THE concept of love was, by association, elevated to the status of headline news in the last number of days.
Love, in the form of romance shared (or as generally expected to be) between people, is a subject often buried deep in the lifestyle and inner pages of magazines and newspapers as far as reporting is concerned. Unless of course it happens to be linked to a scandal of sexual nature, two timing or a nasty break-up with prominent individuals at the centre of it. However, Eddie Makhosonke Zondi’s passing took -along with its sadness- the subject of love or romantic relationships (scandal free) to the front or early pages of the printed media. Love hovered around as the news of the radio personality’s departure, memorial service and burial made it into radio and television news bulletins while occupying the spot of one of the trending topics on social media.
It would appear Zondi did a job worthy of a standing ovation in rendering an essential service clearly of great need or want to listeners of his Romantic Repertoire show on Metro FM. Eulogies have projected a man who mastered the art of kindling the fires of passion, applying just the right kind of band-aid on heartbreak bruises while possessing and administering the perfect medicine to sooth the rough edges brought about by the drama of falling in or out love. Knowingly or unknowingly to the man; he also gave, to some women, what appears to be the most elusive of pleasures. “I remember a friend once told to me that listening to Eddie Zondi often made her reach an orgasm. I was still in my early twenties then and pretty much clueless about sex and its pleasures let alone knowing about an orgasm. I must confess I also loved the man,” said one married woman friend.
“…it’s disingenuous for Mokonyane, Mthetwa and all the others to suggest Zondi served his country or its interests with distinction.”
It would seem even top politicians were hooked to the service Zondi rendered hence their singing from the same hymn book with his followers that swear their Sunday’s will never be the same. “Zondi made South Africans believe in love,” Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane has been quoted as having told the audience at the late presenter’s memorial service that was held at the Standard Bank Arena in Joburg. Other proclamations were made including that Zondi left a vacuum in the nation while his legacy will continue to live on. Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthetwa, described his passing as a tragic loss for the nation.
It’s a commendable and humane gesture on the part of the ministers, politicians and the public to have been compassionate towards Zondi’s family. However there is an element of skidding on a slippery slope when there overzealousness is on overdrive and Zondi is overwrought with the title of a praiseworthy contributor to the South African nation. Unless of course by “nation” the reference is to a group of people united by a common passion and appreciation for love songs, especially the American and European brand.
Zondi’s legacy (as sanctioned and fully backed by his employers) of promoting American music, in his 18 years of broadcasting at Metro FM, was in no doubt during the week following his passing. In his tribute most radio stations, including Metro FM’s rivals, play-listed music closely associated with Zondi. No prize for guessing what music was that. American R&B stars Joe Thomas and Kenny Lattimore had every good reason to be thankful to Zondi when they said the late broadcaster played their music, one of them even going as far as saying Zondi punted his music “religiously”. The two singers might as well have represented a singular and grateful American voice for the cultural service “religiously” rendered to their nation by Zondi, his employer Metro FM and many other local stations.
“However a false impression of sincerity is given by insinuating that the wealth of the likes of Thomas, Lattimore, Tamia, John Legend, Alicia Keys and many other American singers/songwriters will be negatively affected by Zondi’s death. South African music was poorer with Zondi still alive”
“Gone too soon, my friend,” Thomas summed up his message of condolences. The question to ask then is; how big or small was the love shown by Zondi to his fellow countryman of (love) songs or directly put how much of a friend was he to South African music and artists? There was an effort, in the last couple of years, on his part to play and sound enthusiastic about promoting homebrewed music especially when he still presented the weekly nine to midnight programme he called The Obsession. However the impact, especially on the Romantic Repertoire, was not much felt because punting local music was done in a minimal fashion that still allowed American songs to loom large over local compositions.
Out of the plus minus forty songs played per three-hour shows he presented; it would have not been such a strain- especially if backed by proper research on his part- for Zondi to put quality South African (even African) love songs on an equal footing with the American ones. Outside the obvious domestic artists (including Bongi Dube, Jonathan Buttler, Malaika, Mafikizolo, MarcAlex, Jaziel Brothers, Theo Kgosinkwe, Zonke and Lira) there are a great many other locals and Africans in general who have recorded compelling songs that would generally have been a perfect fit to the theme of Zondi’s show.
