Interview with Jackson Kaujeua

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By Wonder Guchu WINDHOEK Last Friday after the musical ‘The Lion’s Roar’ which tells of the musical journey of Namibia’s granddad of music, Jackson Kaujeua, at the National Theatre of Namibia in Windhoek, the musician, who was in the company of his aged mother and others, had to run around trying to get a taxi home for the family. Most of the people who were standing outside the NTN did not make much out of it, but for me it was rather sad and unbelievable after discovering that Jackson had been there at the forefront of the country’s liberation struggle and is considered as the founder of what is regarded as Namibia’s music today. “It’s hard to make a living from music here,” he said when I met him in the garden of the ThuringerHof Hotel in central Windhoek five days after the show. “There is a limited market, and thus limited buying power. It’s quite small here. But at least it’s better now because in the early days of independence a music industry was non-existent.” I stare at him, still trying to understand how this can be, and he quickly says: “I guess I have to sustain myself by other means like adverts, jingles, writing articles for people who ask me – yes, like this thing ‘The Lion’s Roar’ – I could say I am existing from hand to mouth, kind of thing, but I can’t sit under a tree and cry, hoping something will fall from heaven.” I stare at him again, and this makes him uncomfortable but keeps him talking. “I got agents in Europe – Germany – and America. I go there for festivals and it’s quite rewarding in terms of money. One gets some bucks and settles some debts here,” he sighs. I take him back to the beginning and ask him what his role is as a musician and why he features both Hereros and Namas in the musical. This takes away the awkwardness and makes him smile. “I am concentrating on unity and the cultural diversity of Namibia. I am a Herero but I grew up among the Namas. I speak all the languages here and I mix with whoever. Even today, people do not know who I am. Even my songs are in different languages because every Namibian should get a piece of the music,” he explains. But who is he? I ask. “I am a bridge-builder. I am a human being. I am colour blind. I do not judge people by the colour of their skin. I deal with people’s characters. If we do not agree as Hereros, then I will find someone who understands me,” he answers. The tune has changed today, Jackson, I say to him. During the struggle it was about freedom, or lack of it. What do you sing about now? “It was about winning the war and the winds of change. Yes, I contributed artistically. Refugee camps had a life of their own. We held parties to mobilize and inform the international world about our problems. I was never paid because it was all about raising funds for the liberation of Southern Africa.” Obviously the tune changed at independence? “It became a tune about development, the beauty of the country, love and, yes, I also highlighted some of the social ills plaguing society – HIV and Aids, teenage pregnancies and many others, creating an awareness among the people,” he states. And the beat, has it changed? Laughing, he says, “I can’t sing kwaito. Once I change to kwaito I am done. I am dead. I can’t.” And this dance, it’s as if you do not want to dance, and then when people least expect you to leap, you are there in the air. What about it? Looks like a Ray Phiri creation. What is it about? Again that laughter comes. “It’s from Soweto in Katutura. It’s a township dance. Of course, it could have come from South Africa because we used to rely on their music just like today when we eat everything from there. It’s the kind of music we grew up listening to.” Then silence. Then, as an afterthought: “Yes, I admire a lot of South African musicians.” Talking about Namibian music, can one say it has developed? That it is there, alive? His eyes become aglow with delight and he says: “There was a time when people would laugh when I sang Otjiherero to the accompaniment of the guitar. But I proved that it could be done. I broke that myth when I saw brothers doing it during my days in exile. I said to myself, if they can do it, why can’t I do the same? Of course, I inspired the young ones.” Seeing that he has not amassed the kind of wealth other musicians elsewhere have, is there any achievement to talk about, I ask. “I am not a millionaire but I have achieved what I set out to achieve. In this business it takes long to realize one’s talents. I am content in that I have my own label and I market my own music. But it’s not easy because there are no means for doing so,” he mourns, his face downcast, and he quickly adds: “I have no regrets. I chose to do things I wanted to do. It’s not always that things are perfect. It’s like what Nelson Mandela said; ‘You fall and stand up’. Those imperfect moments should not allow me to go down.” What is so special about Europe? I heard you talking about it passionately. Why not any other country in Africa or southern Africa where people right now do not know you? “It’s about the means. What I would need is a government-to-government exchange because I would not allow myself to get peanuts because I have a family to feed,” he says with a straight face. I also look at him straight in the eyes. I feel he is one of Africa’s greatest musicians whose talents may not bring him enough to see him through the years. While he needs to feed his family, the environment in Namibia and the lack of a manager will make it difficult. I say goodbye, and he holds my hands saying: “Take me higher, brother. Take me higher with this article.” I nodded, but deep inside I know that Jackson Kaujeua still has a fight on his hands.