By Jealousy Mbizvo Mawarire
On March 23 2005, exactly 16 years ago, Zimbabwe lost one of its greatest artists, the musician Paul Matavire. Beyond being a musician, he was also a family man, a loving big brother and a proud Rozvi whose command of the Shona language and ability to capture lived realities through song defied the visual impairment he carried for a greater part of his life.
As a musician, he is widely considered to be the master of the love song. The Greek identified four types of love: philia or brotherly love, storge or ties of blood, philautia, which is self love and eros, or romantic love. Matavire went beyond these forms of love to consider agape as well, the love that God has for mankind, arguably, his most flawed creation, but one that he made in his own image.
Many Zimbabweans identify Mkoma Paul, as we affectionately called him, with romantic love. For them, he was a Doctor of Erotic Love, a somewhat fitting characterization of an artist whose songs usually dealt with the theme of romantic love.
However, those of his household, that is, the handful who knew him beyond his songs and were fortunate to share life stories with him, understood that his perception of love went beyond the romantic. He understood love in all its forms.
In addition to the four types of love explained above, Matavire also understood the love that God has for his creation mankind. There is no better song to capture this than Ndichakupa Chipo, a hit that captures his personal life as a visually impaired person who initially cried to God, exhibiting lack of self love, encapsulated in the line in which he says
Handisiri chinhu ini ndiri honye,/ I am not human, I am degraded
Chinhu chinosemwa nemunhu wese,/ I am despised by all
Ndichararama sei pasi pano? /How will I survive?
Kugomera ndihwo hupenyu hwangu/Groaning and misery characterise my life
kubva ndiri pazamu ramai vangu/From the moment my mother suckled me,
In this song, a classic argument with God, Mkoma Paul captures his struggle accepting his blindness, initially complaining to God that he didn’t give him the ability to see that he gave to others. (Nhai Mwari wangu, zvamakandinyimavo zvina vamwe”.
He shares the moments he took God to task over how he envisaged him to survive in a competitive world where he had to contend with his counterparts who were not visually impaired. He laments, “Ndichararama sei pasi pano/how will I survive on earth?”
Acceptance only comes when he realizes that every creature created by God is blessed with the instinctive ability to survive. He imagines God answering him with His Word, showing him that even birds of the air, without storehouses on earth, are God-fed every day, a manifestation of God’s never failing love that is even more abundantly availed to humanity.
Shiri dzedenga,/The birds of tee air
Ndinodzipa wani pekurara nechekudya/ I give them food and shelter
Idzo hadzina matura/ Despite the fact that they don’t have storehouses
Kuzoti iwewe wandakasika/ What about you my creation
Nemufananidzo wangu/ The one I made in my own image
Ndikakufemera, Mweya wandinofema/ and gave you the breath of life
Ndokunyima seiko?/How could I not take care of you?
Nditendewo iwe, zvigofamba/ believe in me and you will be established
Namata chete kuti zvigofamba/ pray to me for your establishment
That life lesson, Mkoma Paul said, “shaped his perception of love and his purpose on earth despite his visual impairment.” His worldview, he added, “was drastically changed by the revelation of the depth of God’s love for humanity” which he captures in the above lines in his song that he extracts from the bible.
When I first met Mkoma Paul in November 1997 through his brother Beckie, who was a classmate and a friend at the University of Zimbabwe, it wasn’t difficult to see that he oozed love. I had first-hand experience of how deeply he held on to brotherly love.
It was a quiet and sunny Sunday morning when Beckie came to my room in Manfred Hodson Hall and told me we were supposed to meet Mkoma Paul in Kambuzuma and that he was waiting for us. Those days I used to drink beer so any excuse to leave school work and imbibe was an idea that needed very little persuasion, especially on this day when our host was one of the musicians I had grown up wanting to meet personally.
We had a Portuguese exam the following day, but despite the fact Beckie and I were not the best students in Asenhora Bond’s very small Portuguese class, school work and the fear of failing the exam on the morrow did not stand in our way.
