By Moses Magadza
After years of fumbling too close to obscurity and mediocrity for comfort, one of Namibia’s most senior musicians Jackson Kaujeua says he has rediscovered his winning formula and is bouncing back “bigger and better”.
“For the past five years I have been deliberately dormant. I was tired of low-key, small-budget productions and I needed to lay low and rediscover myself,” said the musician whose first song in 1973 stirred a hornet’s nest in Namibia and prompted him to go into exile.
The clock has apparently also played a part in rousing Kaujeua, who spent 16 years in exile, out of his self-imposed slumber.
“Look, I am 54. I turn 55 this year. I am mature. I am a big man and I need to do something that is in keeping with my status and experience. I am tired of living from hand to mouth,” he revealed in an exclusive interview this week.
Following years of silence, in 2006 Kaujeua briefly reappeared onto the musical scene with a half-baked album titled Ombura, which nearly mortally wounded his reputation as a musician of substance.
“Oh, man, that was a disaster!” he said of the solo album which was decried as a terrible anti-climax and prompted some music critics to conclude that Kaujeua, who played a seminal role in the development of Namibian music, had gone past his sell-by date.
For a man who had won the hearts of many in 1976 with his maiden 10-track album, One Namibia, One Nation that featured the all-time great Winds of Change, the rejection of Ombura by the market was devastating. Sore and heartbroken, he burrowed deeper into silence and frantically groped for his winning formula.
He now believes that he had found it, and says his joy is comparable only to what celebrated Greek scholar Archimedes experienced when he discovered the principle of floatation while bathing, causing him to proclaim: “Eureka!”
How did it happen?
“Recently, Zimbabwean songbird Prudence Katomeni came to Windhoek with her group Jazz Invitation. Her shows were sold out. I looked at those guys playing and I was struck by their tightness and sheer professionalism while on stage, especially by the performance of their bass player, Kelly Rusike and told myself that was the route I needed to take,” he said.
He said he followed Rusike backstage and it turned out that the Zimbabwean bassist who rose to stardom, as part of The Rusike Brothers is a very good producer as well.
“We spoke about this, that and the other and as they say, one thing led to another,” Kaujeua said of that fortuitous meeting. The two are now inseparable and will collaborate on a project that will see Kaujeua produce a 12-track album to be marketed throughout the SADC region and in Europe.
“We have already identified distributors of the album in Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe as well as the United Kingdom,” he said.
Kaujeua said the album would be titled Tales of a Legend. It will carry original songs save for Winds of Change, which will be redone with the help of Namibian rap musicians.
He has also identified Zimbabwean musicians and some Namibians based in Zimbabwe to work on the project, which he hopes will re-launch his diminishing musical career.
There are plans to do a video to accompany the album.
Kaujeua said that contrary to popular misconception, he is a true, up to-date social commentator who moves with the time.
“There are people who think that I am still stuck in the war years and that I do not sing about contemporary issues. That is wrong. At independence I realised that the focus had changed from war to development, and I have done songs about the beauty of Namibia and Africa, development, unity, crime and HIV/AIDS. My music has been poorly marketed and I do not get a lot of airplay. This is why people know of my earlier songs and not what I have done after independence,” he said.
Kaujeua, who has produced 10 albums since 1976, revealed that he plans to do a documentary on his life, something similar to what Zimbabwe great Oliver Mtukudzi did when he produced Shanda.
He said owes his musical career to a Nama herd boy, Alipop, who introduced him to the guitar in the early 1960’s.
“When I was about eight years old, this Nama man came to work for our family as a herd boy. He was from Upington, Northern Cape, South Africa and lived with us in Tses district between Mariental and Keetmanshoop. He had a box guitar, which he guarded jealously. The music that he played had a Kwela beat and I loved it. Whenever he was a bit tipsy and happy, he would teach me to play,” he recalled.
He said that started his love for music and he resolved to become a musician. His parents, however, had other ideas and 1971 they encouraged the budding musician to enroll with Paulineum Theological Seminary for priesthood studies.
“My heart was not in it, but I had little choice. There were very few options in the way of careers for young Namibians then, limited as they were to teaching, nursing and priesthood,” he said.
After about two years and a string of poor academic results in the four-year course at the seminary, he quit and by 1973 he was back to his childhood love: music.
“I enrolled at Darkay House, a small institute in Johannesburg set up by the South African Trade Unions to nurture young black visual and performing artistes. It is the same academy that produced Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Pops Mohammed.”
He was supposed to study there for one year but six months down the line authorities there observed him hanging around with people that included black consciousness leaders Steve Biko, handed him his hat and showed him the door.
“I returned to Windhoek where I was immediately arrested and interrogated for three days over my alleged terrorist links,” he said.
In 1973 he went to the South West African Broadcasting Corporation and tried to record his first ever song: We want peace in our land.
He recalled that the white man who was recording the song got so annoyed by the lyrics of the song that he stopped the song midway “and chased me out.”
“That was it. It occurred to me that I had no freedom in my own country, even of basic expression. I resolved to go into exile and walked alone through the Kalahari Desert to Botswana,” he said.
He later went to Zambia where he joined Swapo in 1975 and got a scholarship, which took him to Britain for his O and A level studies. He returned to Zambia in 1979 and a year later, he joined Swapo’s Education Centre in Angola where he taught English, Mathematics and Biology. He left Angola for Sweden in 1985 and studied Cultural Anthropology at the University of Lund. He returned to Namibia in 1989.
In 1991, he formed a band, Makorob, which toured the length and breadth of Namibia.
He said the music industry in Namibia at the time was so small that it could not to sustain the full band and in 1995, it broke up.
“Things are changing now and I am seriously considering assembling another band to revive the memories of Makorob,” said the musician that has toured dozens of countries all over the world that include the United States, India, Netherlands, Finland, Canada, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, DRC, France, Sweden and South Africa.
He is set to go play in Spain later this year.