Saturday, 26 March 2011

This is London

Some (over 15000 in barely a week) of you may have seen the video clip called This is London promo on Youtube. After this blog post, it may not be around for much longer. I wrote the script, and it is in fact the last scene of the first episode of what I hope to be drama series. The producer did not think it important to credit me until I posted a comment on the clip, which he promptly deleted. One of our mutual friends protested, and he finally put a write-up which mentions me. Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but you’d think that any one planning to get publicity based on scripts they were hoping to get for free from me would not begrudge me a little of the fame! I digress.

I first came up with the idea for This is London late in 2003. I toyed with many titles, among them, Ipound Zvaro (taken from a line in the dialogue). I even did a few scenes, using a MiniDv camcorder. I went to see a chap named George, I think, at OBE-TV and he did not sound particularly enthusiastic. He did however show me the station’s rate card. The broadcaster was not in a position to take up the project, but they would be happy if I was to fork out about £1000 for 30 minutes of airtime and split any advertising revenue with them. I was not in a position to do so.

A couple years later, a former ZBC radio and television personality announced that he was planning to launch a Zimbabwean community TV station here in the UK and invited ideas submissions. As it turned out, there was only talk, mostly his, and no show. He never replied, not even to ask me for £1000 for 30 minutes and a share of the advertising revenue. I just shrugged and shelved the project again.

I think I tried selling the project to other Zimbabwean producers, I can't even remember their names.

Fast-forward to early 2009 and a cousin of mine calls me up and says he wants to go in to video production. Is there anything we could do? I sent him the script. We met and talked about it, and that was it. He’s a nice cousin to have, will lend me his expensive camera if I ask, but he did not have the time to sit down and make a TV show. We might still work together on something yet.

Then, later in 2009, I was introduced to the last producer I would allow to put their hands on This is London, a chap named Mike Mambo. He already has a Netcasting service running and has been nominated for a Zim Achievers Award. A few rehearsals were conducted in 2010. I am not sure when exactly that clip, which is on youtube, was shot. By then, much of the original cast and crew were starting to feel that they had been promised the proverbial pie in the sky and had withdrawn from the project. What is also open to speculation is why that clip was uploaded under the name of a different production house from the one he first approached me under.
Last week, after the clip was uploaded and drew all that attention, we had a very frank discussion (on my part, at any rate) with this producer on the delicate subject of my fee. He appears to have been under the impression that I was prepared to surrender over 100 pages of script, all rights, draft contracts and press statements and tell him how to run a production all for nothing. He said he was taking a major risk without the rights, as if having them wouldn’t be a risk at all. I pointed out that I was taking a risk too, writing stuff that would never see the light of day. In the end, I asked him to at least put in writing a proposed contract. That hasn’t come in yet. I needed to pay my phone bill last week; I would have written a dozen episodes for the £84 that 3G was demanding, but Mr Producer did not seize the opportunity.

By Thursday, I knew what I was going to do, what I should have done ages ago. I did my research. Then I registered a new company, Oriit Films Ltd and will now be producing This is London. We will start off with Netcasting, either with advertising or on a pay-per-view basis. I am also talking to buyers from some of the major broadcasters on the continent. Those of the actors and actresses I spoke to last week have welcomed this development. If the huge number of hits on Youtube is anything to go by, the Zimbabwean community abroad is ready to support us. Thank you all in advance.

I am hoping Mr Mambo will go gracefully. However, he has kept the youtube clip on. He has also kept the facebook group, but set it up that members have to seek permission before being taken on. At the last count, his had 89 members. The legitimate group got 400 members in its first 15 hours of life. I have also had enquiries from Zimbabweans who would like to work as crew.

I am pleased at the progress, but I can't start celebrating just yet. There is so much work to do.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Review: The Man who turned into a Rastafarian

The following review was printed in Jamaica following the publication of The Man who turned into a Rastafarian in 2006. Following the recent republication of the anthology, the review is displayed here by kind permission from the author.

By Wzo Makeda Barbara Blake-Hannah

I have just finished reading a most interesting book, one that should be required reading for any Africans in the Diaspora thinking of returning to live in Africa.  “THE MAN WHO TURNED INTO A RASTAFARIAN” by Masimba Musodza a Zimbabwean Rastafarian, is a collection of short stories set in the lives of Zimbabwe’s Rastafarian community that vividly depict what life is like for them in today’s Zimbabwe.  The book is a revealing insight into the African country in whose liberation Rastafari – through reggae artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh – played a major role.

Told in a well-written narrative style with a variety of social and geographic settings, the stories will both inform and surprise Western Diaspora Rastas of how deeply entrenched is the anti-Rasta prejudice in that country, based on stereotypes, assumptions, misinformation and a social snobbery caused by the prevailing national religion of evengelist/Pentecostal Christianity.

