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Things that we go through for nothing in the world

A writer’s view on how blues might help to open eyes to help live with less prejudice, malice or disregard for others  

By David Mungoshi/Herald Zimbabwe

 “To think of the things that you go through for nothing in the world” is a troubling, intense and self-searching line. It portrays the experiences of many black people in the United States of America, including those of the Louisville Lip, Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, a champion boxer.

Champion Jack Dupree is one of my favourite blues artistes. As they would say in musical parlance: he plays a mean piano. Put another way, Champion Jack is a maestro, simple and true. The peals of his piano in almost any key strike you to the soul.

Sometime in the year 1975 Champion Jack went on a European tour and spent some time in Copenhagen where he demonstrated expertly with nothing, but his grand piano, stomping feet and voice that he was without doubt one of the last grand masters of blues music — a very hard to resist, vintage blues singer.

In a jazz journal interview with British music critic Tony Standish, Champion Jack Dupree said: “Everything I sing is my life.” In other words, to Champion Jack Dupree, an artiste in general and a blues singer in particular, must be an interpreter of life. He must live life to the full because it is what matters. Everything else is secondary. And the blues remind one of that.

Perhaps the best song on Champion Jack’s Copenhagen album is the melodiously introspective and poignant song that he called “Misery Blues”. The blues are intensely personal; yet somehow, they are also a statement of the general condition of humankind. In “Misery Blues” Champion Jack bemoans the suffering he has had to endure on account of the colour of his skin.

“To think of the things that you go through for nothing in the world” is a troubling, intense and self-searching line. It portrays the experiences of many black people in the United States of America, including those of the Louisville Lip, Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, a champion boxer.

Clay won the light-heavyweight boxing gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960 when he beat Zigzy Pietrzykowski, a formidable Polish boxer with several European championships to his name, on points. Unfortunately for Clay, Louisville, Kentucky, his home town, was rampantly segregationist. Despite having become an Olympic gold medallist, the whites there would not serve him in their restaurants and they publicly referred to him as the “Olympic nigger”.

The story goes that Clay, in disgust, threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River. Incidents such as these will probably have inspired songs like “Misery Blues” by Champion Jack Dupree. He wails, “To think of the things that we go through for nothing in the world” and observes how, although he is a war veteran himself, he is deemed to be a lesser war veteran on account of his colour.

Talking about education, Champion Jack Dupree says, “Imagine telling some poor little children . . . that you can’t go into this school.” This is a reference to the segregation in American schools that saw civil rights organisations mount campaigns against the iniquitous system. It is an open secret that the black man in the US is still lowly-regarded today.

Zimbabwe has, willy-nilly, by design and by default, been denying children their education these last few days. Word is that the barricades on the roads were in some cases manned by school-going children, who brazenly turned back motorists regardless of where they were going. There is no prize for guessing where the children of those who instigated the “shutdown” were: safely tucked away somewhere.

Sometime towards the end of last year, the ebullient EFF leader, Julius Malema, made a number of significant remarks at a consultative meeting between his party and black South African professionals in Sandton. Perhaps most telling of Malema’s comments was his expression of what essentially is a black consciousness mantra when he said: “Before we crush the white system, let’s build our own.”

Zimbabwe can learn a few things from this. We cannot be seen to be destroying our own people’s enterprises.

The recent “shutdown” was, in a number of cases, a callous attack on the livelihoods of many among the struggling masses. The question must be asked how on earth a parent allows children to bring looted things home. What does the child learn from such an overthrow of values?

That it’s all right to break into a neighbour’s tuckshop or to vandalise her stall at the vegetable market? Might these children at some point in time not curse us for leading them astray?

Might they not then regret the things that they will have gone through for nothing in the world?

The image of the man with a looted ox-drawn plough practically dancing away with it, will take some time to go away. Did his children think him a hero, and did his wife ululate in appreciation? We need someone to ask these questions in a bluesy song and get the country talking. In the end, we are the worst losers.

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