Talented people never 'pass away', they 'pass on'.
On Monday this week, Malawi lost one of her most talented sons.
A poet of sorts, promoter of local music, and playwright of repute, O'brien Nazombe triumphed over everything he touched, and only lost to the touch of meningitis during the morning of Monday morning this week.
Meningitis, and, therefore, death, has claimed the mighty, gentle heart of Nazombe because they (meningitis and, therefore, death) never got to be touched by his skillful hands; indeed, they got no chance to be surfed by his productive brains.
If they did, they would have appreciated the gem of his mind and left him to us: our hearts to touch with his fingerless-but-sensual poetry; our memories to scratch through his impeccable selection of vernacular words, and; our appreciation to spur by his careful selection of modern Malawi music.
And, if meningitis and death this truth beheld, they would have left O'brien to us, to be with him past the 40 years that have become the boundary between O'brien Nazombe and us.
But, as reality has it, we stand and sit here- on this portion of the globe named Malawi- thinking about the great man we have lost, and the gap his departure has created in our minds and hearts.
O'brien Nazombe lives no more.
But he has not 'passed away'; he has 'passed on'.
The faithless pass away. The hopeful pass on.
O'brien Nazombe was hopeful because he was religious.
And, therefore, he has passed on.
To wait for us on the other side of the veil.
To give us hope that, where we go from here, is a place of gems and talented people. The people who, on this earth trod, and left a mark.
This mark, or these marks, keep us going, trying to cover part of the shoes that will never be filled because those who paid tenancy to them had bigger toes than us.
These 'toes' are the contributions they made to the world; the selfless heart they possessed, the things they knew and, with us, shared; the love they never withheld from those who knew them, and those who knew them not.
The 'toes' are their indispensable skills; their immense knowledge; their willingness to learn by, first, hearing, then, listening, and, lastly, contributing towards which ever topic it was.
O'brien Nazombe was a great listener.
And an actionman there-after.
Hearing. Listening. Acting.
Empathy was his greatest tool in life.
He acted, always- but only after listening and getting the other side of the story. It could not be always a story; even an issue. O'brien was there to listen.
Here, the man we are gathered here for; the man who has invited us to this dusty downship of Machinjiri; the man who does not 'want' to look us in the eye,as if we never knew each other, as if we never knew his voice, as if we may not recognise his voice in the confusion of a thunderous day or night, lies O'brien Nazombe.
The man who was, and is not.
The man who will not be Malawian. Anymore.
He may be dead, a reality that may force some of us to think of O'brien Nazombe in the past tense, to think of him as if he were a past that we can scrape away,at will; but he is part of the future, our future, now.
From today we will hope, and wish, and crave to be with him some day.
To see his body in glory-splendour once again.
The path he has taken is a common path; the way of all the earth.
A path we all shall take one day.
Others will take it (the path) as 'pass-aways'; lucky are those, like O'brien Nazombe, who become 'pass-oners'.
Knowing O'brien Nazombe
I was young then, in the mid 1990s, when the likes of Billy Banda- now Executive Director for the Malawi Human Rights Watch- and O'brien Nazombe were acting in that great Malawi Broadcasting Corporation play 'Timkanena', literally translated as 'We told you so'.
In it, loads of advice were churned out to the ears that cared to listen, learn, and act positively. The main message was about youths and HIV and AIDS.
O'brien Nazombe was part of this great play. At a time HIV and AIDS were wrecking havoc in Malawi, when ARVs were being sold at exorbitant prices (in fact, it is President Bingu wa Mutharika who is responsible for this sickness, forgetting faster than the human memory's capacity, that Malawians have forgotten how expensive the life-prolonging drugs were before 2004), and HIV and AIDS were terms that induced the worst fears in Malawians, O'brien's role in arresting the spread of the virus can not be overlooked.
Of course, he and Billy Banda, Milton Thole- and many others in that inspirational play- were paid for doing this; but they did it with passion, and love, and lots of skill.
Because they loved us even more; us who, today, cry on top of this mountain called present-day life, they became advocates of positive behaviour.
The O'brien, our own Nazombe, born on 3 February- like me- but in 1971; a decade before I was to be.
You were young.
In 40 years, you did what ten individuals may achieve with difficulty in 40 years.
And you have passed on, knowing, that you fought a good battle- the battle for self-awareness. The battle for social and economic, even intellectual, change.
And today you have closed your eyes. On us.
And turned your back, on us.
Because we will miss you even more.
How do I know O'brien Nazombe, as the sub-heading proclaims?
Well, I knew O'brien before he knew me.
Through his voice. Inspirational in plays, poetry, and radio presentation.
And through his hands, the works of his hands- as a playwright, his name formed part of the credits in such plays as 'Mzeru N'kupangwa' radio play on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation- that great radio station with all these kids: Joy FM, FM 101 Power, Zodiak Broadcasting Station, Radio Maria, Calvary Family Radio, Dzimwe Community Radio Station, Transworld Radio, ABC Radio, Radio Alinafe, Nkhotakota Community Radio Station, MIJ FM, Capital 102.5 FM, among others.
