By RIKKI ILILONGA –
HAVING known the first republican president Dr Kenneth Kaunda who is my close friend for decades, I think I can attest that my ‘old good man’ as I call him is one of the most interesting persons I have ever met.
The multifaceted man is many things rolled in one; artiste, politician, visionary, father, humanitarian and above all a citizen of the world who understands all kinds of people regardless of their backgrounds.
As an artiste I have worked with Kaunda whom I consider to be the father of the Zambian song having used music to advance his political vision to liberate Zambia from British colonialists.
Kaunda is an approachable and friendly man whose humour and humanity shine through his charisma that is not disarming as many people wrongly conclude.
My liaison with Kaunda both as a musician and friend started as early as the late 60s when I was sponsored by the United National Independence Party (UNIP) to do a political education course at Syracuse University in America.
The course which was jointly funded by the African-American Institute and Ford Foundation awakened in me the political consciousness that has never left me.
I expressed my political awakening musically through a celebratory song Zambia which supported Kaunda’s unitary slogan of One Zambia, One Nation.
I sang Zambia in Ci-Bemba, Ci-Nyanja and Si-Lozi highlighting the celebratory mood that gripped the country at independence lasting up to the late 70’s.
The song works at two levels because it also calls for unity in a country where tribal affiliation usually overshadows national identity especially after independence when ethnic groups identified themselves regionally since they were not used to live collectively under a unitary state.
Zambia was my response to a Congolese musician Joseph Kabassele’s unitary song Independence Cha Cha cha which he sang in French and the country’s three popular languages Lingala, Tshiluba and Kikongo.
I had several encounters with Kaunda both when he was in power and when he left office in 1991. The then Member of Central Committee for culture Fines Bulawayo could organised music shows at State House dinners and we would sing patriotic songs.
Though people accused us of mimicking foreign bands especially Rock bands, I answered to the call by Kaunda to play 73 Zambian music by forming Mosi Oa Tunya band, a band that fused Rock and native sounds.
As a political animal that I will always be, I sang Soweto both as a personal expression on what I felt about apartheid and to champion Zambia’s front line state stance that Kaunda initiated.
While Kaunda mouthed his indignation about apartheid through numerous speeches locally and abroad, I used music to express myself on the atrocities of the system.
A good number of my friends in UNIP gave me encouragement for penning these lines to highlight the desperation of blacks in apartheid South Africa:
The smell of death
Is still in my nose
When the sun goes down in Soweto.
Will I ever find my brother’s grave
When the sun goes down in Soweto
I know I’m strong
But I have no control
In what should be right in Soweto.
Some day my lord
We shall have to plead
For my strangled people in Soweto…
However, when I sang Olemekedzeka which was banned for being too political, some people thought I had fallen out with Kaunda. To the contrary, it was only his overzealous attack dogs who banned the song that the old man had no trouble with.
Fortunately, my good friend Steven Moyo who was then director at Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation then called Zambia Broadcasting Services later explained the forces that were behind the banning of the song.
Kaunda invited me for his 80th birthday in Summerplace, Johannesburg in South Africa. Entertainment was provided by the late Miriam Makeba who despite being drunk gave a memorable show. Other dignitaries of note included the late South African president Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma, Olusegun Obasanjo and King Mswati.
Despite relocating to Denmark which I consider my second home, I approached the old man for a joint music project to compliment his HIV/AIDS crusade that he had embarked on after leaving power.
Despite many logistical hurdles that we encountered, we managed to release a joint album entitled ‘We Shall Fight’ to highlight the AIDS pandemic which has claimed a good number of the Zambia population largely the youthful group.
The album which was released at Digital Cupboard in South Africa comprised my songs and KK’s.
It was a hastle to keep the white press at bay when we were recording in South Africa. The press was chasing after Kaunda whom they wanted to interview. I had to put my foot down because if I had not done so the all project could have been derailed.
I greatly admire Kaunda both as a politician and artiste. I loved his rendition of Tiyende Pamodzi which he did when he received a manuscript of his autobiography Zambia Shall Be Free.’
The song is well known the world over and is associated with Kaunda, the man who single-handedly succeeded in uniting Zambia’s different ethnic groupings.
As he celebrates his 91st birthday, I wish him more years because I believe in the man and the philosophy of serving mankind that he passionately stands for.
For people who doubt the relevance of the man to Zambia and the world at large I would remind them of how focused the man is on what he believes in to what he said during his friend Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
Many guests at the state funeral of former president Nelson Mandela enjoyed the animated vote of thanks given by Kaunda in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, at Madiba’s funeral.
Loud laughter was heard when Kaunda referred to the apartheid-era National Party, led by FW De Klerk, as the “Boer” party.
As his address ran over time, African National Congress deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa walked up to the podium to signal to him to wrap up.
Kaunda got the audience giggling when he protested, saying people were “trying to control an old man who fought the Boers” to which Ramaphosa shrugged and smiled.
Kaunda took the opportunity to remind the apartheid government of its shameful treatment of Mandela and his fellow men.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the son of the soil I am glad to have as a friend. So once more Happy birthday my old man Kenneth Kaunda !