Friday, 28 November 2008

BBC World Health Debate

I attended the BBC World Health Debate in London as part of the audience. It is very interesting viewing:

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Sunday, 23 November 2008

MIKE SIKAWA-tribute and obituary

...If I was to choose key words to describe the late BBC Tanzanian journalist Mike Sikawa would be: brave, original, genuine, intelligent and opinionated. He danced his own tune and throughout his life followed his own cause.

Typical Mike Mike at the peak of his youth, 1982( Pic courtesy of Che Mponda Blog)

I knew him as a teenager and during those days (and even years later as we worked in Dar es Salaam) he loved music and his most favourite song by African American singer, Johnny Nash
: I Can See Clearly Now, perhaps mostly described his attitude to life:
“I can see clearly, the rain is gone now;
Is gonna be a bright, bright, sunshine day.”

Johnny Nash

During last years our correspondence was a few emails regarding his column “Letter from Johannesburg” written in This Day for which I had high regard. We were school mates at Ilboru Secondary Schoolin Arusha. Though ahead of me, hardly friends yet, we were both beneficiaries of the wonderful literature classes by Mama Victoria Chitepo (wife of the assassinated Zimbabwe exiled leader Herbert Chitepo) during the promising opening of the 1970 decade; she (and Ilboru School in general) was one of the early inspiration for many of us some who became leaders like former Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye; current Director of National Security, Mr. Rashid Othman and managerial executive Mr. Daniel Mshana
Although Mike could be confrontational and argumentative I never once saw or heard him getting into a physical fight; he was a peaceful man whose passion for truth and information was expressed through the pen and free speech.
Growing in the era of Ujamaa
and Mwalimu Nyerere where self expression was stifled and the paranoia of secret services loomed large, Mike would stroll through storm, rain and sun, unafraid to speak out. Whereas Ilboru proved an almost silent, sullen experience for the tall, lanky Meru born teenager at Mzumbe Secondary in Morogoro he blossomed. Again we were school mates, he still in front of me.

Mzumbe Secondary, today regarded as the topmost school in Tanzania.

By now he was constantly talking of his new found first serious love: Helen T. who he glorified and endeared with romantic letters and poems.
For me leaving the familiar surroundings of northern Tanzania to almost semi-arid conditions at the rough ragged Mzumbe boarding school in 1973 was catastrophic. And Mike Sikawa (alongside other Ilboru colleagues) became a kind of elder brother guiding me along. By this time I had found (beside my cravings to be a writer) the guitar and Mike Sikawa was leading singer of Earthquakes one of our school bands at Mzumbe. With South African born exile, Tabiso “Tabs” Leshoai they taught me the science of performance. In those days the great music maestro Mbarakah Mwinyishehe would come play free of charge at our dining hall and Mike would already show his aptitude for communication and fearlessness by chatting and teasing the national star, while we cowered in the background. Mbarakah Mwinyishehe then at the height of his powers would let us use his instruments during breaks and my very first musical concert, with Mike on lead vocals, (the Micky Jagger
and Tabu Ley
of our band) was that night.

Musician Mbaraka Mwinshehe who was to die in a car accident in 1979 in action. Photo courtesy of Bongo Celebrity Blog
Watched by cheering and admiring females from Kilakala Secondary School (our beloved sweethearts) I forgot what we had rehearsed and embarrassed the band. Later Mike followed me in the dormitory: “that was absolutely shit” he charged, point blank. Leshoai the musical director and solo guitarist coached: “Freddy we don’t go on stage to show off but to play music.”
These guys were my true peers and although they did not pursue a musical career, thanks to that incident, I am the disciplined musician I am today.
And Sikawa, Leshoai, Earthquakes was not just about music. They loved the truth: speaking out against injustice.
During the said 1971-73 period, the world was in intense transformation. President Richard Nixon was getting clobbered by the Watergate scandal, dreaded Vietnam War was at its epic end, the Black Panthers challenged racism in America; the CIA toppled the government of democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. In Africa, at their most ferocity, the liberation movements in Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, South Africa worked from Dar es Salaam.
On the educational front, Professor Walter Rodney : released "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" changing the way African history was taught and regarded across the world.

Late Professor Walter Rodney of Guyana, lived and taught history in Tanzania in the 1970's.

Locally, industrial and school strikes (like what we are undergoing through now) were frequent. The new clause from TANU’s guidelines allowed workers to challenge and question bad leadership. For students this hunger for freedom and truth was as fashionable as hip-hop, hoods and hanging trousers are today.
Mzumbe was a tough school. Absent teachers, pathetic food, bullying and homosexual rape amongst pupils; we were fed up. Mike Sikawa and Tabiso Leshoai became part of The Rebel Cause leading riots that climaxed in the police (FFU) coming in; frog marching us back to classes. It ended with 150 of us being suspended. Three months later after a public humiliation by the Government we were pardoned and returned to school; the ring leaders were chucked out for good. One of them was, Mike Sikawa.
This was a crucial moment in the life of the once soft spoken, goody, goody country boy from the green highlands of Njiro, Meru.
The metamorphosis of Mike Sikawa fired up the day he was refused entry back to school, in 1973. Whereas he could be part of the Earthquakes band, centre of school debate, prancing about and teasing the likes of great musician Mbarakah Mwinyishehe or joking with the French language teacher from Senegal; he was suddenly alone. I would meet him during holidays, very angry, intense, focussed. Bright as he was his chance to join University had been quashed. His college, he declared, simply, shall be Life.

