The Book of Soul…the incredible life and death of Jah Love
By Bruce Ndlovu
If Soul Jah Love’s life was a book, there are certain points where a reader would have perhaps stopped reading because the story being told would simply be unbelievable.
At crucial points in the book, sometimes the life of Soul Musaka (31), who died last week and was declared a Liberation war hero for his exploits in arts, would seem stranger than fiction. He was laid to rest in Harare yesterday.
Perhaps a reasonable reader would have closed this book when the main protagonist started driving a Hummer H2, a metallic beast meant to be tamed only by big men, mamonya. This was in March 2014 but as recently as October 2013, Soul Jah Love had been living in a makeshift home in Mbare (Harare), sleeping on a ghetto dwelling’s stubbornly hard floor and perhaps using his own arm as a pillow.
It did not make sense. Sure, every reader loves a rags to riches tale, but in Jah Love’s case, the riches had come so quickly that perhaps if one positioned your nose close enough, they could still catch a whiff of the smell of the rags.
That was the smell of poverty, an old, dark friend that had stalked Soul Jah Love since childhood.
Perhaps the reasonable reader would have started questioning the book’s plot when, in a fit of rage, Soul went on the rampage, assaulting his wife with an iron bar. It was again simply not plausible.
Could this be the same man who had spoken about his wife, now the object of his anger, as his queen, a lieutenant who had stood by his side when he had nothing to his name except the songs in his heart?
It was just too incredible and simply not plausible. Could a reasonable reader trust the hand that was writing such a story? A great story in which moments of brief joy were followed by prolonged pain and sorrow, one in which the highs only seemed to stay long enough to usher in the most painful of lows. But such was the Book of Soul. It did not always make sense.
Act I – Genesis, the beginning
Soul Musaka aka Soul Jah Love was born on 22 November 1989. He was born a twin in the year in which George H. W. Bush became the 41st President of the United States. He was born the same month in which the Berlin Wall came down.
Life was never rosy for Soul, he said in many interviews. As his career has blossomed, his mother, Stembeni Musaka, has perhaps become the most famous mother in local music. With time, Mwana waStembeni has become a signature chant almost just as famous as Chibaba, Hauite Hauite, Conquering and Television Tingz – words and phrases he coined and popularised. But Stembeni died when Soul was only two-years-old. Most people only start forming lasting memories when they reach three years of age, so for most of his career one could say Soul was yearning for the loving arms of a woman he never really knew.
For nine months, he and John, his twin, shared the nourishment and safety of their mother’s womb and for months after they were born they would have suckled from her breasts and felt the warmth and love of her arms. Despite all that, one can safely say Soul never met his mother. It was a cruel twist of fate, an open wound that Soul wanted the world to see.
“Ndakakura ndichiita kunge chigunduru and I always think if my mother was around, she would have said, ‘gara pasi, ukunotsvagei ku road?” he once said in an interview.
“Maybe I would have stayed away from drugs, maybe the poor decisions dzaiita kuti ndikure ndichingonzi uyu imboko would have been avoided. Maybe I would have been a better man.”
In truth, the streets were his mother and at crucial times in Soul’s life, Mbare was an irresponsible parent. It was Mbare that showed him the dark corners where it kept its drugs, leading to a life of substance abuse for a while. It was Mbare that showed him the hard pavements before fame came knocking.
From the same streets, Soul learnt the joys of ghetto lingo and slang. He learnt that words could be changed from their original version and given a different flavour, a different texture. He could mutilate words, bend and hammer them into new, unimaginable shapes. Sure, he broke the rules of language and basically wrote his own dictionary, but when he put those words over dancehall beats, magic happened.
Mbare, Soul’s adopted mother, had given gave birth to a music genre and made him one of its highly anointed apostles. Soon he would take his genius from the streets and makeshift studios to radio, television and the stage. He preached this new genre’s gospel, this loud music with dark diction, with passion and skill. Music was no longer a hobby.
He was now coining phrases for dollars. The road to dancehall superstardom was clear.
Act II – The Road to Damascus
In December 2016 he met a man who could perform miracles. While this man, Prophet Walter Magaya, could not feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish, many believed he could make them instantly rich, flooding their accounts with miracle money.
This is, after all, now a digital world that demanded digital miracles. This man could make barren women bear children and heal the sick. And Soul was sick.
At the age of seven, he was diagnosed with Type one diabetes. The onset of Type one diabetes brings symptoms that include frequent urination, increased thirst, increased hunger, weight and sometimes blurry vision, tiredness and poor wound healing. These were the symptoms felt by a seven-year-old that had never really felt a mother’s love.
When this disease started its assault on his young body, his mother was not there to comfort him with a hug or wipe away his tears when the pain became unbearable.
Thus, 20 years later, he met this man who people said could heal him. His leg had been troubling him but if he turned his life to God, this man said, he could perhaps get relief from the pain and suffering. Whether it was from science or divine intervention, Soul’s festering leg was healed. Those close to him hoped that he had turned over a new leaf, they hoped that a dark chapter in his life had been closed.
In February of last year, he was back again at Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries seeking Prophet Magaya’s healing touch. Soul, his brother said, had turned violent, damaging property and destroying everything around him. He was not eating well and had at the beginning of that month started taking drugs again. That Damascene moment back in 2016 had been a false dawn.
Act III – End Times
Soul Musaka died on 16 February. From the accounts of those close to him, it was a quiet, lonely death. From the interviews he granted even as his career blossomed, it is clear that his life was filled with pain, both physical and emotional. Like all good prophets, he also predicted his own death, with songs like Kana Ndafa, foretelling his passing.
He had his fair share of flaws, but perhaps he was also misunderstood. When he could not perform because of his condition, few found it acceptable. Why would they? When an artiste’s name is put on a poster, people are not interested in hearing their life story. They pay for a show and demand it at all costs.
Try explaining to a drunk dancehall fan at 2 AM on a rainy night in Mbare that the star of the show cannot perform because of a missed insulin shot? They also do not care that your mother was never there to love you. But his flow as a chanter was impeccable, his skill as a musician unquestionable. However, in the end, Soul never overcame his demons – the violence and the drug abuse stayed with him until the very end.
Since his death at such a young age, the tributes have poured in. Powerful men and women have sent their condolences and big brands put his name on their carefully curated social media timelines. Few however, would have touched him when he was alive. He will go down tragically as one of those people that is easier to love in death than they were in life.
Nonetheless, to the multitudes that followed and loved his music, it is clear that Zimbabwean dancehall has lost a powerful voice. They may never be another quite like Sauro. Rest in power mwana waStembeni. The Sunday News