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Chimbayambaya Nsenda: A Tribute to Professor P.K. Chishala, Zambia’s Poet

Zambia has known no Kalindula musician greater than Professor P.K. Chishala. This weekend, the Luapula Provincial Administration and the Luapula Expo are coming together to host a celebration of the life and music of Professor Chishala. At the same event, the life of Nashil Pichen Kazembe will also be celebrated. The two – are perhaps the most significant artists to have come out of the Luapula Province.

The honour for PK Chishala has come at the right time. It is long overdue. For this reason, we must commend Honourable Chilangwa, Minister for Luapula, for coming up with this noble idea. We understand that a sponsor has agreed to donate a tombstone for the grave of Professor Chishala in Chingola. It has been decades since Chishala died. I was only but a young teenager in 1995 and lived in Twatasha Site and Service (in Chiwempala), Chingola where Chishala’s funeral was held. At his death in 1995, the fame of Chishala was undisputed. He was indeed “mwana ba Chishala, an international singer” as he usually called himself.

The life of an artist must be evaluated from the perspective of his art. For Chishala it was his guitar and his music. However, more than just the music, Chishala was an excellent storyteller and poet.

Chishala was willing to confront cultural issues of his day. Perhaps as a prophet, he penned several songs critiquing the clergy and their hypocrisy. At a time when clergy corruption was not really a huge issue, Chishala wrote a song that is more appropriate for our times now than his times – Pastor Changwe. In Pastor Changwe, Professor Chishala puts words in the mouth of a randy Pastor who shows up at the home of his married parishioner at midnight to ask for sex. When the woman asks “mwa enda shani ba Pastor buno bushiku? (what brings you to my home at midnight, Pastor?)” The answer Pastor Changwe gives is even more fascinating. “Nalete landwe lisuma (I am bringing some good news).” Of course, the good news is not the gospel in this case, but the inordinate asking for intercourse. This song displayed that Chishala was courageous to take on cultural issues of his day. Later, in his life, Chishala penned another song he entitled Church Elder. It too was a song directed at a Church Elder Polepole who did not live what he preached. These are great lessons for all of us, clergy and laity alike!

Chishala’s best song, in my opinion, is impumba mukowa (one who interferes with succession; one who dilutes clan purity). Impumba is based on Ushi folklore involving the matrilineal system of inheritance. Like many other matrilineal systems, inheritance among the Ushis is derived through the mother and not the father. In Impumba, a mother requests her children not to go to their father’s sister (aunt, mayo senge) in Matanda. However, after the death of their father, the children decide to go to their aunt at Matanda. Once they got there, they get mistreated by their aunt (mayo senge), the main reason being that these children are impumba mukowa because they are children of her brother and therefore, they are not her close relatives. Instead these children should rightfully belong to their mother and not to her as their aunt. Chishala then creates a contrast between the mayo senge’s own children and the children of her brother. Since mayo senge is a woman, her children have a better claim to the clan than the children of her brother who are impumba mukowa. The impumba mukowa disputes are alive and well among most matrilineal systems to date.

A while ago, we wrote about it in connection with Dr Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba whom we have held to be an impumba mukowa since the only connection to his Bemba heritage is derived through his Mwamba father and not his mother, who in Bemba customary cosmology is not a Bemba. A non-Bemba mother cannot confer upon a child any connection to the Bemba or Ushi clan. This is not to say that GBM is not a Bemba; of course, children of Bemba fathers are Bembas; but if you want to push around any Bemba supremacy, you better tick the box of matrilineal purity. Otherwise, you may be regarded as an impumba mukowa – an impostor who shows up to cause confusion among the true owners of the clan!

Even if he made it clear that his music was based on the Luapula genre of Kalindula, Chishala was a true Zambian patriotic who evidenced the true dream of the One Zambia One Nation mantra. In several of his songs, he brought to life the culture and music of the Lozis as well as the Luvales among many. Being One Zambia and One Nation for Chishala meant that he did not just invite all Zambians to his Luapula laced music, but rather that he went to all Zambians and brought to life, the life and poems of all Zambians. It is songs such as nakufele and mutete that show the trans-Zambian spirit of his music. Culture can be used to unite a nation, and PK Chishala demonstrated that spirit.

Chishala was a reluctant politician. However, occasionally, he would insert himself in politics. This time came in a track called Common Man, one of his last songs. The 1990s had just seen winds of political change. There was much hope after 1991 that the MMD government would bring about some national prosperity. However, the devastating effects of the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) led to job losses and general anxiety in the nation. In Common Man, Chishala pens a powerful poem epitomising the suffering of the people. “Tatuleikuta, ubwali bulecepa” (we are hungry), “pantu umutengo wabunga naunina” (no one can afford mealie-meal). This song is very appropriate in our time, particularly that we have a kuseya President while ubunga (mealie-meal) is fetching K150 and K170 in some parts of the country. We need to repeat the words of Professor Chishala – “pantu insala nga yacilamo ila leto musebanya” (Hunger unattended will bring embarrassment to the nation).

Other songs penned by Professor Chishala include Na Musonda, Chimbayambaya, and Umwaume wa Mulutuku. We would not have enough space to comment on all these songs. On Friday September 6, 2019, Zambians in Kitwe will have the opportunity to celebrate the true poet of Luapula and Zambia’s Kalindula music, Professor PK Chishala. And as Chishala had stated in Muchibolya – “icalo lifupa wakolokota kofye washa”.

The author can be reached at elias@munshyalaw.com

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