Of Mukwamba’s ‘Jonasi’ and ‘January Disease’

By David Mungoshi
It is that time of the year again when we reminisce about the good old times which were not always that good, if we consider some of the associated mishaps.

Whenever the end of the year was nigh there were parties galore. The parties went by different monikers: end-of-year party, Christmas party (several weeks before the now trivialised day). Many would have a party anyway, because they could.

Firms, factories and other business concerns also did something, but mostly just to keep up appearances. How else can one describe a pathetic situation in which a worker who has given his best years to his employers was rewarded with peanuts at the end of it all: a bicycle which would be of little comfort to him in his retirement? This was why it was always thought by many that retirement from employment was also necessarily retirement from life itself.

In days not too far away, yuppies (young urban professionals) spoke English through the nose and drank themselves silly. Why, there were even competitions to see who could drink the most whiskey or brandy! Some died after these suicidal parties. For, suicidal they were indeed, regardless of what the imbibers said or thought.

Connoisseurs of old time music will remember a Tex Ritter album called “Rye Whiskey” and a song called “Rye Whiskey”. Tex Ritter did a lot of cowboy movies in which he sometimes sang a song or two. It could be that this is the source of his devil-may-care lyrics and he definitely has many copycats. In a refrain in “Rye Whiskey” Tex Ritter sings:

Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I cry

If a tree don’t fall on me, I’ll live till I die.

I sometimes wonder if Patrick Mukwamba may, by some chance, have witnessed some of the drinking orgies that made him compose and record his ageless bonus song. Mukwamba’s lyrics, the melody and the beat in his perpetually effervescent song, are so tantalisingly bohemian as to be almost irresistible. Jonasi, the scoundrel in the song, is a showy ladies’ man who likes to cover the table with brown bottles from the barman’s freezer. As the women swarm around him he becomes even more impulsively extravagant. This kind of largesse is rare in the lives of most people.

One late night in a seedy little bar in Gweru where a drunken band was assaulting revellers’ ears with creaky sounds from rusty old guitars and hoarse voices, I witnessed an incident that has stayed with me years after.

A man came in and did his bit on the dance floor. He had a plastic carrier bag in one hand. Inside it was a loaf of bread and a bottle of pasteurised milk. He held on to his parcel like it was a treasure trove and never once let go of it. In the other hand was a beer that he was nursing.

At about 3.00 in the mornKind of storying there was a lull in the pseudo-music and the man took to the centre of the dance arena from where like a good old boy with an accomplishment to display, he showed to all and sundry his loaf of bread and the precious bottle of pasteurised milk.

In a loud, proud voice, the man said: “I who am nothing have a home. In the morning I’ll have a cup of tea with this bread. I’m not like some of you sorry cases from the beggars’ limited company.”

And you ask me what being rich is!

The humour of our people is amazing. We have this unique ability to introspect without wallowing in self-pity. You know about Zimbabwe’s January disease, right? It’s been with us for a while, and has nothing to do with the austerity for prosperity programme that we are going through to wean ourselves from the excesses of our indulgences.

Paul Matavire’s bouncy number, “January Disease” amply portrays the agony that most ordinary people suffer in January when school fees and uniforms demand their attention.

In most parts of the world, Patrick Mukwamba would be living pretty from just his one big song “Bonasi”. The music world is full of one-hit wonders who made it from just one great song and never really had to work again. Peter Sarstedt of “Where Do You Go to My Lovely?” fame is one such notable case.

Zimbabwe, it’s time we extended our definition of corruption to include the shameless exploitation of the creative labours of all in the culture industry, especially musicians and writers! Theirs is mostly a thankless task.

Some people buy cars the way others buy flowers.

Conversely, cultural workers spend life living it, and are not disproportionately acquisitive. It’s time to honour them as we ought indeed to do.

Source:The Herald

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