Public service and genuine leadership were amongst many issues Mike Sikawa tackled in his writings...
As means, it was to journalism he turned…
The early 1970’s were times of talented thoughtful press critics: Kenyan Philip Ochieng and Jenerali Ulimwengu
had powerful opinion columns in the then Daily News (The Standard) and Nationalist (English version of Uhuru). In the sports page Tommy Sithole (Zimbabwe born) rumbled on. At the head were the editors of the day, former President Benjamin Mkapa (boss when Mike Sikawa joined Daily News); brilliant photographer the late Vincent Urio,Ndimara Tegambwage, Ulli Mwambulukutu, Costa Kumalija and the arts column (Up the Stage) of Frank Mzirai.
One of Mike's memorable and disntinct early news stories was a much talked about debate between Kenyan scholar Professor Ali Mazrui
and Professor Walter Rodney at the University of Dar es Salaam in mid 70’s.
These were days before Wilson Kaigarula, Danford Mpumilwa, Hamidu Bisanga, Leila Sheikh,
and the satirist Adam Lusekelo. Mike Sikawa proved his mettle immediately. His first weekly column: “Roving Reporter” fitted his unique talent, trying exposing corruption, bureaucracy and inefficiency.
He was equally a great listener to foe and friend alike.
Around 1983 for example I recall being at a Kilimanjaro Hotel reception in Dar es Salaam with various government and diplomatic heavyweights. We were chatting and one Minister said something to Mike regarding his critical articles and what the role of a journalist should be. Mike took it on the chin, quietly, his typical sharp eyes with that I Don’t Believe You Sir, glint; saying nothing…

Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro, paid tribute.

By the 1980’s he was a senior reporter and getting the best scoops. We were mesmerised at the way he managed to get a lengthy interview with President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. It is no surprise that UN Deputy Secretary General, Dr. Asha Rose Migiro ( who sent a heartfelt tribute) would be tracked by Sikawa in Lesotho
, for an early reaction after her nomination, twenty six years later.
I always felt Mike Sikawa (and my generation in general) was greatly affected by the economic hardships especially after the war against Ugandan dictator Idi Amin
in 1979. Different people react to situations, differently. It was at the height of early creative powers that Mike started drinking heavily almost becoming a nuisance. I may say (without proper medical justification, though) that might have stirred his diabetes which was to eventually kill him. He was a very sensitive fellow affected not only by personal things but social ills as well. I felt his frustration was seeing the continent going nowhere and him unable to change things, instantly.
However, he did not lose his touch with humanity.
He was especially cordial to women and once said: “When you speak to women it puts them off staring at their chests or legs; look at their faces.”
In 1992 I met Mike Sikawa in London. He had transformed a great deal. No longer drinking, sober, studying journalism at Cardiff, Wales; working forBBC
; mentally still razor sharp, weakened with diabetes.

I visited him in South London where he expressed annoyance with the two faced nature of local prejudice:
“I cannot stand the hidden hypocritical racism in this country; I would rather it was more open like Germany or red neck America”…
He was now a born again Christian and would not allow using bad language. Despite his illness he read a film script I had drafted saying it was not good enough; years later I could see his point.
Soon he left for home.
Conclusively the BBC became his torch from Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg or Arusha where his final steps were as hobbled and strained as his life. Many have spoken or written about his simple straightforward writing style. It is sad that he did not take many photographs. I knew he was quite modest about that and regarded it as showing off : one of his other qualities...
This Day should, as a tribute, turn his brilliant essays into a book.
Young people and students of journalism would learn a lot about the ABC of writing from him.
May His Soul Rest in Peace, Amen.
Mike Sikawa born Meru, Arusha, October 1953
Died Meru, Arusha, 18th November, 2008

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Monday, 10 November 2008

Meeting Miriam Makeba in 1987...

I never saw Miriam Makeba performing live. So many friends and family had always told stories of how she smiled, how she sang from her heart, how she ...there are so many sincere words in her autobiography which i read in 1988. In one of the many remarkable lines, she says she loves singing so much that she wouldn't mind dying on stage.

