By Robson Sharuko
He was as much a genius, as he was rebellious, as much a jolly good fellow, as he was a symbol of the bad boy next door.
His smile concealed his tortured soul, his infectious voice appealed to many, breaking the barriers of hate and, at times, making him simply irresistible.
Even to those who felt that, more often than not, he represented the shame of our society, a wayward ghetto kid, lost in his wild adventure.
There was strength in his lyrics, defiance in his music and power in his message, even on the occasions he delivered it, in the chaos of his rumbling way of chanting.
They say genius, at times, needs some fault lines, for it to become the complete package, for it to be truly appreciated.
It’s the stunning contrast that shapes it, without the other part, it doesn’t seem to glow with the same vibrancy, attract the same attention and get the same respect.
Take for instance, Kurt Cobain, the front man of the Seattle musical super group, Nirvana. He would have been 53 today.
But, the musical genius, who gave us the global hit song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,’’ never lived to see the age of 30.
Battered by the relentless pressure that comes with fame, a difficult marriage to fellow musician, Courtney Love, Cobain took an overdose of champagne and drugs and, on April 8, 1994, he was found dead, at his Seattle home.
The conclusion, from the police, was that he had killed himself, three days earlier, with a bullet to his head, from his Remington 20 shotgun.
He left a suicide note, directed to an imaginary friend called Boddah, which gave the world an insight into the trials, and tribulations, which devour its flawed superstars.
“I have a goddess of a wife (Courtney), who sweats ambition and empathy, and a daughter (Frances), who reminds me too much of what I used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm,’’ Cobain wrote.
“And, that terrifies me to the point where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become.
“I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven, I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general.
“Thank you all from the pit of my burning, nauseous stomach, for your letters and concern, during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
“Please keep going Courtney, for Frances, for her life, which will be so much happier without me.’’
Cobain was only 27 when he took his life, having spent his final years, a depressed man who was struggling with drug addiction, and serious health problems.
He joined the Club of 27, the superstar musicians, who died at that age, from Jimi Hendrix to Jim Morrison, from Amy Winehouse to Brian Jones, so many of them, sharing tragic tales of the pain of lives in the fast lane.
Soul Jah Love, lived longer, four more years, to be precise.
But, still, the man they called Chibaba, died young, after finally losing his battle to live just two days after Valentine’s Day.
That he was a broken soul, devoured by the demons of a life lived in the fast lane, the challenges that come with struggling to adjust to the hazards of fame, appeared written all over his final years.
To criticise him will be the easier part, there is so much to write about from his struggles, so much to pick from the negativity, which stalked him, and so much to feast on, from the personal challenges he faced – the drugs, the women, the alcohol.
That’s exactly what many did, when Cobain took his life, because there was so much in terms of the negativity, the drugs, the booze, to feast upon.
But, the passage of time, has brought a different narrative, and cast a shining light on a difficult, but essential, conversation which, back then, would not have been entertained, as part of our analysis, into the sad, and tragic, fate of such superstars.
In an age where the world now places a significant value on the importance of mental health, it’s a shame that we still find ourselves unable to deal with the ravages of this demon, and how it continues to drag our stars into its dark chamber of death.
They found a way to deal with it, in the United States, with candid discussions and professional medical help to ensure those who are at risk, don’t follow that dark path.
And, since Cobain’s death, there has been a significant fall in suicides by youngsters who find themselves struggling with the challenges of life, in the fast lane.
So, rather than join the bandwagon of the critics, I have chosen a different path, to feel sorry for Chibaba, to celebrate what he gave us, in his short and chaotic life, a genius who made us once feel like one extended family.
One which belonged to a woman called Stembeni.
His life doesn’t provide a template that I want for my son Kalusha, and his generation, who have been hooked up to his music, dress code and so much more.
But, it’s only by daring to confront the challenges of mental health, rather than feasting on the negativity of the road to ruin, which someone like Soul Jah Love travelled, that can help us ensure the next ghetto superstar, whether in music, or football.
BIGGIE TEMBO, WEMBLEY, MADONNA, EVEN THE WARRIORS LOVED SOUL JAH LOVE
Twenty six years ago, we lost an icon of our music industry, someone far bigger than Soul Jah Love, when Biggie Tembo took his life, in a psychiatric hospital in Harare.
When the end came, for the guy whose real name was Mhosva Rodwell Marasha, was alone. So far away, from the glitz and glamour of Wembley arena where, a few years earlier, he had wooed more than 80 000 roaring fans, as a supporting act of Madonna.
After fronting the Bhundu Boys for years, Biggie fell out with his group members and, unable to cope with the depression that followed, he lost his way.
“My husband became ill after separating with the Bhundu Boys, he suffered terrible stress,’’ his wife, Ratidzai, told our colleagues at The Sunday Mail.
“He began to drink whisky, straight from the bottle, he said it would help him sleep, but he couldn’t sleep. He was up for days and, all of a sudden, he started to behave strangely.
“I remember one day, whilst we were staying in England, we were watching television and he started saying he could smell something burning in the house, and he paced up and down the house looking for smoke, even though nothing was alight.”
An admission into a psychiatric unit of a Bristol hospital, followed, before he was deported back home, where he battled ill health, until he eventually took his life.
There was so much which, even for a tough guy like Biggie Tembo, could take.