In the title story, a ‘normal’ non-Rasta businessman is confessing to a psychiatrist that he is morphing into a Rasta, that at times his hair grows into profuse locks, his speech changes into “Jamaican patois” street slang and he starts behaving wildly and outrageously. 
“At the bus stop I put my hand on a girl’s buttocks and squeezed. She yelped, but when her boyfriend saw who it was that was taking liberties with his girlfriend’s anatomy, he backed down from the offensive and simply pulled her away.  No one messes with Rastas, you see.  Rastas are crazy buggers, they can do anything.  I lit up my spliff. Some old woman protested, I told her she was a Babylon and she needed to listen to Bob Marley’s music and read the words of Marcus Garvey.  How dare she tell me not to partake of the Holy Herb, the Weed of Wisdom.  I said she was a bumbaclaat!”

See what I mean! On another occasion when he ‘morphs’ into a Rasta, this is his experience:
          “On the bus the conductor scrutinized my money, holding up the note against the sun.  I could not help noticing that he was not so cautious with the other passengers. No one wanted to sit with me if they could avoid it.  When I got off the bus, I had policemen stopping me six times, asking to see my I.D., patting me down for illegal substances, wanting to know which band I played with.”

          As the story continues, the psychiatrist finally gets him to realize that he is only morphing into his own prejudices about Rasta and behaving like the inaccurate stereotypes, based on the misinformation spread about Rastas in the society.  The story ends with his enlightnment.  “I get it.  My alter-ego can only be what I think a Rastafarian is.  So if I thought a Rastafarian was a respectable, decent sort of chap, then that is exactly what he would be.” 

One story tells of a young Rastafarian who ‘overnight became the wealthiest, fastest-climbing Rastafarian in the Southern African continent” but still finds it hard to find a girl willing to endure the ostracism of her family and society by becoming his girlfriend. He finally finds one who wants to be his “Rastafari Queen” and who undergoes the necessary changes, when an old girlfriend returns to tempt him again.  The view of the Black upper-middle class is clearly depicted, as he makes his choice.

“Pama Rasta” is a community of Rastas who migrate from the city to establish a settlement with all the technology, schooling and farming equipment necessary. It’s an interesting guidepost for would-be emigrants to Africa. 
“The Rastafarians hoped that in their little settlement, none of the madness that was engulfing the nation would seize them. In the cities they stuck out in the crowd with their dreadlocks. And having always been a favourite target of the wanton brutality of the so wrongly called ‘disciplined forces’, the Rastafarians found it imperative that they get away.  That is why they had come here, so deep in the country.”

All goes well as they integrate into the poor rural village with their satellite dish, Intenet computers, seeds and farming equipment, earning by selling the villagers their crops and skills.  However, when famine and hardship affect the villagers and Zimbabwean politics raises its brutal head, the Rastas ae seen as prosperous, dangerous outsiders with a blasphemous, foreign religion.  After an unpleasant confrontation, the Pama Rastas depart to find a new home.

The stories give a revealing insight into the practices of Zimbabwean Rastas.  For instance, they all seem closely aligned to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopian way of life and worship.  They wear Ethiopian whites, rather than the modern Western clothes other Zimabweans do.  In each story the characters have a church or meeting place where they gather for Sabbath services conducted in Amharic, and many of them seem to speak and read Amharic.

“Attendance for the daily services was mostly the women and proprietors of businesses at the Rasta shopping center.  At this time, as the Cantors chanted the appropriate offerings within their Qene Mehelet area of the Beta Rastafarian, about ten worshippers stood in the Keddist.  Each was in their own world, eyes closed, lips moving rapidly, bodies swaying.  Frankincense hung in thick puffs in the air.”

One story is set in a recording studio, in another a poor Rasta returns a stolen laptop computer, and yet another is about parents dealing with a school where teachers and students make their dreadlocksed Rasta children unwelcome. 
“There was a reading passage in the sixth grade text book, describing the Rastafarian culture as foreign and decadent, something that Bob Marley had brought to Zimbabwe, warning kids against adopting it.  ‘Those kids are making the others uncomfortable,’ Mrs. Makoni said.  ‘Look at them.  We used to have a uniform here that we could be proud of. But look at her, with that beret on she looks like a band member at Reggae Sunsplash.  And if she took it off, we have some sort of witch doctor! She’s freaking the kids out!”

A sad story concerns a Rasta reggae musician dying of AIDS, who returns to find the healer woman his mother took him as a teenager, who used a rusty, AIDS-infected razor to cut tribal marks on him.

One beautiful story is about a couple whose wife is told she has cancer just as she learns she is pregnant with their third child.  Given the choice of abortion to begin chemotherapy, she holds fast to her Rastafari faith and refuses that option even though she may die.  Their Rasta priest (a university student named, incidentally Abba Yesehaq), prays with incense over her hospital bed and when she returns home she sends up prayers to the Virgin Mary.

