Sunday, February 2, 2014

Is death Mafunyeta’s ‘new style’? Eulogy to Mafunyeta!

There were no signs of fainting lights in musician Patrick Magalasi, a.ka. Mafunyeta,’s eyes last Sunday, August 11, as the lights of his promising life faded after crawling into death’s concealed trap. It was a sudden bout of asthma that, inexplicably, gagged the free-thinking dancehall musician’s mouth. He says nothing, feels nothing, sees nothing, thinks nothing, breathes nothing, composes nothing, and hears nothing.

Who could have ‘seen’ the fading lights in a country where some people still believe that asthma, which Area 18 Health Clinic confirmed to have been the cause of Mafunyeta’s death, is perpetuated by cool weather – despite the US-based National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute reiterating that “You can’t prevent asthma. However, you can take steps to control the disease and prevent its symptoms”? It was virtually impossible!

How could the lights be ‘read’ when the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services announced, in its weather forecast covering five days from August 10 to August 14 that Lilongwe- where the talented artist succumbed to death, would record an average minimum temperature of 11 Degrees Celsius and a maximum temperature of 26 Degrees Celsius. This weather forecast, said the weather department, applied to Lilongwe and districts such as Mchinji, Dowa, Ntchisi, Kasungu and part of Mzimba district.

Nobody could, indeed, read the signs, as Mafunyeta’s lights crawled towards death’s selfish arms!

Who could have read the signs when the artist, born on March 27, 1988, was in the morning of his life? A life nipped in the bud at 25 years.

Of course, there is a moment- always a moment- when the voice of New York-born psychologist, William James, chimes true again. Sure, nobody recognises his voice now, he being dead for 103 years, but, still, the voice rings true.

“There is life; and there, a step away, there is death,” James said.

Granted, but not when death comes in the ‘morning’, when the sun’s rays are still tender. When death pounces upon life’s morning, not even British poet Geoffrey Hill’s observation that “…artists must be dead to earn a decent wage” makes sense or provides any comfort.

However, the only comfort there is, and there only hint that there was someone who, somehow, saw the signs of the fading lights could be Mafunyeta himself. In his latest music projects, his last acts before he made the untimely bow, Mafunyeta offers uncharacteristic hints about the dead, and death.

Of course, the name Chiwembu Village- his final lasting place- does not feature in the lyrics of some of his recent and telling songs that include ‘Come Again’, in which he, somehow, develops the canny ability to share his foresight about what could happen after his demise. Among other things, the prophetic lines allude to the fact that the late Vic Marry (May his soul rest in peace) was a gem of a musician.

He also talks of the tongues that wagged fears that, Vic being a gem, his gem would become a cold dish on his demise: irreplaceable, irretraceable, and unmatched. But a man, unknown to Vic, unknown to himself, later rose from the ashes of obscurity with a new genre, and equally mesmerised the Vic-deficient souls. The persona in the song calls this man Mafunyeta!

But Mafunyeta is not an immortal man, enthuses the masked persona who has no voice of his own and uses Mafunyeta’s voice to pass the message along, before plunging into what would happen at the end of Mafunyeta- the musician-‘s turn in the Tropical sun . Another gem of an artist will sprout from the cold ashes of Mafunyeta’s memory, and grip the nation’s attention with his lines!

However, while ‘Come Again’ is surely a prophetic song, it is yet another song, ‘Jacxy b Janta’, which has come to be known as ‘R” among those who have listened to it, that, really, foreshadows Mafunyeta’s death, and his task in the after-life!

Mission revealed

Expertly hidden in ‘Jacxy b Janta is a message of three missions, namely: Updating a dead persona, a father figure, about current affairs, moving away from Dancehall, as we call it, and introducing a new genre, and; foreshadowing the task that lies ahead for him, that of a conduit of information for all the dead.

There is yet another hint in the lyrics; that of choice of topic. Why did Mafunyeta (the individual, and not the personas that invade his songs) choose to address the dead in ‘‘Jacxy b Janta’?

Some of the lines go thus:

“…Mutamwalira/Anthu ena analira/Anthu ena ananyadirira/Komanso ena zidawayipira/Ife monga ana anu zinatiyipira/Amayi owapeza chuma akuchikakamira/Koso Ra/ Vuto la kusowa kwa mafuta linapitirira/Kenaka kandalama kaja ndikudzanditsitsira/ Madzi osamba aja kuwapisilira/Ndalama yolandira inasiya kukwanira/Kamba koti bonya adakwera/Mafuta oyezanso adakwera/Mafuta oyendera adakwera/Ma minibasinso anakwera, Ngati akazi umagulanso, nawo anakwera”

While it is clear that the father-figure being addressed is clearly the late president, Bingu wa Mutharika, it is also clear that Mafunyeta is showing an uncharacteristic trait; that of informing the dead about the goings-on in the world.

