Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Fitting Farewell To a Friend

Last Saturday my family and I went to church for a funeral service of a friend who passed away earlier in the week. I am not particularly fond of going to church, and funerals bring back painful memories, but my wife insisted that I go. When the boss says jump, it is imprudent to ask why you have too; simply jump or ask how high the boss wants you to jump.

Anyway, we used to see this woman who carried herself with great dignity as she walked to and from work. “She must be from Zimbabwe,” my wife said after noticing the lady’s hair pleated in a corn-row style.

“Perhaps you should say hello,” I said. “You and I have seen her for a little while now, we may as well get to know her.”

As a general rule, if I meet a person for the first time I do not say anything. The second time I meet the same person, I try to exchange greetings by either saying hello or nodding my head. If we meet for the third time, I stop and introduce myself. If you have met a person more than twice chances are quite high that you will meet the person many more times in the future. I believe in the adage that it is always rewarding to be good to the people you meet on your way up because you will meet the same people on your way down, as the late reggae artist Prince Fari, Michael Williams, famously said in one of his songs. I try to be good to people I meet whether I am on my way up or down. The reward of being nice to others is in the act.

My family finally got to know the affable lady, who turned out to be a fellow Zimbabwean as we had suspected. She was a devout member of one of the local churches. It was wonderful since my wife and I were looking for a church for my Bible-thumbing teenage son — the fruit that fell close to its maternal grandmother tree than its father three. My son found a good church right within the neighbourhood.

Needless to say my family got comfortably close to the affable lady. Whenever the pigeons did not ruin some of the vegetable in my garden, we would take some to the friend. Unfortunately, not long after that, she fell ill. Her parents came all the way from Zimbabwe. I enjoyed their company given that I am much more comfortable in the company of elderly folk than my contemporaries.

Watching an elderly parent tending an ailing child was very tough. It should be the other way round, an elderly parent tended by a child. Growing up, it was common for children to bury their elderly parents. It was the rule and the reverse was the exception. There is an inversion that I find deeply disturbing.

Watching the elderly parents of our newly found friend visit the hospital each and everyday really brought this painful phenomenon into focus. Something is terribly wrong but, unfortunately, I cannot put my finger on it. If I believed in astrology I would say the stars of the heavens are misaligned. As an advocate of traditional customs, the sensible aspects thereof and not the commercialized version, I think we owe God and our nation’s beneficent spirits a propitiatory debt.

Sadly, the friend lost her gallant battle against her illness and is now in the company of angels. Along with many of her relatives and friends, I went to church to bid her farewell on her journey to mankind’s eternal home. It is a journey that leaves a permanent scar on those left behind.

After the service, we gathered in a nearby hall and the sister-in-law of the deceased friend broke into a Shona traditional funeral song, Ino Yavenguva Yekuchema Gamba Redu – It Is Time to Mourn Our Heroine. The church-organ player and choir had done a wonderful and very commendable job during the gripping service. The spontaneous breaking into an African traditional funeral gathering in a church hall was only the addition of exclamation mark.

I went home to collect my drums. Along with my son and another gentleman who grew up in the Chivhu rural area, we played our drums as we mourned and celebrated the passage of one of Africa’s daughters. We did it the old-fashioned way. There was singing, dancing and ululating. The pain was somewhat assuaged. It was a fitting farewell to a friend who went home way too soon.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

One-Man Kpanlogo Drumming

Here is a kpanlogo beat I learnt when I was in West Virginia. All I did was listen to the West Virginia University African Ensemble, buy a drum and try to imitate what I had heard. Most people think of a drum as monomembraphone so that more than one drummer is required to surmon the spirits of the ancestors. In Zimbabwe, one drummer is generally adequate; that is what I grew up with. We do not have a whole array of drums as is common in West Africa so, using just one drum, I tried to play all the beats I heard from the WVU African Ensemble.