So one day I am in London.
It is Winter 1987...
My first time in the city and a writer I had met at a bookfare, recomended African food at Stroud Green near Finsbury Park station. His name was Ben Okri and he wasn't famous yet.
Nor had he won the Booker.
In i went and as i sat down to order my Egusi and other succulent Nigerian dishes, I saw her. She was chatting to a young pretty woman. I went over and greeted her. I could not believe i was talking to Miriam Makeba.
She was polite, soft spoken, motherly, soft and warm. She reminded me of the wise, powerful women you meet in remote villages, friendly unselfish nurses in thousands of hospitals across the globe; lovely mammas selling you fruits and fish at markets around huge cities...
Miriam Makeba wasn't the diva that many of superstars are today. She could out-perform, out-sing most ( or all) of them; but here she was talking to me a total stranger, introducing me to her granddaughter...
Two years earlier she had lost her daughter Bongi also a fantastic singer who died giving birth...and here she was.
That was the first and last time i saw Miriam Makeba in person. And this is the only image i hold and cherish about a prized ornament, a hug, a purse, a precious memento...
May God rest her soul in peace...

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Saturday, 1 November 2008


For those who read this space last year…here is the end of a cycle that began in Greenwich flew all over the UK ...and ended in Greenwich... at Oliver’s Jazz Bar...
Yes... still in Greenwich, south London ….
Yup. We are talking Jazz again.
The best music class you can ever get …

The lady who wrote the songs, steered the music, organised the band is perched on a high stool. That's right. A year later Louisa Le Marchand is no longer a bag of nerves. She is relaxed and singing and we even get to hear her fantastic harmonica solo; leaving us, the audience gasping for more.
…And as usual she is so humble and so, so modest, it is almost embarrassing.
Always highlighting and praising the players.
“Please clap for the musicians after they solo…show them your appreciation.”

Louisa in action...

That is partly the spirit of Jazzmoss and Louisa’s character. Egos and showing off are completely out of bounds here. This is a character college, a free workshop in honesty; a rare trait in these days of greed, gluttony and bumptiousness.
...Lack of it presented us with the recently dreaded credit crunch.
Jazzmoss’s gig at Oliver Jazz Bar is a finale to an annual collaboration (in creation) between Singer-songwriter Louisa Le Marchand and Ugandan born multi-instrumentalist musician Kaz Kasozi.

She wrote the songs, he made the music; she sings he plays piano; she organises the gigs, band and flyers; he counts the beginning of the songs, making sure the texture and melody and rhythm is flowing like the wine at Oliver’s bar. She even gets time to offer a chocolate cake for the woman with black hair in the audience who celebrated her birthday on this autumn night of Sunday October 26th.

I have never seen so many children and young people at an adult gig. Probably some were family and friends of Global Fusion Music and Arts. But please give the event a pat on the back. What young people would stay and listen to music which is not rap, rave or hip hop?
Kids are extremely honest…

Young people offer flowers to the band...

There must be something in the very lovely duet between Gill and Louisa, who opened the concert.

Henry Lowther and Art Theman: excellent horn section.

Or the sublime yet powerful trumpet solo by Henry Lowther on “Some people like it hot”:
Or the lovely bass intro in “Topsy Turvy” by Israeli musician, Liran Dorin…
In this Halloween week such lyrics brought back the ghost of one of Bob Marley’s songs ...the Jamaican musician with a gift for making you feel positive.
In Jazzmoss the feeling is reincarnated; re-told in this repetitive mantra:

Louisa, Gill Swann, Art Theman and Liran (partly hidden at the back)

When Louisa mumbled about these being tough economic times, Art Theman’s Sax Solo was like a soothing breeze. Yes the wine and the chocolate cake tasted better and better.
Oh,Yeah … the youngsters stayed throughout the four hour gig.
More of Liran’s bass intro. Always grooving harmonically with Kaz’s keys.
ON with songs and chit chatting…. conversational manner of the lead singer as she presented the two set repertoire: “Soul Gipsy”, “I Sip your Lips”, and “Duality”…the philosophical “Illusory Mirror”… Ying and Yang… life and death.
And through these turns and sounds, Trevor Tomkins, the master kit drummer struck his subtly timed brushes….like the rest of the Jazzmoss band he is such an under-player…never ever fighting, never challenging Liran’s bass, the singer or Kaz’s piano chops. And when his turn to solo came at the end did we suddenly noticed him. This exemplary mastery of an instrument is what should be taught in all art schools.
To be soft (yet hard and effective)…shining when you have to, like the sun.
Besides Trevor Tomkins everyone else had his sun too. Kaz’s cameo piano-vocal scat. Louisa’s harmonica, which I mentioned earlier… Even when Gill Swan the backing vocalist, was reluctant to give a vocal solo, she still hobbled, brightly for ten seconds…I don’t know …I don’t know...
Jazzmoss… is a unique project.

Krawl films the special event...

Where will it go? Their last song asked.
After a year of gigs, wine, chocolate and cool jazz what next?
Better tune in to their website for forthcoming news and events; and buy the album… if I may quote their year’s theme:

Jazzmoss on tour in the South West seaside area this summer.

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