IT is a custom for most people who speak Bantu languages to praise themselves and their ancestors when they accomplish something great.
“…Omulumentu gomuthika omule hagutilitha aalodhi naakatalume. Omumati gwombinzi yaKakunde kiIyambo yaMushaandja…”
The quote translates from Oshiwambo as “A gentleman boasting a height that scares witches and cowards. A man descended from the blood of Kakunde of Mushaandja…”
Jacques Mushaandja chants the above words on the fifth song titled ‘Ongolo’ (Black Bantu Child) from his first Extended Play (EP) album.
Undoubtedly, this young man has earned the right to not only praise himself but also receive praise from the rest of the nation because he has made us proud.
One rarely finds someone so vested in knowing their roots – who not only learns about their tradition and culture but goes the extra mile to learn other tribes’ traditional practices as well.
Mushaandja’s ‘Black Bantu Child’ E.P took me back to yesteryear – a time when life was about drums and wild flowers.
Every one of the five tracks on the album made me feel nostalgic, not only was I left begging for more, but I was yearning to be back at either Mururani or Rupara village in the Kavango region where I spent a couple of years as a child.
Every night we would sit by the fire and the elders would tell us local folklore. One of the folktales, which stood out for me, in particular, was that of Munyondogwa Kapande.
Kapande was a great warrior and drummer. He loved playing his drum so much that one fateful afternoon he couldn’t stop himself.
Multitudes gathered around him as he drummed and they danced the day away. The tree under which he drummed is locally known as Munyondo.
As the sun set, the tree opened up and wrapped itself around Kapande, whom people never saw again and the villagers say that sometimes they can still hear the warrior drumming from the bowels of the tree.
Lo and behold! The first song on the E.P is ‘Kapande’. Mushaandja not only makes sure that the lyrics are historically correct, if there is such a thing in folklore, but he sings the song in Rukwangali and he does it relatively well.
For someone who didn’t grow up in the Kavango, Mushaandja does not sway too far from the traditional sounds of the Kavango people but gives them a slightly modern flair.
This album not only feeds the ears and the soul but stimulates the mind’s eye. No sooner did I hear the second track, ‘Etenda’ (Lyaamati YaaNdonga), that I saw Owambo boys in traditional attire dancing the Omupembe.
The originality and uniqueness of Mushaandja’s approach is quite hard to explain. Many before him have attempted to fuse the old and the new but it is the honesty in Mushaandja’s work which puts him in a league of his own.
He doesn’t liven up the old with the new, but rather livens up the new with the old – an approach I would recommend many should take.
It’s hard to decide which is my favourite track on this album.
‘Aambo’, the third song, is perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon when the entire household seeks shelter from the unforgiving Namibian sun under an overgrown Omwandi tree.
Tate Kwela would surely be proud.
‘Katutura’ pays homage to our fallen heroes and heroines and tells the story of their struggle. Although this fourth track is in English, it does not take anything away from the traditional theme of the album. Rather, it shows Mushaandja’s ability to be diverse.
I was forced to resist the urge to break out into the Epera traditional dance every now and again because I would have worn myself out, rendering me incapable of finishing the album.
If ever I was proud to be a black Bantu child, it was when I heard the final track, ‘Ongolo’. The chanting in the track reminded me of my grandparents.
It stirred up memories of being at family gatherings and listening to the chanted praises of our ancestors and their accomplishments. I had never heard a young person do it so well until I heard this song.
What more can I say except for thank you for keeping our culture and traditions alive? Thank you for entertaining and educating us, thank you for “Black Bantu Child”.