiment of the struggles many people are facing. Having endured life of being homeless on the streets of Harare, with no one willing to take him in, most understood why his life was as controversial as it was.
They knew he was not perfect and did not expect him to be. After all, nobody is. Those who took time in his shoes understood him better.
But behind the energetic, charming and talented vocalist Soul Jah Love, there was a vulnerable and scared Soul Musaka who was diagnosed with diabetes as a kid. There was a Soul Musaka who endured the pain of losing his parents at a very young age who would later pay tribute to his mother in “Dai Hupenyu Hwaitengwa”.
There was a destitute Soul Musaka who stayed on the streets of Harare as a young boy, feeding from the waste receptacles and sleeping in the drains covering his diabetes-trodden body with nothing. He felt the unfairness of life as he swapped one street for another, owning no possessions.
There was a tormented soul which found solace in music, singing for himself before being discovered by Changara who made him sing for the world. When the world was smiling at him and rewarding him for his efforts, Soul bought a residential stand and built a house. For someone who had been homeless, his priorities were perfect. But the joy did not last. City authorities said it was built on illegal land and demolished it.
Soul had to summon Soul Jah Love to console him once more. He penned Pazai — a song that’s like saying, do it, it matters no more, I am used to pain, I have been beaten and crushed many times before. Soul found love and got married. But it didn’t last, and diabetes stood in the way between him and childbearing.
Again a battered Soul had to run to Soul Jah Love for comfort as he composed songs about his battles. “Zvikuru zviri pandiri,” he capped it.
In the early hours of February 17, news started filtering in that Soul Musaka had died. After a long and brave fight, he lost the battle to diabetes. He will be remembered for many things, but most importantly, for being a voice that resonated with many people. He will be remembered for standing strong, and even dancing and smiling, when behind the scenes, he was fighting numerous demons.
Some damning and career-threatening headlines were cast about him. But he would let his music do the responding. He wouldn’t write the songs. He would just get in the studio and start singing because his life had many songs. He would just pick the relevant one and start chanting with his voice doing the transitions and the changeovers.
While Soul Musaka has rested, Soul Jah Love lives on. His songs and lyrics are safe in the hearts of many. His tenacity and bravery in the midst of adversity is a source of inspiration to the young and the old alike. Rest in peace Soul Musaka. Long live Soul Jah Love.