You cannot pin-point the moment.
It must’ve been around ’96 because that’s when your VHS-flexing skills were tops. You had all the Zero Hour Zone videos on lock, including the rare gems which would result from you passing out before pressing ‘Stop’ towards the end of the 10pm Friday night movie.
Action flicks, you recall.
You also recall that the first time you saw her was on a music video set, much like latter-day videos, against the backdrop of a swimming pool. Later, much later, you find out that her name used to be Red, this lady. Red was the featured vocalist on that Jacknife song, “Fester”; street bashes weren’t complete without it being played at least 3 times. You’d known her as Thandiswa Mazwai all along, though you recall your neighbour speaking of Red in your conversations.
Your entire childhood is mapped by songs Thandiswa (henceforth referred to by another of her names King Tha) sang with Bongo Maffin. The contours are well-aligned and imprinted on your mind; the memories are vivid — memories of when you first heard “Makeba” on the radio (it was during the evening music chart show); of when she went solo (it was at the tail-end of 2003). You recall the disparaging words thrown her way with that move. “She’ll never make it” was the general consensus among naysayers.
As you make these recollections, you start to add that lover who put you onto Zabalaza, that time you saw her perform (in Langa, with Herbie Tsoaeli, Ndudzo Makhathini and Ayanda Sikade), those missed opportunities to have a sit-down with her. You make these connections and recollections and seemingly-trivial pursuits, and you realise that we’ve a national treasure among us.
She deserves a book!, you say to yourself, because you she’s done so much and given so much and taught us so much; that parts of our consciousness are because of the limits she dared push, and continues to push. You’re thankful that “Eeeee uya hamba, ngabe uzobuya nini na?” hasn’t become the product of memes questioning her whereabouts, for King Tha is ubiquitous (and rare at the same time).
And then you stop!
The thoughts twirling in your mind and the emotions whirling through your heart threaten to overcome you. So you stop to recall that she recently celebrated her fortieth birthday by doing a show at the Bassline. You are thankful to have been able to take images; to not have been part of the hordes of people who got turned away at the entrance because the whole shebang was sold out. Images speak louder, you’ve heard them say, so you opt to keep quiet and share those instead.