Such include acts like Watershed, Coleske, Ashley Pitchen, Just Jinger, Egyptian Nursery, Sibongile Khumalo, Sugardrive, Stimela, Springbok Nude Girls, Khadja Nin, Asa, Angelique Kidjo, Busi Mhlongo, Gigi and many others. Of course the above list may represent too much of an ambition or a pipe dream because anything African is not necessarily considered to be chic, modern, of the highest standard, international and great by some -especially people in key positions of power- in S.A.
It will be an injustice to only finger Zondi for the absence of a respectful percentage of African music that was an obvious characteristic of his show (s). That is simply owing to the fact that the station he worked for until his passing has always seemed over-determined to keep up to date with the outside world and maintain an “urban” image as much as possible – a euphemism for sounding and looking American and European.
Zondi may have been a courteous, friendly and warm person; but it’s disingenuous to suggest he was a patriot who promoted the (artistic or music) interests -through his radio show- of his country with distinction. What Zondi did was to serve and take care of the needs or wants of less than five percent (his listeners were estimated to be around two million) of the over fifty million South African population. Through the Soul Sessions that took him to the grass roots of his support; Zondi could have rose above the act of just entertaining or merely “giving people what they want.” He could have served the music sector of the country of his birth more and broadly by promoting and urging support for South African music.
ANC national spokesperson’s, Zizi Kodwa, words of condolences; “without him (Zondi) we are poorer today,” could be interpreted in many ways. No doubt Zondi’s family, friends, listeners and colleagues may be poorer without hearing his voice and having his physical presence. However a false impression of sincerity is given by suggestions that the wealth of the likes of Thomas, Lattimore and many other American singers/songwriters will be negatively affected by Zondi’s death. South African music was poorer with Zondi still alive and will continue to be such until attitudes change.
The fact is the only thing that is most probably going to be different during the Metro FM three to six pm slot on Sunday’s is the tone and texture of the voice of the presenter to replace him. A personality tasked with the responsibility of replacing Zondi is likely to be made to or will voluntarily stick to the same old scrip that will keep American songwriters in business. In fact as I put the final touches to this piece Paul Mtirara is wrapping up the first show (on 29 June 2014) that used to be Zondi’s and in the two hours that I have tuned-in only one African song, Zonke Dikana’s Jik’ Izinto, was deemed suitable to feature on the show.
If South Africa was a full country (conscious of itself) it would have been a national scandal, making headline news, that the understanding of the soul and love of another country’s music culture got elevated -even more than is often the case- above that of this nation following Zondi’s sad passing.
Often there’s a tendency, accompanied by dismissive attitudes, to assume that those calling for more local content are also demanding the blackout of American and European content. But the truth is that most proudly South African music campaigners believe in the principles that govern free and fair trade hence they are of the opinion that a nation can hold its values in high esteem while remaining open to the world.
But then again the subject of South Africa’s values is a story for another day as such has not been clearly defined or successfully promoted to all, that is if they exist at all? Back in 2011 there was an initiative called National Values Campaign, with aims said to be those of shaping the national agenda, turning South Africa into a “values-driven society and identify the common values that would ultimately make the country a better place to live in. Pity the website of this campaign, which seem to be noble, cannot shed any more light as it is under construction.
Perhaps the display of love for, support and promotions of South Africa’s interests (representing greater good), culture (this term is used broadly) and identity should be listed among the most upheld values for Mzansi citizens. Some inspiration may be found in Robin Waterfield’s introduction to Kahlil Gibran’s The Beloved (Penguin edition) where he notes that for Gribran (a poet philosopher and artist) love is a means to self-realization, without which one is less than a full person.
“… what can be more senior than leading a nation to identify itself? A nation that does not understand its soul is not worthy to be called a nation,” that was Nathi Mthemthwa responding to suggestions that being moved from the ministry of police to Arts and culture was a demotion for him. South Africa remains less than a full country – where its culture is concerned- with no proper grasp of its soul since it remains a norm and normal to participate in the punting, emulation, adaptation of and for a South African to defend foreign creative or cultural output while it’s almost impossible for most S.A artists to reach a state of self-realizations.
If South Africa was a full nation conscious of itself then it would have been a national scandal, making headline news, that the understanding and appreciation of the soul and love of another country’s music culture, as displayed following Eddie Zondi’s sad passing, is more than that of its own.