.songless, we perish.

The smallest child

Understands:

Anyone who terrorizes us

Is a terrorist;

Anyone who steals from us

Is a thief;

Any one who loves

Has won.

  • Winning by Alice Walker

I

because you keep trying to convince yourself that you can navigate this 22nd century existence (of cracked screens and power banks) without a phone, something like this happens to you, on a sunday, right around noontime.

you’re at the mall to meet. who you’re here to meet is here, should be here. where exactly, you have no idea. so, you go across the street — to this man — respectable-looking, according to your society’s conventions — who’s a recharge card vendor cum mobile money merchant. you greet and tell him what your situation is, ask if you could but call credit (from him) onto his phone — three phones lay on his table — and make a quick call.

his response offends you. not because of his refusal to assist you (he has every right to!), but because his words, much like his face wore a frown, something like thinly-veiled detestation. you plead. he almost barks. and with a little hurt in your heart you leave him to his miserability.

here, about a metre or two away from him, is another stand. dealer in the same tele/mobile stuff. this one is managed by a lanky young man. he wears a red cardigan, has a red bandana tied around his head, and sports some tattoos. animatedly, he sings the chorus of Darkovibes’ ‘Stay Woke’ — on loop. you’ve already greeted and told him your situation, and got to call this person you’re meeting with. lanky asks if you do music. you don’t. what do you do, then? he wants to chat, but you have to meet someone inside the mall, like, now. lanky would like to stay in touch. what’s your whatsapp. you’re not on the app. is he on twitter, or what’s his email? nah. so, facebook, it is.

how much do i owe you?

oh, chale, forget about money kraaaa.

i don’t think there’s a heaven — or hell. however, because she’s been taught at home and school and everywhere else, my niece Pendor, six years of age, believes. and i’m sure she’d understand that of the two men in this picture, it is the lanky red man, and not the respectable songless one, who would inherit paradise.

what wins?

II

making a playlist for an old-school themed party, we stumbled on a song: Konkontibaa by Obour ft. (Batman) Samini. a jam, no doubt, when it came out. a massive, massive jam. there was the inclination to add this ‘song’, for the purposes of nostalgia, to the playlist. but we were sooner to declare to ourselves that we will not die if predatory, rape-y music is not played at our party. perhaps music so thoughtlessly created should not be considered song? what won here? common sense. for which we give thanks to the feminists.

III

Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s 3rd album, 1987’s Thank You Mr. DJ, is, arguably, her most popular body of work (the title track was a hit; the album’s track number four, Umqombothi, is, again arguably, Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s most popular song — so much that even here in ghana the song was corrupted into some twi singsong about a dead master who needs to be sent to the mortuary. i have two theories, btw, on this — in relation to apartheid south africa). in kenya too, i read, there was a corruption of that same part of the song.

i found something pleasant the other day — in Bongani Madondo’s essay on Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s artistry, Say, Have you Seen Yvonne (Chaka Chaka) Lately? — about the second track on the album, I’m Winning

the song’s chorus goes thus: ‘I’m winning, winning, my dear love.’

and here goes Bongani with what was to be a revelation for me:

‘An ode to Winnie Mandela creatively altered to shake the hounds of censorship off the scent of the real blood-boiling lyrics sung in the townships as ‘Ah Winnie Mandela/Winnie My Dear Love.’

i would find out later, on doing a little digging, that some others sung the song thus: ‘I’m Winnie, Winnie Mandela.’

imagine that! in apartheid south africa with its brutal realities, of the cruelest suppression of black people’s being! what did such a ‘little’ act of subversion mean?

that the oppressor in their soullessness has barred me from singing my soul; barred me, in their callousness, from affirming, identifying with, loving and becoming who struggles for my freedom. and yet, that’s exactly what i’m going to do, just by merely applying a stroke of thought (thought, which they’ve convinced themselves I’m incapable of.)

in this here township where you’ve shoved me, i shall sing my soul — in resistance. I’m winning, you thieving terrorist. i’m winning….

*

here: a song to go with: winning in life.