So we set out for Kambuzuma and within an hour we were there. A security guy took us to a room where Mkoma Paul was waiting for us. He was elated to see his young brother whom he immediately grabbed by the hand, squeezed and jovially lampooned for having grown fat. I was taken aback. I didn’t understand how a blind man could ‘see’ that his brother was growing overweight. True to what Mkoma Paul was ‘seeing’, Beckie had grown bigger than when we first met during our second week as first year students.
We went through introductions and when Mkoma Paul was told that I came from Zaka, he immediately named me Zakaline, and that is what he called me on every other occasion we met. I wasn’t a journalist then, I had never dreamt of being one, but I was a very inquisitive young lad, so, in our wide conversations, I had the opportunity to ask him which song, among his many compositions, he considered his best.
His response opened up a whole new understanding I had of him and the Matavire family. Beckie had earlier on introduced me to Mkoma Tererai and his young brother Elson but he had never spoken about the two patriarchs that Mkoma Paul immediately referred to when he answered my question on which of his songs he considered the greatest.
I imagined he would say Dhindindi (Full Time), or Tanga Wandida, Nyakuchena Ganda, Dhiabhorosi Nyoka, Tsime reropa, Handirambi, Unondidirei, Akananaka Akarara, Nhamo Yeusavi or any other of the many hits that had topped the charts. To my surprise, he named none of these. Instead, he picked the relatively unknown, Panobikwa Mutakura
The irony was that when we played his Doctor Love Volume 2 vinyl LP at home, I would always skip Panobikwa Mutakura as I thought it was his worst composition. I am sure ours was not the only family that did this. Off the Dr Love Volume 2 vinyl LP, we played Dhindindi Fulltime, Pamberi NavaJiri, Joke of the Year, Iye Mbune, January Disease but not Panobikwa Mutakura.
I was extremely curious to know why Mkoma Paul considered this his best song when I thought it was his worst. His answer took me into the Matavire family set-up and his explanations gave me insight into why he considered this song his very best.
“My FATHERS really like this song”, was his first line before he told me “they think I will NEVER produce anything near it.”
Immediately, I asked him why he spoke of his FATHERS, not FATHER? The answer was an explanation of both the Matavire family set up and the lyrics of the song Panobikwa Mutakura. He told me of his biological father and his uncle (babamukuru) and how their two families were so intertwined that they did not have “cousin” in their vocabulary; his father’s children and those of his uncle were all his siblings.
He said, in Panobikwa Mutakura, he assumed his father’s persona who laments over how his children, despite his best teachings, had opened up the family to outside ridicule by failing to keep secrets thereby sowing division in the whole family.
The song, in part, goes
Nhai vana vangu/My children
Madarirei kudaro/ Why are you behaving strangely?
Matadza neiko kuchengeta tsindidzo?/Have you failed to keep family secrets?
Mashamisa mukova/You have laid bare sacred information
Nyika ndokuona mumba medu/ the whole world now has access to our little dirty secrets
Tichava chiseko chapasi rose/ we will be subjects of ridicule
Babamukuru venyu, Pamwe neni baba venyu/ Your uncle and I
Takaresva here kukuyananisai/ did we get something wrong by forging unity in the family?
Kuti nyangwe tofa, musare makawadzana/ so that even when we pass on you will remain united
Musingabvutirani nhaka yatichakusiirayi?/ without any squabbles over your inheritance
The persona goes on to list the number of things the children did which were contrary to his teachings and socialisation. He laments the recklessness of his firstborn son and how his younger brother who had settled in neighboring South Africa was not coming in handy to help reprimand the children. It is clear, from the father’s lamentation, that the source of his pain was one child, the one causing divisions in the family contrary to the unity gospel he had subjected his progeny to.
The little lecture I had about the song and the Matavire family gave me new interest in the song. I remember the following week I bought a Dr Love Volume 2 cassette for playing on the little cassette recorder I bought from my university grant.
