“I plan to retire around five years after I die.” – Warren Buffet
Death has visited the family next door. A beloved daughter, sister, mother, friend has left the land of the living and we all have come to pay respect, and comfort the grieving family. Her body is here, her Soul has departed.
Kunomlindelo, and typically of many Afrikan communities, we are subjected to a few nights of religious singing, call it drumming and chanting but the Drum takes centre stage. Whether she was religious or not matters not anymore, The living Spirit of the dead is literary celebrated and ushered into interstellar space by the singing of hymns, the reading of scripture and the preparation of the living for our own impeding deaths. We are extolled to live righteously and never to forget that we are essentially impermanent, mere visitors to the earth and that our home is beyond all this. We would be wise to learn from the aged prophets, the saints and the dead who lived with their hearts stayed on God.
But the drumming tells me a very different story. There is sublime supplication and something mystically ancestral about the bellowing throb of Afrikan drums. Being in Harare, the land of the Karanga, the Tonga, the Rovzi, the BaThwa, the Ndau, the Zezuru ( All of whom are now either called Shona or Ndebele) – one discerns that the drumming is similar to that of the Nguni/Ngoni sangoma’s of further South rather than the typical ‘apostolic’ or methodist sound. But the polyphony is basically the same. The rhythmic changes are generally similar throughout Bantu Afrika. The drum tells the story of Souls both departed as well as those grappling with the vicissitudes of the living. How much of the drummers own spiritual strivings does the drum really tell, we may not know, perhaps the Christianised drummer is thinking of Jesus Christ on the deathly cross full of life, or he may be thinking about his ancestors or his own mortality. Does it translate into the sound or does he merely keep the usually pattern, the traditional rhythm of his specific congregational tradition?
My wife and I have already attended the earlier service between 7pm and 8.30pm, we hummed along as we do not yet speak the language …but the music is still reverberating after supper and it is now 10.24pm. The drumming is becoming louder and more fervent almost staccato yet still incessant. So I have chosen to re-visit old texts and sounds that deal with the subject of death. Next to my bed I have The Egyptian Book of The Dead or the Pert Em Rhu ( Book of Coming Forth By Day From Night), as well as Will Self’s – how the dead live, a brilliant novel published in the year 2000. The books are thousands of years apart, yet they both deal with the endlessly thrilling and imaginative Lives of the the departed from vastly different perspectives. I have my earphones on, decided to escape the trance inducing sounds of the Ngoni to the more mathematical transience of the Electronic Horas Largas by the soulful beat mechanic AFTA-1.