Monday, June 23, 2008

Voice to remember

He was on my programme until he fell ill. The waiting, now, is in vain.

Death does not make sense. Why should life come to an end?

Perhaps death in old age is understandable. But not when it robs us Gift Fumulani, especially just before he was about to record his fourth album. What letter is Chileka writing? This question is relevant in the historical perspective of how death has hit the music centre.

The names Robert Fumulani, Daniel Kachamba and Arnod Fumulani are familiar. These are people who made music popular in the 1970s and 80s.

Then came the younger generation. Evison Matafale was the first. He went. When Evison died, there were worries that the end of Black Missionaries was at hand. But the Fumulani brothers Musamude and Anjiru filled in the gap well. In fact, listening to Musamude, one was tempted to conclude that he was better than Evison. But that was an abomination. They were not in any kind of competition. The Blacks held Evison in high esteem.

Now, it is clear the death of Musamude robbed Black Missionaries a thoughtful songwriter and a powerful vocalist. The solace was in the company: a combination of talent in the names of Anjiru Fumulani, Anthony Makondetsa and Gift Fumulani.

It was Gift who was the most critical composer. He was in some ways better than Musamude. But Musamude was better at vocals. Gift read history. He read his Bible well. The books of Daniel and Revelation, avoided by many Christians, were his favourite.

He was singing about the past and the future in prophetic terms. He was singing about religion in our public life. He was singing about love. “He is brilliant,” said my friend and colleague Herbert Chandilanga. “I will talk with him for Political Index,” I said.

I wanted him to speak on slavery and its effects on Africans. I wanted to ask him about modernisation and our cultures. It was supposed to be a meaningful interview. His insights, Herbert told me, were deeper than most people we quote as analysts. I listened to his songs and realised that we in the media miss a lot by concentrating on analysts and not artists who are sometimes better analysts.

Gift had eyes on the world. He was an impartial analyst, telling off religious leaders and hitting hard at politicians while offering solutions to the worlds’ woes: love.

That interview was scheduled to take place in April and I was told he wasn’t feeling that well. I waited until he was admitted to hospital. Just last week, I was hopeful that I would talk to him because he was getting better. In fact, he was discharged from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) after finishing the first phase of TB treatment.

But I was late and I regret. On Thursday morning, at about 6:30, Herbert received a call with sad news. When I met him at 7, he told me the bad news. I was listening to the music of Kalimba in my car and instantly changed to Gift Fumulani.

The music made sense. In Musaotche Moto he sings, God don’t destroy the earth, not just now. It was a prayer on behalf of Malawi, perhaps the world. It’s a prayer that resonates well with our situation, one to be said now and forever.

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