But it was on 15 March 2011 that I fixed that voice onto a human frame, even the personality of O'brien Nazombe the Great himself.
I was sitting at the lounge of Joy 89.6 FM- the radio station he has been working, first on part-time basis in 2004, and as a full-time presenter in October 2008- when O'brien Nazombe came, and sat close to me.
Without being prompted, he looked at me, and greeted me.
One of the members of staff at Joy 89.6 FM then mentioned my name, and tried to explain what I did. But O'brien cut him short, saying he knew me- not by frame of body, but by frame of mind- through By-lines in local newspapers.
Like me, who knew him by voice and not physical frame, he knew me by frame of mind, and by the abstract hand that talks of tangible things without being there.
That is the meaning of newspaper, magazine, newsletter writing and radio broadcasting: being there, without being present. In other words, the chance to be there without being seen, the opportunity to be, without.
It is a philosophy so simple to understand; and, at the same time, so complex to behold. The good thing is that it is all possible.
Now, on the Joy 89.6 FM lounge, we talked about many things: poetry, playwriting.
I told him I had a collection of 20 Chichewa poems, and 20 English poems. The collections are kept at home, in raw form.
He told me to bring him some, to recite them and give him some.
He promised to 'judge' them for me; to gauge their strengths and weaknesses.
To polish them up with the brush of his mind.
Today, June 28, 2011, O'brien Nazombe is being raid to rest in Machinjiri Township, Blantyre.
Today, a chapter is closing on one of Malawi's most talented sons.
Today, O'brien is bidding the Joy 89.6 FM studios bye.
But he will live on, in our minds.
He will propel our hopes, that with him we shall meet.
A thousand years from now.
And our wishes, that there is a talented world beyond the blueless sky.
A wonderful world beyond the colour of our fantancies.
Somewhere beyond the blueless sky.
The colourless sky.
Many people have spoken. My friend Blessings Cheleuka, one of the people who worked closely with O'brien, and learned a lot from him, his selfless heart, has heaped praises on the man who deserve them. These are not plastic praises; they come from the heart that appreciates the greatness of this man who is making us cry, and at the same time celebrate: O'brien Nazombe, the father of two, survived by a wife Eliza.
Even Henry Haukeya, he who knows better about this great son from the Warm Heart of Africa- Malawi, has professed that, in O'brien Nazombe, Malawi had a man so full of talent and others.
That is why he shared what he knew. Because he loved all of us.
Evelyn Pangani, one of the presenters at Joy 89.6 FM, even dedicated a poem to O'brien Nazombe on the 'People's Radio Station', as Joy self-proclaims.
If this proclamation be not true, at least the truth be, that O'brien Nazombe was a man of the people.
That is why the listener liked 'Patsinde' his brain-child programme in which local poets flourished. He was also presenting a Rhumba Music programme; a local music programme that unearthed hundreds, too.
Other programmes, such as 'Gospel Top 20', he gave to others: the likes of Cheleuka.
He was selfless.
As one of the leaders at the Poetry Association of Malawi, he was also instrumental in raising the status of poetry in Malawi.
As if to keep up with the local poetry spirit, his main foods were local: nkhwani otendera (pumpkin leaves spiced up with ground-and-cooked (ground) nuts.
He loved sweet beer (thobwa), too.
During Chichewa poetry recitals at the WareHouse in Blantyre, he never forgot to bring roast maize and sweet beer for free distribution.
Sharing, and always sharing. That was O'brien Nazombe for you, the son born to a Ngoni woman from Ntcheu, and Lhomwe man from Phalombe.
That is a show of unity. That Malawians, no matter where they come from, are one.
No wonder, he integrated easily with everyone in society. Always happy. Always smiling. Ever open-minded.
This man O'brien Nazombe.
It is through Patsinde that people started paying to feast on poetry. For the first time, The WareHouse could be full with gate-paying poetry enthusiasts.
Good of you, O'brien Nazombe- even though you hear me no more,now.
Poet Gospel Kazako was left devoid of words after hearing of O'brien Nazombe's passing on.
He said: "I am sad, so sad. We have lost talent. Words cannot describe our loss."
Kazako even revealed that O'brien Nazombe extended an invitation to him so many times. O'brien Nazombe wanted Kazako to feature in 'Patsinde' programme.
But, as Gospel Kazako explained, his tight schedules never permitted him to do so.
"But (O'brien) Nazombe was patient. He never got angry at me".
It is too late for you to feature in one of the programmes now Gospel' I mean, with O'brien Nazombe directing things, posing the questions, fanning the conversation.
It is too late to confirm your participation now.
Words fly so slow now,. to get where O'brien Nazombe has gone to.
He doesn't listen any more. O'brien Nazombe.
So sad that O'brien Nazombe has gone without judging my poetry works.
Gone before judging me.
Gone before brushing my handwork with his mind.
It is too early, at 40; this 'morning' of your life.
Renowned Poet,Stanley Onjezani Kenani, also Remembers the Departed O'brien Nazombe