The Sunday News
When his brother took his last breath on 13 January this year, former Afrika Revenge front-man Willis Wataffi realised that for the first time in his life he was truly alone.
Wataffi’s brother, Marshall Wataffi, was the only close family member that Wataffi still had, as death had already claimed both his parents years back.
His brother had been the only sibling Wataffi had ever known since he took his first breath and as Marshall drew his last, the musician realised that death only threw merciless punches. This time, it had blown out the light of the one man who the musician believed would always be there to guide him through the toughest moments in his life. It also took a voice that was always ready to join him in laughter when the moments of joy came along.
“My brother was my number one fan. This was the guy I’d give my songs when they were still raw. He would tell me that this one was good or needed more work. He was there to pick us up after performances with his car when he could and I would see him dancing and enjoying in the crowd while I was on stage during performances,” said a sombre Wataffi in an interview with Sunday Life this week.
People handle grief in different ways, and three months after the death of his brother, Wataffi is still a man very much in mourning. One can feel it in a voice that seems to crack and shatter when the subject of his brother is brought up.
It is a voice that still trails off when he speaks on Marshall, as if the subject of the last remaining family member in his family is still a half-finished thought in his head.
But what can a man do to show the world that not only is he under grief’s heartbreaking spell but also respects and honours the memory of a loved one whose memory is still fresh in his mind? Wataffi did what many had thought was unthinkable: he cut his 20-year-old dreadlocks.
“I cut my hair to pay homage and honour him. I was born in a family of two and where I come from in Mt Darwin, this is called kukachambja. We’re decendents of King Mashayamombe and when you lose a member of your bloodline you pay homage and so in this case my hair was a show of my vanity so I needed to shave it off,” said Wataffi.
Two decades after he decided that his hair was for keeps, Wataffi’s locks were now more than a fashion statement. They were now a crown of sorts, symbolising a young man who stubbornly believes that royal African blood runs in his veins.
The decision to cut them was therefore not an easy one.
“I definitely knew it would (affect my brand). I wasn’t going to be reckless and cut my hair because it has a bearing on my brand. That’s why I had to do a shoot and inform the average man on the street who is my boss.
“I know that every change has repercussions and this is why I’m everywhere on social media and radio trying to push my brand. I don’t love the new look but the people that I work for love it so I will keep it for as long as it works,” he said.
As surprising as the sudden change was, Wataffi says that it was something that he had to do in honour of the late Marshall. After all, a few strands of hair were a small price to pay in memory of a man who had stood by his side through thick and thin.
“No, I don’t miss it. It’s my hair and I will grow it back. It’s something that I just had to do for my culture and that’s what my music is all about, teaching Africans to celebrate and value who they are as a people.
“His death has only started to sink in now. So I’m supposed to remove the hair for as long as I’m grieving and only put it back when I’m feeling better,” said Wataffi.
With his heart still heavy at the sudden death of his brother, Wataffi has distracted himself by working on an album, titled Uhuru/Independence, set for release next month. Although music and performance are good painkillers, Wataffi cannot help but be overcome by grief from time to time.
“You can never get used to death because it’s always a different person passing away. You get used to someone and then they’re gone. That’s it, you won’t see them again. I lost both my parents and now my brother which means I’m left by myself.
“It affects because it’s not the same when you realise that you’re now alone. I never thought I would ever bury my brother. Sometimes you want to send a joke and laugh about something and remember that he’s gone. I still feel like he’s here,” said Wataffi.