The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
WHEN he plays drums for the acclaimed tribal house trio Djembe Monks, Emmanuel “RootzKolossal” Nkomo looks invincible.
Indeed, when in full stride, with the drum sticks at his hands, Rootz looks like a man from another planet.
As he pounds the drums, giving the Djembe Monks their signature sound, his energy seems otherworldly, as if he draws from a source that sought and found residence on another planet, another stratosphere.
He is the livewire that runs through all Djembe Monks performance, the nerve centre of a group that has won over harsh crowds with its faultless, lionhearted performances.
Last year however, those close to Rootz would have seen that champion that they saw on stage was as mortal as the next man. Rootz had lost his brother who passed on suddenly after battling for a long time with mental health issues.
A year after the pain of losing his kin, Rootz now helms the Men’s Conference, a podcast whose main thrust is to highlight issues that might affect men’s mental wellness.
“Essentially you want this space to help those who are suffering from mental health issues,” he told Sunday Life.
“You will find that we keep on circling back to issues to do with wellness. I have suffered a personal loss with my brother who passed away due to traumatic stress-related mental illness. He had a mental breakdown on a Saturday and on Monday he was gone.
“This was someone who was ‘well’ albeit with a history of mental illness. You don’t want to prescribe how people should die but if that passing is from perhaps a long-term illness or even an accident, there is a bit of closure in that case. But if someone passes away due to stress-related illness then you think there’s something wrong with society.”
The phrase Men’s Conference comes from a trend on social which saw men envision an imaginary conference in which they would tackle issues that affect them. Most of the points jokingly raised on social media were aimed at improving the lot of men at the expense of the women in their lives.
It is the kind of talk that is common with men in social settings like boozer’s football matches or at pubs. It is that spirit of banter that Rootz and his team planned on harnessing with the overall intention of helping men connect with other men for their overall betterment.
“If we zero in on this we can reduce things like death via suicide. That banter that people have at social soccer matches or at bottle stores is what we want to bring to the fore so that it just does not become something fleeting. We want to document it and not let it be something talked about in passing,” said Rootz.
Men are not known for being expressive and this is one of the reasons why suicide rates are higher in males. By tackling issues in a somewhat unconventional manner, Rootz hopes that they can encourage men to talk more.
“Whatever that we talk about always comes back to the self and how we fit into the circle of existence. Life is improvisation and there’s one set way to navigate through life. So, this is a space where, as a man, you listen and learn how to self-correct. It’s not a ‘boys are stronger than girls’ kind of platform but a space for us to try and learn to be better people. There are topics that sometimes might seem trivial and not necessarily worth giving attention and that is what we want to explore. Some of the most ignored topics are what get men talking,” he said.
Despite this, the musician-cum-broadcast personality said it was still sometimes difficult to get men to express themselves without any reservations.
“It’s difficult sometimes because you can get the most affected voices to come out and talk so you end up holding on to some topics. It’s a matter of trying to get them to speak without forcing them to express themselves. We’re trying to create a safe pace that is enjoyable and we explore topics that resonate with them.
“We wanted to bridge that which has been caused by distance and the inability to be or meet with people that we want to meet. Above all, we want to own our narratives and document our stories in the hope that we might find interconnectivity and resonance on issues to do with men,” he said.
The Men’s Conference’s producer journalist Makhosi Sibanda said he had realised that there was a need for such a platform when he saw that most of the advice that he got when he was in a jam came from the unlikeliest of sources.
“I had this idea in my head since 2019 because whenever I would have something troubling me, I would talk to my uncle about it. So, I asked myself why I always went to him at such times. He would give me life advice and whenever I would get stuck, I would turn to him.
“This was a break from convention because someone perhaps would expect me to turn to my siblings or my father.
This showed me that perhaps we get advice from places where we least expect it. This made me think that there are always good ideas floating around in these unconventional places. So, the podcast is a way for me to harness all those ideas into one,” he said.
In the old days, men used to turn to uncles and fathers for advice on life. At a time when people spend a lot of times on their gadgets or social media, old lines of communication seem to have disappeared or ignored. It is with this in mind that the Men’s Conference was created, as its makers tried to blend technology and tradition.
“We are mixing traditional and tradition. This podcast will be on your phone, so in effect, you have your uncle everywhere you go.
This platform will not replace those old structures but it will be a reminder that we still need such things in life.
Those personal, physical relationships and interactions are still important but over the past year we have had Covid and sometimes it has not been possible to see your elders or friends and relate to them your challenges.
As you know, in Zimbabwe you might also find that your uncle or father is in the UK so it’s difficult to relate your struggles to them over WhatsApp. The podcast is supposed to go some way in bridging that gap,” Sibanda said.