Friday 5 November 2010

A Culture Denied by Soneka K. Kamuhuza

It used to be that Zambians prided themselves on their very identity. Those things that made us uniquely a part of the Southern hemisphere of Africa. We tied ourselves into the historical travels of the Bantu and the Mfecane migration of those bolting from Shaka's terrorism. As the Lozi eventually settled in the West, they carried their history and culture as if in an arc, to be celebrated each year on television for all to see.

Who can forget the resonant drums that signaled the reading of the Zambian budget. That ever some memorable rhythmic pumping as the sound of his melody echoed in our ears. We watched closely as the dancers decked in our local garb danced and shuffled in syncopation. There was a face to our culture, we could identify with the art that made us who we are. When western instruments became common, The Witch, Paul Ngozi, The Big Gold Six Band, and Amayenge traveled through the airwaves manipulating those instruments to give us something distinct and identifiable.

Ricky Illilonga chose another genre but even through his words, he uniquely touted our African identity. The Mulemena Boys took us exactly where Emmanuel Mulemena's words had left off. There was no mistaking the fact that Zambia was on their music agenda and we had an identity. It may not have been created for Western commercialization, but it made us who we are, gave us that uniqueness that separated us from them, whoever they are.

Here we are now in 2010 and as I watch the floodgate of music that washes over the dam of our sensibilities, I hear nothing that brings me the pride of old. It has become a genre that resonates of Western ideologies mixed with local dialect tricks. What was once uniquely distinct has become the verbal musings of under-directed minions acting like little R&B puppets. The music itself is catchy, much like the useless regurgitated nonsense we hear on Western radio over and over. Catchy street phrases are turned into big hits, because they have a good bass line. Auto-tuned voices are becoming the norm, and our youngsters envy a culture they will never understand.

They dress, talk and emulate thugs and rap stars, creating icons of people and a society they may never visit or understand. Television has provided them with role-models and they are hell-bent on emulating a lifestyle they can never contain. Who exactly thought it cogent to allow our young women to gyrate themselves into convulsions in videos? When this has been done with cultural music, it was given the majesty that comes from the fluidity of reserve. Nowadays, the sexually explicit provocation is mired only by the length of the song. It is incendiary in nature and and aberration to our ancestors.

We have become that diluted country. That place where second hand clothes, ideas, cultures, people, and economics can find solace. We are the white-washed; that place where we are only too easily consumed by our need to forget ourselves. In Star Trek The Next Generation, 'The Borg' were known to assimilate other cultures, and their catch phrase was, "Resistance if futile". In our case, we have shown none, and we stand idly by as our children, drawn by the decadence of a societal myopia, ingest the drunken brew of an unsustainable metamorphosis. We sit listless as this evil draws them further and further away from that very thing that roots them to their land, their identity.

What would shock them is how much the very people they are emulating, so much envy them their Africaness (made up my own word). They scream to have the grounding, the connection, the origins of any African. How those very R&B singers would give their very lives to know which stream in Africa their ancestors drew water. How the head-dress we have exchanged for a fifty cap slung backwards, would gratefully be accepted in Washington DC. We are working so hard to adopt a culture that is rooted in slavery and import an identity that was created simply to provide solace out of pain and poverty. The former and latter having been our identity since our dawn.

We must build our cultural muscles enough to reconsider our stance and make the case known that what makes us uniquely Zambian, is exactly that which makes us enviable. We cannot allow our need for world acceptance to be at the cost of wearing another mans clothes, and taking on another mans language, ideas, ideology, culture and music. Because doing so does not make us innovative. It makes us sellouts!