I have to thank Mark Stone, co-founder of Jumbie Records. His Ghanaian wife, Sewaa, wanted me to get one of Mark's kpanlogo drums. It was Mark who helped me learn how to play Ghanaian drums and the Zimbabwean in me learnt to spice everything up. I paid a nominal price for the drum and, to this day, I am truly thankful. I play the kpanlogo beat using using one of my conga drums. Enjoy the one-man ensemble.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Video of Tsuro Saves a Princess Drumbeat

To all the good people who have waited patiently for the drumbeat I played based on one of my folktales, Tsuro Saves a Princess, I have embedded the video clip captured by my son. The youtube version is below. My son was trying to show off my Ghanaian kpanlogo drum and so the sound tends to track off a wee bit as he scans around. I will try to get a video with sound as good as in the audio clip. Anyway, enjoy ...

Monday, 15 December 2008

Tsuro Ridza Mudende

In one of the stories in the book, African Folktales for Children, the animals gather at a dancing square for an old-fashioned breakdown. Tsuro and the baboons play drums as they sing a song extolling the hare’s drumming expertise. The drum beat is embedded below. I played the beat myself. Among other hobbies, I love to play drums.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Saru, Jeff and I

A few months ago, I saw a column on the zimbabwetimes.com in which the author wrote about the issue of correlation, or lack thereof, between academic astuteness, examplified by holding a Ph.D. , and sound political judgement and an insatiable quest for publicity. The author was brave enough to post contact details. I responded to demur. The author was very cordial and we exchanged a few correspondences. That is how I met Mrs Sarudzayi Chifamba-Barnes, for she was the author of the article that had piqued my interest.

Somewhere along the way, Sarudzayi mentioned her recently published book, The Village Storyteller. Saru graciously sent me a copy. She published it herself after running into scalpers with her first book. Well, I received the book and was pleasantly surprised by the book.

My son and wife loved the book. An elderly white lady saw me reading the book and looked at it with curiosity. She only wanted to look at the illustrations but ended up reading a few stories. "It is as if I am in the village hut with Mrs Rwizi and all the children," said the elderly lady. "It is very interesting. Do you mind if I take it home to read it?" I could not say no because her eyes were glistening with excitement.

From that moment, I knew Saru had written an incredible book. I went home and wrote a review, the first time I had ever done this outside of scientific papers I had peer reviewed in my days in American academia. The review has been published in The Zimbabwean newspaper. Every word I wrote is true. The book is worth every penny spent purchasing it.

Not only did I get a very good book but Saru offered to publish my book after I told her I had a collection of short stories but I had no idea what to do with them. She warned me to watch out for scalpers. She even put me in touch with a wonderful illustrator, Jeffrey Milanzi. Brother Jeff, as I like to call him, is a genius. Through illustrations, he has captured the essence of every story I gave him. Needless to say that I consider Saru and Jeff my newly found good friends. Without these two, my mountain of material would always be just that, a mountain of material. Claude and my wife would always tell me to get on with it.

For years, some have said I am a lucky man. I used to object to this because I felt the effort I put in trying to make things work was being overlooked. One day, out of the blue Mississippi sky, a fellow scientist from India said I was lucky. He asked me to show him my palm and he said the palm lines were ample proof I was a lucky person. I laughed at him. A very brilliant chemist had read my palm and told me I was lucky but I dismissed him off.

Looking back, I would have to say I have been very lucky when it comes to the friends. Luck is when Divine providence smiles upon a person and the person recognizes the heavenly gift and makes the most out of it. I did not meet Saru, Jeff, Claude and the eclectic friends fortuitously.

The Mysterious Ways of The Mosquitoes of Brazoria County

It Is A Good Friend Who Brings Out The Best In A Man's Character
One of my best friends pretty much upbraided me, as any good friend ought to do, for sitting on a pile of good short stories I have been writing since I was putting together my Ph.D. dissertation more than a decade ago. He knows the volume of the work I am sitting on since he used to reading my manuscripts. He and my wife are the must pushy people I know, and I say it in a very complimentary way. Just like my wife does all the time, he keeps on telling me others are putting comparatively weaker material out while I sit and let dust gather on what he and my wife call literary gems. Doc C. M., your point is taken to heart. You never flagged in your effort to spur me on, which is why you are a good businessman.

