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Monday, 10 August 2015

Kausa talks Mulemena and cultural heritage

By Andrew Mulenga

Responding to last week’s article on satire and artistic freedom, Zambian arts and culture critic Roy Kausa says freedoms of various artistic disciplines in Zambia are compounded by several issues that include the lack of self-esteem by local artistes in the first instance, and secondly the lack of a serious arts education.

Mulemena’s tunes introduced the Kaonde Manchancha
and Shonongo traditional rhythms albeit in
slightly Westernized variations
“It is a fact that in last 51 years, this country’s arts education curriculum from primary school right up to tertiary level has been a total disaster for lack of a better term. And as a result, nobody in this country ever regards the arts as a serious player in the economic development of Zambia,” he says.

Kausa, whom for over 30 years has been well known in the visual arts circles for his caustic reviews in publications such as The Zambia Daily Mail and more recently the Bulletin & Record Magazine argues that Zambia’s citizens do not appreciate art because of lack of art education during their time in school and tend to ignore the situations brought to “light” by the artistes in music, drama and in visual arts.

“But who is really to blame? If my memory serves me right, the advent of Christianity in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) is entirely to blame for the non-development of a serious arts education. As a small boy living at Mukinge Mission in Kasempa I remember how the missionaries from the London Mission now Evangelical Church in Zambia terrorized villages during weekends, warning them against doing evil things such as drumming and traditional dancing,” he recalls.
He points out that to play any traditional instruments in homes was considered a punishable taboo by these missionaries.
“I also remember how the late Emmanuel Mulemena who was my teacher in Sub-A (Grade 1) at Kikoka Mabwe Primary School during the late 1950’s struggled to teach us traditional music with his close friend Noah Chanda because of strict rules from the then Northern Rhodesia government and the church against promotion of traditional and cultural activities in our villages,” he says.

According to Kausa, it did not take long before Mulemena was hounded out of the school by church authorities because of his passion for traditional folklore and music.

“I vividly remember how Mulemena would take the whole class to Munkinge hill at weekends to help us learn songs he composed from the various Kaonde folklore. He left Kasempa for Lusaka and because he had gathered enough material in traditional Kaonde folklore, music and dance from rural Kasempa, Mulemena's music quickly received attention from the Zambian public when later he joined the Zambia Broadcasting Services,” he says.

He claims that in the 1970s Mulemena’s music took the country airwaves by storm because it was totally different from that of Isaac Mapiki and Alick Nkhata whose compositions mainly depicted urban life. Mulemena’s tunes introduced the Kaonde Manchancha and Shonongo traditional rhythms albeit in a slightly westernized variations. Before his death in 1982, Mulemena was one of Zambia's most popular musicians and vocalists. Among his greatest hits are the songs Mukwenda Mukunanga, Kwi Lamba Ekwesu, Bakaseya Nibani and Amalume. The life of Mulemena and other Zambian music greats is well documented in the book Zambian Music Legends by Leonard Koloko.

“And soon other musicians such as Charles Muyamwa and others also joined Mulemena to promote traditional tunes from the different parts of Zambia. Time for Music on television which came every Friday evening was very popular in the mid 60’s to early 70’s. At that time Lusaka and the Copperbelt boasted of live music which saw the birth of such bands like the Tinkles, The Ataguns, The Earth Quakes, the Lusaka Beatles to mention but a few,” he adds.

Kausa - the current crop of musicians
lack a strong tradition of cultural education
Kausa suggests the story today is totally different in that the current crop of musicians lack a strong tradition of cultural education. But also observes that this may not entirely be their fault because there are no books in Zambia which depict the different cultural aspects of country’s life. This is further compounded by the lack of sufficient cultural centres or museums where young people can go and learn their past and history.

“However, the birth of the University of Zambia (UNZA) in 1966 was not a blessing but brought misery and destruction and sent the Zambian Arts to the grave. The lack of introducing a faculty of literature and arts at the university then situated near the Central Hospital, now University Teaching Hospital saw the once vibrant cultural movement in this country start to deteriorate and soon nose-dived and completely failed up to this day,” he charges.
Kausa commends the privately owned Zambian Open University (ZAOU) for introducing and arts faculty but insists that the arts would have been taken more seriously if government sponsored UNZA introduced degree courses in the various arts disciplines.

“Although the scenario is extremely depressing, it is not too late, to turn around things, by government to investing in the arts development at the university level. It is because of the absence of a serious art movement, that our local artistes in Zambia behave like party cadres used by the various political parties as objects of gaze,” he says.
He observes that while the formation of the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC) was with good intentions, it has overstayed and needs a total restructuring and a new lease of life by government’s quick intervention.
“NAC has also been a great pain in the flesh of artistic development in Zambia because it does not seem to add value to the artistes let alone the government coffers. For how long is NAC and its various affiliates such as Visual Arts Council and Zambia Association of Musicians going to depend on government to spoon feed some sections of the artistes in this country,” says Kausa who is also Lechwe Art Trust secretary and manager at Twaya Art Gallery, Intercontinental Hotel Lusaka.

“I therefore urge the Zambian media to help government to formulate a programme to resuscitate the “vibrant, rich traditional and cultural manifestations through the various arts disciplines from its grave and once in the history of Zambia start adding value to the economic basket, by bringing foreign exchange to this country like the case with artists in Nigeria, South Africa to name but a few who contribute heavily to economic baskets of their countries.”
Kausa suggests there is also a need to turn around, and develop a new concept to open a new door for the arts to thrive and to be appreciated by the Zambian public. Stating the government, private sector and politicians should embark on a campaign to bring back a curriculum in this country's education to teach subjects based on Zambian traditions and languages at university level. 

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