On Sunday this very week, after a church service, I decided to mix with total strangers at one of the joints in the City of Blantyre.
Just going out like this is sometimes the best of mental therapies, not the kind that Gramps Morgan and India Arie sang about in the ‘Two Side to My Story’ album, of course.
I ended up becoming more contented with this Sunday sojourn because of what I discovered about how the most common of people closely follow reggae music.
In fact it started with football. At this particular joint there are larger than life posters of football teams, not of Big Bullets, Silver Strikers or Mighty Wanders, but of English Premiership Teams.
There is a new team in town, a certain team’s ‘Noisy neighbours’ which is never present on the walls of most entertainment joints that have such posters in exhibition.
There were almost five men of mixed ages who were discussing about who the best players in each of these teams are.
Let me not digress, but the thing is one of such posters had Jamaican reggae artists with Lucky Dube amongst them.
The group then picked on Joseph Hills, where one of the men in this group said he was the King amongst all the artists on that poster that included Bob Marley.
This prompted a protest from a man who was not commenting anything on all the soccer debate that was going on.
“Come on guys, you cannot compare Joseph ‘Culture’ Hills with Bob Marley,” the man challenged.
And in a chorus like protest the five men heckled the speaker even before he had finished registering his protest.
“I have never been to school, I don’t understand what these guys sing about, but I can bet that the quality of voice and even instruments from ‘Culture’ is out of this world,” protested one of the five.
Then the pool guy stopped playing the game to drive his point home.
“Do you know when Bob Marley started singing? And can that period compare with one when Culture started?”
He then asked the five how come Marley’s compilation album, ‘Legend’, released in 1984, three years after his death, is reggae’s best-selling album, being 10 times platinum in the US, and selling over 20 million copies worldwide.
But the other group could hear none of that as one argued still:
“You know what, I have watched Bob Marley performing live and I have several collections of Joseph Hills performing, so you cannot say Bob Marley is atop; no way!”
Then he turned to his friends, ‘Eti bwanji live ya Culture ya ku Joni?” (How about Culture’s South African live performance?)
The other one answered: “Eeeeh! Amwene palibenso, inu munayamba mwawona munthu akupeka Nyimbo pompo-pompo?” (Eeeeh, bro, none can beat this guy, have you ever seen an artist composing a song right in the middle of a live performance?)
Then the whole group of five in unison started singing: “Ganja time, ganja time, ganja time X4”
This is the track the five claimed was composed by Joseph ‘Culture’ Hills right on stage in South Africa. They described it as a kind of reggae that was slanted to suit an African ear, something Bob Marley could not do.
They claim that even when he came to Zimbabwe, all Bob Marley did was singing ‘Zimbabweee’ but not that impressive.
This started getting me really interested because the pool guy was now joined by another one. All this time was busy reading a newspaper.
“You guys [meaning the five] do not know what you are talking about at all. We are not saying Culture is bad, but you cannot compare the two; Bob Marley is still King of Reggae. If your Culture was that good, why didn’t they take that crown to him?”
One of the ‘Culture members’ easily answered: “Because whoever chooses the King is biased. Tell them to come to us so that we can vote.”
The newspaper man then said, “do you know that for reggae to be what it is it was the ingenuity of Bob Marley that sold it internationally; in fact the perfection of the genre was done by Bob Marley and Chris Blackwell without which your ‘Culture’ would have no foundation to lay his career which has now captivated you.”
“Those of us, who truly love reggae, respect the roots. That’s why we even have the roots rock radics genre which is still maintained despite the coming in of dancehall and ragga,” the newspaper man argued.
But the five were adamant, one finally said: “Izi zili ngati chipembezo sitingamvane. Chabwino ife ndi a Joseph Hills ndipo inu ndi a Bob Marley.” (This is like religion; I think there is no common ground; what I can declare therefore is that we are for Joseph Hills and you are for Bob Marley.)