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What’s in a hero?

The woman at the veggie stall on the corner listlessly scrolls through her phone. The boredom has sat in as she waits for those brief moments of excitement when a punter comes along.

Mufaro Makubika

Cars navigate potholes. A group of young men seek shade under the remnants of a precast wall. The sun beats down on all of us mercilessly. Two young girls stroll by arousing the sheltering lads like lions about to go in for the kill. Like I said it’s a pretty ordinary day.

A fission of excitement and whispers explode all over the place. The vendor is no longer listless, she’s craning her neck to see, she recognises the excitement. The young lions were not interested in the meal.

Soul Jah! Soul Jah! Came the cries! It was him, the hair unmistakable, behind the wheel of a silver X5. Soul Jah! I shout out! My fist raised in the air. The outburst catches me off guard like it didn’t come from me.

His head turns, and up pops up a fist. Like that he was gone. The fission of excitement went with him too. The vendor returned to her phone and the young lions cursed their luck at the missed opportunity. I was just smiling.

I met one of my heroes that day. Even if it was a wave of a hand. It felt like he had reached out and shook my hand personally. The past week has brought with it the sad news of the passing of Soul Musaka, also known as Soul Jah Love, at the tender age of 31.

A pioneering freestyle artiste considered to be one of the greats of Zimbabwe dancehall music. The first time I heard his music was on the smash hit, No Mercy Medley, a song which also features some of our current music superstars.

We could go on all day about the man’s vast and exceptional discography. That’s not what this piece is about. The news of his death also came with the news that he had been declared a liberation hero by the state. This announcement has caused great consternation in many circles in Zimbabwe. What makes a hero?

The word hero comes from a Greek word which literally translates to mean protector or defender. What did this 31-year-old protect or defend?

After all he was no military defender or protector, he was born in 1989, long after the armed struggle for independence. Yes, he performed at political party rallies, so did Tuku, once. Musicians like everyone else, have bills to pay. He seems to be on the face of it an odd choice for a hero.

He is not an odd choice though. Not at all. He is not a traditional hero by any means I grant you that. Maybe that is a good thing. Maybe we should be embracing the oddity of the choice. Maybe we need to reassess what we look for in heroes. Shall we forever be beholden to the past?

He is a new type of hero. A hero we’ve been waiting for in many ways. Our hero. When I say we, I mean people of a certain age. People born after independence.

Soul was only 31-years old when he died and our nation is just 41 years old. In many ways his life’s work is the story of his life. His story on a micro level is also the story of Zimbabwe. He told that story bravely and boldly.

People of a certain age have grown up with the music of their parents, Mapfumo, Dembo, Mtukudzi and so on. These great artists all sang about their world. Their injustices and the pain of their times. Like the great artists they were they made it relatable to their audiences. That music crystalised a time in history. It was their howl.

Souljah’s music was set to up tempo and fast rhythms revelling in an urgency of sorts. A hunger. A cry. A howl. It crystalised a time in which his art was created. An urgency very much still palpable in Zimbabwe today. He was a poet of the born-free generation. He sang the cries of the youth and about their pain. A generation so hungry for life they can barely contain their desires. The tragedy of his life expressed in his art felt relatable.

There is a famous video clip on the internet where during a political rally some rather enthusiastic fans of Souljah Love were castigated by a party official for being disruptive.

In this clip the party official then goes on to say Souljah Love is not chinhu. Meaning he was nothing. I remember the issue causing a stir on social media. What happened next really encapsulates Souljah Love credentials for hero status. Souljah Love brought out a record in riposte to the castigation called Zvinhu. In that riposte he defiantly chanted he was everything. Souljah Love not only defended himself but he stood up for a whole generation.

Souljah Love was expressing that sentiment for a whole generation. The youth are not just something to Zimbabwe, they are everything to whoever was listening. The howl was clear and articulate. Souljah Love wasn’t just someone he was everything to a lot of people from a wide spectrum and the past week has shown that. He was a hero.

Makubika is a playwright who lives and works in Nottingham, UK

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