A REFLECTION; SOUL JAH LOVE
By Tinashe Mukono
It was just after 11pm on Tuesday night when I saw a breaking news alert that Zimdancehall star Soul Jah Love had passed on to the next life.
The message cited diabetes as the probable cause of death. My heart did not skip a beat, I thought it was another celebrity death hoax in extremely bad taste again. Such had become common in recent days.
A quick follow-up on the story confirmed the worst; it was true, the charismatic star was indeed gone. I did not cry but I felt hurt like I had lost a close friend. My heart sank and several images and songs flashed in the back of my mind.
Tributes and condolences from all and sundry flooded social media. At just 31, another young life had been snatched. I was so attached to his music, though I could not care less for the genre as a whole.
The whole day was filled with discussions and conversations about Soul Jah Love and I decided to let out my own reflection of what I remember of the star I never met. My connection with him lay in his story and his music and what of those close to him always intimated to curious audiences.
To mourn an unfortunate end to his life would seem a disservice to his mammoth achievements. He was a genius, flawed, but outrageously gifted and practically impossible to ignore.
In just three decades, his star shone brightest in the last third of his existence, to build a following which some argued he lacked the gravitas to contain.
His hang-ups and controversies were well documented, criticism rarely strayed from him after every misdemeanor. Despite it all, he was the prodigal son everyone loved and quickly forgave.
How could that not be so? This was a man who literally rose from rags to riches and offset an exuberant lifestyle of joviality that co-existed bizarrely with his personal struggles.
Often, the outburst of his experiences was musical content that swayed, provoked, inspired, and left a sentimental note in listeners’ hearts. Where ZESA failed, he became the spark that electrified our souls with an inimitable aura and charisma.
His energy was contagious and he boldly declared in one of his songs; “ndine magetsi asingaverengeke ne testmeter, energy…”. You simply could not deny the pulling power which Musaka held over anyone who came across his stardust.
Saul Musaka, aka Soul Jah Love, was a man who simply refused to be ignored any further following his breakthrough after a difficult upbringing filled with loss.
His was the ultimate underdog story of the ghetto boy who found the pot of gold and flipped the script on the natural order.
Tales of a rockstar lifestyle reminiscent of the superstars of the ’90s grew his legend. A whirlwind-on-off relationship with his ex-wife, singer Bounty Lisa provided tabloid fodder.
Soul Jah Love never hid his flaws or mischief, he flaunted both as liberally as he poured out his gift on the microphone.
The madcap genius had such lyrical potency that made a mockery of the so-called North and South of Samora divide. His music blared in all the four corners of the country and beyond.
Makuruwani worked hard and excelled magnificently to put some respect on his ghetto. I know of many people who called themselves ghetto yuts simply because his music resonated with them.
The chain of hit songs ranged in content from a swaggering show of finesse such as in 4-4-2 formation to open defiance in Zvinhu. The latter was an instant hit, released after his infamous berating at a ZANU PF rally when fans mobbed him after he turned up at the venue.
Other tracks such as my favorite, Ndozvandiri spoke of his acceptance that God made him as he is and it pleased his Maker. Plainly put, it was his declaration that he will live on his terms and accept others as they are.
Sometimes his music evoked such sentiment that you felt the struggle of the ghetto champion in the lyrics and his determination in Kuponda Nhamo.
The romantic in him would come to the fore with hits like Zvandinomudira, a masterpiece! He would rock crowds with the anthem that was Ndini Uya Uya with natural poise.
Who can forget his party songs, the breakthrough monster hit that was GumKum, the fiery rebuke at fake prophets in Minana, or the sobriety in Kurauone?
Ironically, my mother and I were fond of Dai Hupenyu Hwaitengwa, which he dedicated to his late mother. Mwana waStembeni was an enigma, an abstract piece of art, and a poetic juggernaut that flaunted his talents with no shame like Dambudzo Marechera.
I cannot speak enough of his impact or the many chapters of his storied life. The discography alone and every story behind each hit song would be a futile attempt; there simply isn’t enough time to exhaust it.
I never got to know Soul Jah Love personally but his art gripped me. Oftentimes, his songs would take me on a journey into struggle, triumph, and reflection, which I had never experienced.
I felt like I had a pen pal whom I had never met but shared a lot in common with as a dreamer. In the latter days, I was glad to see him make a comeback of sorts after a hiatus where few really understand the demons he battled.
I came across an interview he did at a radio station, pouring his heart out but the message flew over our heads.
We got so caught up in the smoke and mirrors of the showbiz life and failed to hear the silent prayer behind every, hauite hauite chant he uttered.
I was thrilled to see him team up with Tocky Vibes on VaKorinde. It made me try my best to push out his earlier release of the macabre laced; Kana Ndafa.
It was a heartbreaking plea of the innocence of the artist at one of his most vulnerable points.
“Kana ndafa ndapinda muguva, ndoda mugoziva, zvimwe zvamaiudzwa aiva manyepo, vamwe vacho futi ndivo vaitumira mamhepo, vavengi,” he sang soulfully on the emotive track.
The poignancy of his latter tracks should not surprise us, his cry for help was long and loud. The song disturbed me because quite frankly we all seek vindication for our persecution, both real and imagined.
We all want to set the record straight and often music becomes that speech we cannot make and that plea we can never dare to vocalize. Chibaba embraced it all and became the voice, not only of the youth but indeed every kindred spirit of his.
Now that he is gone, I am not sure what his epitaph would say. If it were up to me, I would make sure they do not leave the Mwana waStembeni part. He owned it, mourned for his late mother, and honored her in his music.
At one point, almost everyone on social media declared themselves a child, sibling, or cousin of Stembeni, such was his hold on the masses.
I now write of a time where from a distance we witnessed him as he outpoured his genius in a few compressed three decades on this earth.
I write of a man who coined so many modern-day catchphrases and popularized street lingo that almost demanded a dictionary of their own. I write of the dreamer who dared to dream and live his dream.
To celebrate him without a strain of pathos would be insincere as to how his departure affected the masses. Should we berate a failing health system or a staggering arts sector with no structure for psychological or mental support for our creatives?
Should we even blame anyone or speak at all of the regrets of what could have been of a life where so much, actually was? I do not know the answers to all that, except that we can only now opine on what we witnessed.
We can only turn philosophical as we reflect, yet again on a larger-than-life character who gave so much joy to others and yet, seemingly suffered the most in silence.
Some will die with their art and, some will have their art speak from the grave. Soul Jah Love is one of the few from our teapot-shaped country whose art will speak beyond the grave.
So long, my pen pal, this will not be our last correspondence. Rest in Peace, Soul Jah Love.