Mafunyeta is concerned about the information gap that plagues the after-life. Was he afraid of falling into this information void; that, somehow, he saw through the veil and saw himself blank about world affairs?

In a way, he is accusing Earthly mongers of starving the dead, in terms of information provision, and imploring them to take some time to fill the information gaps. First mission accomplished!

His second mission is achieved in the chorus, where the music lover is informed that ‘Jacxy b Janta’ marks the launch of a new genre called ‘Ra’. Forget about Dancehall, he implies. Ra is the new baby in town. He sings thus: “I have a new style, what we call Ra.”

He then says, on the strength of the new genre, he is the real Shaka, raa (meaning, real king). And a king he was, the musician-cum-journalist.

The one speaking is Mafunyeta (and not the persona), because it is him who introduces the new genre. After the first chorus, the Ra lyrics continue like this: “Ine monga m’modzi wa ma labourer/ Zidandivuta kungokhara/ Tinaika masamba munseu tinayara/Kuyenda mu nseu staaa, starakaaa/Kenaka malipiro anakwera/Kenaka zotsatirano za infa yanu zinabwera/Abambo aang’ono BP inakwera/Pipiiii! Tinabwerera/ Munseu tinagwetsa mbendera/Amalume ndi azinzawo atawatsekera/Potsatana ndi zisankho zomwe zikubwera/Ana pano angokhalira kulira/Akusowa owayamwitsa, azimayi pano akulamurira”

What is clear from the lines is that ‘Ra’ is being mentioned even against the rules of Chichewa grammar which dictate that ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘u’ have to be followed by an ‘l’ instead of ‘r’.

The ra message continues in the last stanza of the song.

‘Ndati kupita kwanu, pano mwamuna yekhayekha akhoza ku ma ra/Kupita kwanu, atsikana okhaokha raaa!/Ndati kupita kwanu/Pano mwamuna mzanga akonza kumandi raaaaaaaaaa!/Ndati kupita kwanu/Akazi okhaokha raaaaaaaaaaaa!”

What an introduction. Mission accomplished.

But the sum total of the lyrics is that Mafunyeta might have been rehearsing; yes, getting familiar with his lines, so he could recite them before the father-figure and all the people he has come to know in the world-of-no-information.

Mafunyeta was telling the world the message he would deliver at the call of his turn. He might have known what was coming. That is where the foreshadowing comes in. When the lyrics and added to ‘Come again’, it is the message of death, and what happens after death, that rule supreme.

Nipped in the bud

However, it must be said, also, that, while the artist might have talked about death, and made thin-veiled mention of death, there are indications that he did not expect it too soon. And indications that he wanted to carry his mission on.

The chorus in ‘Jacxy b Janta’ is a telling example of his hope. How can one die after introducing a new genre? No, he wanted to continue. He was hopeful.

But death came in the morning (of his career), nipping the promising flower in the bud.

Ingenuity defined

And that is why Malawians will live to remember Mafunyeta.

He was talented, and always employed a rhythmical surge at the end of his lines. The surge followed the pattern of the apotheosis of a traditional poem.

In most cases, his lines inhabited the space between fiction and fact, creating a mess of translation shadows as listeners fell upon themselves chasing the shadows that appealed to their taste of translation. That is art, after all; it is universal and served in different dishes of tastes.

He was an extraordinary ordinary man! He was a man who had the knack and ability of choosing incidents and situations common to life and, in a selection of language really perfected by modern youths, married them to poetic reality.

Mafunyeta painted life with the charming ‘colours’ of his voice. He could paint words with bright colours when he talked of hope, and love, and oneness. He was also able to paint words with dark colours when he addressed the dead, and talked of the time he would be gone, and someone comes to take his place. He took Vic’s place with his genre and, now, someone will have to take his place.

As he lies peacefully, but dead, anyway, somewhere under the deep soils of Chiwembu Village, he has become like the heroes and heroines in classical mythology: He comes to life through music now. He is, simultaneously, both living and dead.

Still able to shake human souls by the memory of his life, and able to shake human souls by his refreshing, ever-living voice!

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