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Soul Jah Love, Dambudzo Marechera: Drawing parallels and their contribution to Zim Culture and Cultural Diplomacy

18 Feb 2021 at 11:56hrs | Views
After an avalanches of tributes have already written on and about Soul Musaka aka Soul Jah Love the Zimdancehall maestro, whose untimely demise on 16 February 2021 gripped the nation with sorrow, there is need to reflect on his contributions to socio-cultural development of Zimbabwe. Though passing on at the tender age of 31 years, Soul Jah Love was able to make an impact on street lingo, music and arts arenas of contemporary urban culture and, which directly fed into other realms of broader culture, heritage and diplomacy as shall be explicated in this article. Parallels can also be drawn between the life and work of Soul Jah Love and that of the prolific writer and novelist, Dambudzo Marechera who also passed on young in 1986 at the age of 36 but leaving Zimbabwe with one of its few but outstanding cultural products, "The House of Hunger", which has become a literal cultural flagship Zimbabwe is known for the world over.

It is pertinent to note that Soul Jah Love was a prolific dancehall musician who was known to compose music, lyrics and rhymes at breathtaking speed, mostly in a freestyle manner. He emphatically stated in his music that "mangoma ndinoimba handimbonyora" (music I sing I don't write). It is thus absurd that in his repudiation to writing music, we compare him with a Marechera, a prolific writer! Where Soul Jah Love dashed for the mic to turn his busting thoughts into music flawlessly, Dambudzo crawled for the mighty pen and paper, and sometimes his typewriter. The two cultural products seemed worlds apart! But not!

Life and Inspiration
Besides the two dying young and living their life at the fringes of almost being condemned as social misfits fuelled by alcohol, marijuana and drugs, the two cobbled music and words out of their life experiences. Soul Jah Love in the blockbuster - Ndini Uya Uya, spoke of personal misery and growing as an orphan, he chronicled how he overcame being looked down upon. Mbare, Zimbabwe's oldest high density surbub was at the centre of his life experiences and imagination. However, conditions he explicated in his music synchronised easily with struggles faced by many "Ghetto" youths of his generation across the country. This setting was what Marechera also experienced and penned down, but focused on the pre-indipendence Rusape, a town east of Harare. He vividly wrote about the life of the downtrodden, poor and attendant obscenities they face, which he sought to express as the nude truth. All as a result of life he lived without his father, who in his words Marechera wrote, had his life cut short under the wheels of the twentieth century - simply put, his father died in an car accident. For Soul Jah Love, he sang and rued if he could buy his mother's life back in the song "Dai Hupenyu Hwaitengwa". Thus Soul Jah Love and Marechera drew much and produced spectacle art out of their misforutne on losing their parent (s).

At times geniuses see and express themselves in remarkable ways that at times they may be far ahead of their generations to be understood. This often has led some of them to be seen as insane. Dambudzo repeatedly stated this in his literature, he actually attributed some of his personal misfortune to little invisible figures that he alleged that they followed him. This is no different to Soul Jah Love who also repeatedly sang about "vainditumira mamhepo", "vanoti ndinopenga", - "they sent bad spirits" and "say I am insane". Whether real or imagined, the two at length attributed their challenges to supernatural forces and reinforced belief to the same. None among Zimbabweans can deny that belief in bad omen and evil spirits is strong and part of cultural norms and values of the Zimbabwean society. Now with the level of influence Soul Jah Love had on the hard pressed, poor youths facing challenges in life, it also had a ripple effect of shaping their thinking and belief systems.

Culture and Cultural Diplomacy
Soul Jah Love's contribution to cultural development is one of the most understated features of his short lived career. Some people who never directly listened to his music may feel that they were immune to his influence, but albeit without understanding his indirect influence in many other facets of life. Around 2012-14 Soul Jah Love and other Zimdancehall figures burst into the showbiz from the dusty streets of Mbare, a poor Ghetto or high density suburb, which many in the past were shy to be associated with. However, Jah Love, Seh Calaz, Killer T and Kinnah among others took upon themselves to be ambassadors of this poor Ghetto. Soul Jah Love even sang the  song "Zvakatangira muGhetto", and contributed to the popularisation of poor surburbs as the hotbeds of everything, good or bad. This led Mbare to regain its position as an, urban cultural centre as it nationalised and internationalised it musical ambassodors. Previously Mbare had been associated with various stereotypes despite hosting Bob Marley in April 1980. Soul Jah Love went on to coin and help popularise much of street lingo used by Zimbabwean youths and older generations today. Words such as "hauite, hauite" - you're too good, "chigunduru" - vagrant, "mind your hokoso", "nakadhuladhaka", "pamamonya ipapo" - shoulder to shoulder with the giants, "kudyira bhonzo" - fighting off at the feeding trough, "mwana waStembeni", Television ting, and his moniker "Chibaba-baba", the big father. He sang Magafa with Winky D, another phenomenal dancehall maestro, and gave birth to the Gafa brand, something he scantly mentioned along the way. These words are now part of Zimbabwe's language, and as they say language is dynamic and a critical part of norms and values of a society which they hold dear and used to express culture.

In terms of cultural diplomacy, Zimdancehall became an authentic cultural product which Zimbabwe could showcase to the world. Zimdancehall is a distinct type of dancehall but closely related to Jamaican dancehall music. Many Jamaican dancehall artists that came into the country would visit Mbare as their first port of call. The Jamaican dancehall artists like Capleton, Sizzla Kalonje, Culture T, Binnie Man among others who visited this country marvelled at talent and versatility in the likes of Soul Jah Love and many other Zimdancehall artists. It facilitated Zimbabwe's participation in global inter-cultural dialogue, one of the key facets of cultural diplomacy. In any case, cultural diplomacy has it that diplomacy has expanded away from the elitist, few to few communication to the public diplomacy discourse - many to many interaction through various means, music and art included.  Where South Africa has exported the House music inspired #JerusalemDanceChallenge and many the world over danced to it, Zimbabwe has exported Zimdancehall songs and art by various artists, Soul Jah Love included. Helped by the Zimbabwe's dispora, the unwitting foot solders of cultural diplomacy, this music has reached far and wide, and Mbare being the nerve centre of its production to the global market. Soul Jah Love's musical products, like that of many musicians and artists in Zimbabwe, interact with many nationalities the same way officials in government conduct public diplomacy! It is soft power, persuasive to ears - so that people understand Zimbabwean, its endowments, its youths, their pain, fears and aspirations. Soul Jah Love with a yet to be established number of songs and freestlyes as well as unreleased songs, created a lot of digital content that may become part of Zimbabwe's digital heritage for a foreseeable future. The same applies to Dambudzo Marechera the writer, whose work has become a point of interface between Zimbabwe and many other nationalities, universities and governments. It has raised Zimbabwe's flag in countless ways and showcased the best Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans can do in literature. It is thus fundamental for Zimbabwe to curate and safeguard Soul Jah Love's cultural products, music, street lingo, and images among many others. Typically the same way Jamaica managed to curate Bob Marley's music and art which to this day has influenced much of Jamaica's literature, arts, music, tourism, fashion among others. The country benefited much from Soul Jah Love and Dambudzo Marechera, the two misunderstood geniuses and cultural products who rose to prominence from the dusty streets of Mbare and Rusape respectively and affirmed that nothing can stop determined youths to attain fame and acclaim!
Taurai Mutoti is a Heritage Studies Author and an Msc International Trade and Diplomacy Student with the University of Zimbabwe.

Source - Taurai Mutoti
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