The deaths of his former band mates, David Mankaba, Shepherd Munyama and Shakespeare Kangwena also took a toll on him but, unknown to us, his psychological demons had already been noticed, a few years back, by drummer Rise Kagona.
“He became mentally sick,’’ Kagona told the Guardian newspaper of Britain. “We’d say, ‘Biggie, calm down, you’re messing your mind.’
“It started affecting the band. I didn’t use to quarrel a lot, I used to use my hands. At Harare Airport matters spilled decisively into violence, and the Bhundu Boys became four.’’
Kagona, the only surviving member of the original Bhundu Boys, told us he was now working at a Scottish farm, the last time he gave us a glimpse of his present adventure.
Reading about Soul Jah Love, this week, must have been quite painful for Kagona, who must be wondering why, as a people, we haven’t picked crucial lessons from what happened to Biggie to try and help the next generation, of our stars.
To appreciate, as a people, the challenges that our stars, be it in music or sport, go through, the brutality of the mental health issues they deal with, so that we help them, when they really need a helping hand, rather than wait until the situation is irreversible.
To appreciate that these guys, for all their fame, and even a little fortune, are just a bunch of helpless people, cast into a dark pit by circumstances, which then take a huge toll on their mental health.
Maybe, that’s why we have seen a number of the Warriors, including Marvelous Nakamba, rushing to pay their condolences, in the wake of Soul Jah Love’s death.
Because, these guys, more than many of the armchair critics, understand the tough challenges, which the singer had to deal with, which fame lumped onto his shoulders which, sadly, couldn’t handle the burden.
“RIP Soul Jah Love, the Ghetto King,’’ tweeted Nakamba. “Your music inspired a lot of people. Rest easy Chibaba.’’
Ovidy Karuru also tweeted his condolences.
These are guys who know it’s not easy living in the fast lane, where every step they make is a subject of public analysis, where every word they speak is a subject of public scrutiny and where every drink they take is a subject of public introspection.
These are guys who live in the real world, where they know the pressure on their mental health is relentless and things can quickly slip down the drain.
Nakamba should know, because, as a Villa player, you are told about Lee Hendrie, a former star at the club, who last year told the ITV show, “Harry Heroes,’’ he tried to kill himself ‘’five or six times,’’ as he battled mental problems.
At least, Hendrie still lives, former Wales and Leeds star, Gary Speed, hanged himself in his garage on November 27, 2011, at the age of 42, leaving his £1.2million estate to his wife and two sons.
GAZZA, BEST, JABU, THANKS TO THEIR SUPPORT SYSTEMS, GOT A SECOND CHANCE
That Paul Gascoigne still lives to this day, he is now 53, is because of the support system, in the United Kingdom, which has refused to give up on one of their special sons.
This is someone who was once admitted into Priory Hospital, in October 1998, after taking down 32 shots of whisky.
This is someone who was once sectioned, under the Mental Health Act, and was forced into protective custody, so as to try and ensure he was prevented from harming himself.
This is someone who, just a day after being warned in October 2010 he could go to prison for drunk driving, was arrested for possession of cocaine.
“He won’t thank me for saying it but he immediately needs to get help,’’ his agent, Terry Baker, told BBC Radio 5 Live, after revealing Gazza had again lapsed into his drinking habits in February 2013.
“His life is always in danger because he is an alcoholic. Maybe, no one can save him — I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
That George Best, another superstar, who suffered from alcoholism, throughout most of his adult life, lived up to the age of 59, was largely because of a support system, which refused to give up on him, even as he appeared to mock all their efforts to help him.
Today, Jabu Mahlangu, who was known as Jabu Pule, during his days as a football prodigy when he was the rising star at Kaizer Chiefs, is a pundit on SuperSport TV.
But, it was never always like this.
In Austria, his contract with SV Mattersburg was terminated, after only eight month, after he crashed his car while driving under the influence of alcohol,
At SuperSport United, he was twice sent into a rehabilitation clinic, to try and help him overcome his drinking and drugs habit, until the club ran out of patience, and sacked him in 2005. His wild behaviour, including disappearing from camp on the eve of a national team game, even filtered into the office of the then South African President, Thabo Mbeki, who, sent him a simple, but powerful, message: “Jabu, you must behave yourself.’’ Of course, Jabu, being Jabu, it wasn’t the kind of message which appealed to him.
“I didn’t expect that I was going to be as huge as I became, coming from the dusty streets of Berkesdal,’’ he said. “I was a victim of drugs and alcohol at a young age.
“Even when I was on top of my game, I didn’t realise how big I was — mina bengiz’philela nje (I was living for myself.) I didn’t understand that I’m a role model and had others looking up to me.’’
But, South Africa, didn’t give up on their beloved Jabu and, today, he works as an analyst on SuperSport, and is a motivational speaker and goes around the country talking about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
It’s on sad days like these, as we mourn a genius like Soul Jah Love, that I wonder where someone like Denver Mukamba, for all his obvious football talent, would have been today, had we not given up on him, very early into his troubles.
Had we realised, back then, that he needed expert help, in terms of his mental health, rather than leaving him to follow a path into the chamber of darkness.
I will miss Soul Jah Love, not because I was a big fan but because he was a genius and, at 31, his journey was just starting. And, somehow, he had to die on my birthday. The Herald