The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
I HAVE to admit, at the beginning I was one of those that did not immediately welcome the success of Sikhosana Buhlungu’s song, Dlala Ntethe.
I like a playful children’s song like the next man but, when I first heard it, I felt that Buhlungu was inflicting pain on my innocent ears with a song which, within hours of its release, had already gone viral. It seemed that his threat at the beginning of the song to “injure” us with his beat was not made in seriousness.
First of all, I did not like the lyrics. To me, at that time, they seemed to be a bunch of words held together by an instrumental that seemed as unsophisticated and uninspired, as the lyrics of the track.
Besides, the admittedly addictive chorus, Sikhosana did not seem to be doing any singing at all, at least not in the way I thought “singing” is supposed to sound.
In between that chorus, he sounded like a man that went into the studio and started talking, with his guitar being the string that loosely held the words of this conversation together. Even the voices of the children featured on the song could not soften the song’s unrefined lyrics, I felt.
When I first heard the song when it started making rounds on social media, I was amused by its content and the excitement that greeted it.
Then as its popularity grew, I started getting bothered and, in the end, I was flat out angry. Here was Sikhosana’s tune about grasshoppers suddenly leaping effortlessly from the bottom to the top of social media and YouTube trends.
In my mind, this was not right. There were other “better” artistes from the city, whose songs came swelling with artistry. I was now seething on behalf of the young artistes whose tunes came puffed up with lyrical wizardry. In my mind, they clearly deserved all that success and social media chatter.
What was already clear to me, as I sat there, angry at an old man’s success, was that there was a well-oiled machine behind Sikhosana. The visuals were too slick, the retweets came too fast to have all been the work of the humble Sikhosana.
Sitting high and mighty in my chair in the newsroom, I felt the resources deployed to put some shine on Sikhosana’s latest release could have been better off deployed elsewhere. I felt that, in these pandemic-hit times, a Msizkay or a Hwabaraty deserved some of the glitter that was now sparkling so spectacularly on Sikhosana’s late blooming career.
Two weeks and 50 000 views on YouTube later, I am happy to admit I was wrong.
This is for the simple reason that it is not up to journalists, critics and other opinion shapers to decide who should make it big in the music industry, especially if artistes make songs that are not necessarily to our tastes.
They certainly do not have the right to decree that old men from Nkayi have no business generating 50 000 views on YouTube in a fortnight. Perhaps up until this point, all Sikhosana has known in his life are the humble mud walls of his thatched hut, and perhaps before this sudden brush with stardom, only the drunks at the local business centre were generous enough to grant his brand of folk music an audience occasionally.
Should city dwellers have the sole rights to stardom? And do we love rags to “riches” stories when the rags were only donned by town folk once upon a time? Sikhosana, like other people who believe their destiny was also to cradle a guitar, probably always has had dreams of being adored and watched by thousands. Now as he continues to dream, this time with his eyes wide open, should people who think they have better tastes banish him back to that hut in Nkayi and snatch away the little success he has managed to achieve?
There has been a lot of seething anger accompanying the unlikely rise of this old man from Nkayi. Some of it, although few dare to voice it, comes from Bulawayo artistes who for so long have moaned and groaned about the lack of support for their music.
The rise of Sikhosana has shown what they exactly mean when they say there is a lack of support. Support does not just mean bums on sits during shows, decent earnings or bookings. It also means efficient background support that allows artistes to be just that – artistes.
The social media campaign that followed the release of Ntethe showed artistes do not necessarily have to do it all on their own. They know that Sikhosana is not retweeting and pushing the song on various media platforms from the comfort of his mat in his humble hut in rural Nkayi.
They too, would kill for such push from men and women who have great capital on social media, opinion shapers whose retweets can harvest you a few hundred views. In fact, some artistes would take the sometimes-harsh criticism that Sikhosana’s tune about grasshoppers has brought. They would take anything that gets people talking, just as long as they are talking.
In the same way that the sudden resurrection of Roki, after several years in the wilderness, has clearly been fuelled by the influence and effort of Passion Java, Bulawayo artistes would love for the “big men” in the city to help them help themselves.
It takes more than good songs to rise to the top, and the ascendance of Sikhosana has shown that with a bit of time and effort, the cream, even if it makes songs that we think are not worthy of our attention, can rise.
They have seen that it is possible to scatter their songs to a wide audience if they are given a bit of a push. However, the solution to their problems does not lie in pulling Sikhosana down. Destroying Sikhosana, will not build anyone’s career. Yes, they might feel that, in the race for music stardom, he has been given a head start of a few metres but who can say that a man who could only have dreamt of all this two years ago while living a humble life in rural Nkayi does not deserve this.
They, after all, grew up in electrified homes, are mostly decently educated and have access to internet with decent signal strength. These are some of the little joys and delights that, although taken for granted, Sikhosana never had.
Meanwhile, fans have seen Sikhosana’s true plight. He is still a poor man in a poor village.
Livestock have been pledged, bricks, bags of cement, barbed wire, doors, door frames and even gum poles are heading to Gwamba for the construction of Sikhosana’s new home.
It is not a rags to riches story just yet but it is a rags to something better tale, at the very least.
One wonders how many Sikhosanas are wandering rural Matabeleland, with guitars in their hands and dreams in their hearts. They no doubt will have been encouraged by his sudden rise.
Meanwhile, as his home is being built in Gwanba, there is more hard work needed in Bulawayo.
The dreams of superstardom that the City Of Kings’ sons and daughters have are valid. Yes, Bulawayo might not have Harare’s now famed “mbinga” culture, but the rise of Sikhosana has shown that with goodwill and effort, fans and followers can also elevate musicians to respectable status. They too deserve to have their homes refurbished.
Before any industry is built, however, it’s architectures shall have to come together and pledge not cement or bricks, but strategy, sweat and effort on how to build foundations that can prop up stars in a sustainable way.
Maybe then, artistes, critics and journalists won’t be any need to pull old men down when they reach out for the faintest glimmer of success. Maybe, in the City of Kings, they won’t be any need to fight for the crown when there’s more than one to go around.