After listening to Mkoma Paul’s explanations, the song assumed a whole new sound and meaning. I could put mental pictures to every word in that song. I even felt the pain and resignation in the line which says “Panobikwa mutakura panosara nhire, mutakura uri wenyemba, zvandaiti wese waibva, izvo pasara imwe yaramba kuibva”. (When you boil kidney peas, not every pea cooks to the satisfaction of the cook, at least one remains utterly uncooked). I even grew to love the song as well.
My understanding and love of the song, however, deepened when Mkoma Paul died. His brother, Mkoma Terry, phoned me to pass on the sad news. On the same day, my wife and I drove to Rutenga, to his homestead, just a few metres from the 161 kilometre peg along the Masvingo-Beitbridge road, a plot he had invaded with the help of local war veterans during the land reform.
Sad as it was in the circumstances, I came face-to-face with his distraught and grieved FATHERS he sings of in Panobikwa Mutakura. I also met other family members. True to what Mkoma Paul had told me, they were a closely knit group among which you couldn’t tell who, among his brothers, were biological or cousins. They had very striking resemblances, were very united you could only marvel at the work Sekuru Matavire (Paul’s Father) and his brother (Sekuru VaStone) had done to bring their two families together.
I reminisced at the explanations Mkoma Paul had given me when he analyzed Panobikwa Mutakura for me and I began to understand him better. Sadly, we didn’t play Panobikwa Mutakura on the night he died, or any of his soulful beats, but we spent the whole night playing his songs, especially the fast beats. We had almost every album.
On the morrow, during body viewing, I could not hold back my tears when I came face-to-face with his lifeless body. All the jokes were gone, no more Zakaline salutation, just a still, cold face as he rested in the natural repose of death.
He was at peace, oblivious of my presence. He didn’t seem to care that Mkoma Terry was there as well, neither did he seem to care that our fellow Dynamos supporter, Maiguru Mai Tatenda was also with us. It never mattered to him that Lorraine, my wife, whom he had never met, had accompanied me to bid him farewell. Neither did it bother him that Dzidzanai, his last born was grieving. All that mattered to him, I suppose, was his rest.
I looked at Dzidzanai, she was young, grief-stricken but strong. I didn’t meet Wadzanai, the first born he fondly spoke of, neither did I meet Dananai the second born. We buried him before my friend Beckie arrived. He took long to travel from his school for the burial. He arrived after the burial when I had already left for Harare but I was satisfied that I had paid my last respects to a brother who taught me so much about brotherly love and family unity through our interactions which became customary whenever he visited Harare on his tour of duty.
Apart from music, Mkoma Paul was an avid Dynamos supporter, we went along very well on this one but Beckie, Mkoma Terry and my other friend, Dereck Charamba, with whom we met Mkoma Paul and shared drinks several times, were Caps United supporters.
We sometimes took Mkoma Paul to watch Dynamos play when he was in Harare; he loved his team and believed, then, that Chamu Musanhu was the best defender in Africa. Taking Mkoma Paul to Dynamos matches was a joy for he always kept us entertained with his jokes and, of course, as a celebrity, he was allowed to carry his beloved Chibuku and Bols into the stadium so we occasionally took turns to benefit from his generosity even during matches.
Mkoma Paul sang about love, yes, but he also sang a lot about God. I always teased him that he was among the best gospel musicians I had ever listened to. He told me he often made sure he threw, at least one gospel song, on each of his albums. To date, I constantly challenge Beckie to put together Mkoma Paul’s gospel songs. I wouldn’t mind a compilation with Umtombo Wegazi (Tsime Reropa), Kana Denga Rozarurwa, Ndichakupa Chipo, Thabath Si Phambano, Fishers of Men, Vachasara Nani and others.
Mkoma Paul was an effervescent person, a jovial character who carried around an undeniable abundance of life. He didn’t miss an opportunity to crack a joke. One day, he told Beckie and I, that he was no longer “Dr Love”, he had out grown that title. He had become a Professor of Love and was looking to date a fellow professor from the University of Zimbabwe. That was Mkoma Paul for you, ever full of love, jokes and life. Rest in peace Prof Love, Zororai murugare Moyo, lalani ngokuthula Bvumavaranda.