“Sister Deborah had brought from Ethiopia hymns to the Blessed Virgin, and a copy of an ancient manuscript about the Miracles of Maryam.  The whole thing about the Virgin was something the Rastafarian elders were yet to sit down and define.  It did not strike the right chord with us, it was too reminiscent of the Catholic Church.  Yet it was part of the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition. And did not the women appeal to the Blessed Virgin when the Princess Yeshimebet Ali, wife of Ras Makonnen Wolde Mika’el was in labour on that 23rd day of July in the year 1892.  Nine times the Princess had stillbirths.  Then, this one time, the Virgin had interceded and Princess Yeshimebet had delivered the infant Tafari, later Emperor Haile Selassie.  She died two years later in childbirth.”

Passages like these show that Zimbabwean Rastafarianism has benefited from the country’s proximity to Ethiopia, causing them to preserve much of the faith’s original focus on Ethiopia and the links between Ethiopia’s ancient history, Church and Emperor. The mother-to-be, incidentally, finds that her cancer has magically disappeared.

‘THE MAN WHO TURNED INTO A RASTAFARIAN’ is an extremely interesting book, the kind of book you wish had not finished when you turn the back cover.  I recommend it highly to all who love good stories, and especially to Rastafarians.

About the Author:

Barbara Blake-Hannah is a Jamaican author, film maker, journalist and cultural consultant. A former Independent Senator in the Jamaican Parliament (1984-87), she has worked in Britain, where in 1968 she became the UK’s first Black TV journalist and in Jamaica, where she is best known as a writer and radio/television broadcaster on cultural and social issues. She is the author of Rastafari: A New Creation, Joseph: a Reggae/Rasta Fable- both acclaimed works of Rastafarian Literature- and most recently, The First School: A Home Schooling Guide to Early Childhood Education and Growing Out. She also runs the annual Reggae Film Festival.

MunaHacha Maive Nei update

I have received a positive feedback from the authors I asked to assess the manuscript. Typesetting has commenced for the novel.

Monday, 14 March 2011

From way back when

Here is a short story that a magazine in Zimbabwe that is now defunct published. I never got paid for it, but it I did get a lot of feedback, which was gratifying. For once, I am not going to gripe about not being compensated. Things were tough for the country at that time. They are no better now, but when this story came out, there would not have been the foreign currency to pay me and even if there was, the publisher would not have been permitted to send it to me. Knowing that I was able to put a smile on my compatriots's faces at a time when there was little to smile about is reward enough.

We were going to have several detective stories featuring Lucy Kurauone, but Trends folded up, unfortunately. It was such a brilliant magazine in the mould of publications that had already gone in to extinction, Parade, Horizon, Prize Beat etc.

Someone asked me if there is a connection between Lucy Kurauone and Ce-Ce Chisango, seeing as they are both female detectives. Well, their precursor is a girl in my junior school class named Lucy, who said she wanted to be a detective and also the Enid Blyton books I read as a boy. Today, Enid Blyton's books have fallen foul of Britain's new Politically Correct dispensation and are routinely denounced as sexist, racist and elitist, but I distinctly remember that she had girl detectives. The Lucy I went to school with never became a detective, but she remains the closest person in real life who can claim to have inspired both Lucy Kurauone and Ce-Ce Chisango.

Here is the story, scanned from a copy of Trends my sister Thelma sent me. I think if you click on the image, it gets bigger.

My name in print.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Return of the Man who turned into a Rastafarian

When exactly did I first get published? The oldest work of fiction in my scrapbook is the short story that appeared in Trends magazine of June 2006. There are magazine and newspaper articles in Zimbabwean periodicals that are now defunct, of course. And the scripts, let’s not forget the scripts.

However, it was my first book, The Man who turned into a Rastafarian, that pushed me from obscurity. Like the Dread Eye Detective Agency stories, some of the short-stories in the anthology date from the 1990s, when, as a young man, I had to contend with institutional anti-Rastafarianism and the general lack of support for the arts before I could sit down and write about other things.

The Man who turned into a Rastafarian was a profound lesson in publishing. I made a bit of money from it at first, despite not having a budget for advertising and publicity. Then, the publisher went quiet. I googled them, and found that they were the subject of several lawsuits and were routinely denounced as a scam. I tried calling them, and was hung up on.

As far as publishing projects go, I should have just dropped this one. But people keep asking for it. I don’t delude myself in to thinking it is one helluva book. However, it would not be immodest of me to recognise its contribution to the repository of Rastafarian Literature.

Late last year, I published an e-book version of The Man who turned into a Rastafarian. I thought that would be the end of it, but this development has only prompted increased demands for a print edition. So, I have capitulated. The Man who turned into a Rastafarian will be available in the next few weeks from amazon.