Proemdra for Biko
Good morning, Steve.
How's mum? uMamcethe? And Tat'uBiko?
How's bhut' Khaya? Also sis'Bukelwa?
It is that time of the year - September, Heritage Month - when we ritually celebrate your generation through you, not nostalgically but rather heroically if not spiritually. You went away so soon; so quickly; so unexpectedly; so bloodily. Without saying a word. But then, you had already penned many, many, many words by the time you turned 30, almost a lifetime's thoughts, aspirations, hopes and introspection transcending four generations.
Did you know that they would hurt your body but not your soul?
Did you find out the reason behind your killing?
Have you seen James Thomas Kruger, the then minister who signed your banning order? Would you not like to ask him to explain in detail the rationale behind your death certificate, especially in light of the fact that you, Bantu, have always been a free spirit that could never be killed, and therefore would live forever?
September is spring in South Africa and fall in the US, for this is also the month to celebrate the Trane that was A Love Supreme, John Coltrane, who is to be seen Sitting on the Dock of the Bay with soulmate Otis Redding, as they Try A Little Tenderness.
Have you seen Paolo Frere? Frantz Fanon? Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe? OR Tambo? They must be proud of you, now that you are in their midst at last? You could not meet all of them in the flesh (except for The Prof who visited you in King in a brave act, one banned person to another), but somehow managed to do so in the spirit. And the spirit is cooking jazz as well.
Isn't it heavenly, with Tat'u Allen Silinga on the way to joining the celestial gathering yonder, having penned classics such as Holili! And Ntyilo Ntyilo immortalised by Mama Afrika, uZenzile Miriam Makeba. Heela Steve, how was your 60th birthday? Did the solidarity brothers and sisters bake you a cake? And brewed umqombothi to wash it down? Ah, I see the other cats brought along something stronger! Ingenious cats indeed.
I am busy trying to finish the proemdra I have been working on since the inquest into your death in December 1977. What's a proemdra? I guess you might be aware that it is my coinage of the synthesis of prose, poetry and drama within a musical setting. Like a Jazz Suite; A Freedom Symphony. Didn't Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn say A Drum is a Woman, while Dizzy Gillepsie had said autobiographically, To Be or Not to Bebop? Now Birdland's keyboards wizard Joe Zawinul has joined them too.
Who would comprise the Big Band and Chorus there? I see the horn section with such luminaries as Kippie Morolong Moeketsi, Charlie Bird Parker, Ntemi Baby Come Duze Piliso; Basil Manenberg Coetzee Mongezi Feza, Miles Kinda Blue Davis; Dudu Pukwana; Mra Ngcukana; Coltrane; Blyth Mbityana; Henry Sithole; Peter Ballroom Rezant; George Tyefumani; Albert Kid mawrong-wrong Ralulimi, the music archivist supreme; Gwigwi Clarinetist Mrwebi; guitarists Cyril Magubane; General Duze, Barney Luthuli; alto saxist Zigzag Zachariah Our Kind of Jazz Nkosi and Victor Ndlazilwana, flautist Thomas Masemola; double bassists Chooks Tshukudu and Mongezi Velelo plus electric bassist Sipho Gumede, with Selby Thiba ka Moo Ntuli on Fender Rhodes with Early Mabuza drumming.
Hey, there's Sunshine - Mama Sophie Mgcina, busy transcribing her vocal and horn arrangements of Mangwane, inspired by the modern reinterpretation by the younger generation, Mafikizolo whom she warmly credited as having given her a new lease of life beyond her wildest dreams, at Sarral's offices.
There's the sensuous Baby Ntshware Dolly Rathebe, accompanied by ivories icons Gideon Mgibe Nxumalo, Aunt Emily Motsieloa and Chris Blue Note MacGregor.
Who do I see over there conducting lessons in choral music, none other than Prof Khabi Mngoma, ably assisted by Reuben Tholakele Caluza, JPU Ea Kae? Mohapeloa, and BB Myataza, as Todd Matshikiza performs his evergreen Hamba Kahle on a baby grand, neh?
Oh no, there's also Tat'u Sontonga, uMankayi, Enoch, who 110 years ago, in 1897, composed a hymn for Africa; a Prayer of Africa, in Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika in Soweto, passing away barely in his thirties - strangely just like yourself, Bantu.
Isn't that playwright-artist Matsemela Manaka in serious conversation with master actor and drama tutor James Mthoba, about to be joined by Barney Simon? Oh, there's piano protege Moses Taiwa Molelekoa, the pride of Fuba, always shy; always reserved; always creative; always searching for the truth. Ah, there comes along Fikile Magadlela with his Sunrise Birds in Full Flight backdrop canvas for soon-to-be Proemdra, A Letter to Brother Biko.
How did he know? Did Fikile have a premonition? Did he create the setting?
Bantu, even the father of Pan- Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah was born during the month of September, did you know? I see him exchanging notes with Langston, the Blues Poet Langston, he of the Harlem Renaissance period and of 'Beautiful, also are the souls of my people', and the classic question: 'What happens to a dream deferred?'
Richard Rive, an old mate of Hughes, is feverishly revising his seminal District Six group biography, Buckingham Palace, with a grin as wide as Table Mountain, as if to deadline.
Is that Chris Hani standing next to you, Bantu? What is he saying? So you do not wish to share your secret with us? Tomorrow? Day after tomorrow, maybe? I am intrigued that you should be so close. Okay, call it naivete on my part if you will.
Cabral eloquently speaks of returning to the source, which is also the theme of my proemdra;
'So the return to the source is of no historical importance unless it brings not only real involvement in the struggle for independence, but also complete and absolute identification with the hopes of the masses .'
As you Brother Bantu Stephen Biko aptly put it:
'We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize.'
Little wonder then that some people talk of ukuza kukaBantu.
A love supreme, a love supreme .