The Genesis
Well, it all started as a way of winding down. I did not want to think about chemistry all the time and I figured out that the best way to clean the dizzying equations and the theories of finding systematic order in natural chaos out of my system was to grab a Mark Twain book and read till the donkeys brayed. The trick worked for a while but sooner than later, I would start scribbling the fangled equations in the novel I was reading. “I could start writing short stories,” I thought to myself. That is how it started. Fortunately, I have always been fond of writing and so I decided to scribble a few stories just for the heck of it.

Appalachia and Beyond
One of the best things about going to school in Appalachia is the ordinary people you meet, the kind that is often portrayed in Hollywood movies as gun-totting and lynch-happy poor whites. Before leaving Zimbabwe, I had been sternly warned to stay within city limits if I did not want to end as a strange fruit hanging on an oak tree. As soon as I was in Appalachia, what do you know, I went looking for the gun-totting, tobacco-chewing and lynch happy poor whites of Appalachia. I did this for one very simple reason; I am a sceptic by nature. Someone had tried to paint a terrifying image of the poor whites of the USA as dangerous and uncultured but I wanted to find out for myself.

What I found was the diametric opposite of what I had been made to belief. Belief or faith without facts and my personality are like water and oil, they do not mix. That is what opened my eyes. As soon as I could pick their drawl and they could understand my heavy pronunciation of words, the poor whites of the Appalachia wilderness and this black village schoolboy from Deep Africa had a whale of a time.

The poor whites in the remote sections of the USA are some of the most hospitable people walking the face of this planet. When they invite you to their homes, which they do, go on an empty stomach because they will feed you till kingdom comes. They may love their guns and their tobacco but, contrary to Hollywood tall tales, they are very cultured and protective of their families and friends. As a black and a foreigner, I knew I was safe amongst these unfairly demonized good people. Believe it or not, they are also very educated, not the book-wise education. About the penchant for lynching! What lynching?

The Works
I sorted the short stories based on how closely related they are. All the folk stories are collected in the book pending publication. The next book contains stories based on my youth and a few interesting incidents that happened while I was in the USA, all the stories have a heavy fictional flavour.

In a collection of ten short stories I try to capture the wonderful times I had with the good people of Appalachia hills, the pinewoods of the Deep South and the Coastal Plains of south-eastern Texas. The story entitled The Mysterious Ways of The Mosquitoes of Brazoria County is a spoof based on an old friend I met in Texas. I have taken the project very seriously. The illustration below bears testimony to that. The other stories will be in another book that I will work on as soon as time permits.

Rough Illustration for The Day The Sun Rotted short story.

My good friend will keep on prodding me to get on with it. He is a good man.

Monday, 8 December 2008

About the illustrations ...

The very first comment I received concerned the cover illustration of my book. My wife liked the illustration on the cover and I was never going to argue with her. I would never win anyway. Well, the book has 20 illustrations. A whooping 18 out of the 20 illustrations feature animals and I hope children will love them.

The suggestion to have an eye-catching cover picture makes good marketting sense. It is duly noted and I am truly thankful. I will try to have another cover design for the American edition. Anyway, here is one of the illustrations;

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Allelujah! A Book Is Born! Allelujah!

I am on the verge of publishing a book after inspiration from one of my favourite writers, Professor J. Abbenyi of North Carolina State University. The book is entitled African Folktales for Children. Take it from me, it is a far cry from a simple retelling of the same old village folk stories. Watch this space for further details. A design of the cover is shown below.

I have a completed draft of another book, The Clan Oracle and Other Short Stories, a collection of ten short stories akin to Mark Twain's early works. Like they say, it is futile to chase after two hares. I am chasing after the first hare, metaphorically speaking, and will be after the other as soon as I bag the first one.