Folk Night And Papa Zei

Here’s a warm story to touch your hearts on Christmas Eve!

For a long time, a long time ago, I was general manager of what is now ‘Southern Sun Ridgeway Hotel’ in Lusaka. In those 80’s days as plain Ridgeway Hotel we had a fine name for, and a great weekly programme of, entertainment including a ‘Folk Night’ every Tuesday. That was the night we encouraged ‘unknowns’ to perform – often unpaid – for the crowd so they could try and make names for themselves. Many did and plenty of Zambia’s present day famous musicians started with us, including Maureen Lilanda. They were great nights! The audience was unforgiving if they felt an act did not reach the required standard, but equally generous with their applause when it was a good performance. Not all the music was ‘folk’ but it was somehow the right name for the night. The event clearly left its mark on some of the participants, as this touching and amusing letter I received recently goes to show! The ‘Dozy’ mentioned in the letter relates to late ‘Dozy Mu’ (real name Dozia Musakanya) – a stalwart entertainer at the hotel.

“Hello Uncle Richard,

I don’t know if you might remember me from the Ridgeway days considering there were so many of us who passed through your care. There was only one of you so it is easier for us to remember you. The most significant occasion on which we met was when I sang at folk night to make some money for my school fees in 1995 when boarding fees were introduced. Dozy made an announcement and I got donations, including an envelope from you in your office – where you told me that I sang well but talked too much on stage – your words ‘I pay someone else to talk, and you to sing, so do your music and leave it at that.’ (Papa Zei did mention that I might have said ‘cut the crap’ during this conversation but clearly this would not have been part of my vocabulary!!) –

He continued
It was a useful lesson I have kept with me, saving me from offending my “employer” by overstepping the bounds for which I am actually contracted. I was naive as an entertainer then, but I frequented the establishment and got to learn professional standards getting exposure to better musicians from whom I could learn, plus gaining experience in stagemanship.

I finished school and continued with music. I now live in Finland, where I studied media production. I am now in school again studying culture management but I still perform and record. I hope to send you some of my new material soon and visit when I come to Zambia. The purpose of this communication is to acknowledge that contact with you and the work you did for us, in a way that a student would like to show his achievements, and to express gratitude to you for the exposure that set the foundation on which we could build to get to where we are.

Though we did not have much personal contact you represented the form of a guardian figure. You’ll always be loved, and we’ll always be grateful. Hopefully one day I will come and entertain at the lodge, and not talk any crap. Merry Christmas, uncle Richard, and a prosperous new year. May your blessings multiply.”

The writer was Papa Zai (pictured above) and following my reply thanking him for his message he gave me a little more of his history saying “I got into the reggae circuit after a few years at Ridgeway and some hotels in Kabwe and on the Copperbelt. In 1997 I left for Finland and found work on the local reggae circuit. Fortunately I got introduced to the best artists there, some of whom featured me on their albums which helped get my name established. I have curtain-raised for some big names in the reggae business, including the Marley children, and I have also performed in festivals in the Nordic region sharing stages with some of my childhood idols. I have quite a name in Finland and I get a lot of local gigs which has led me to be able to access the rest of Europe as well as quality equipment and skilled players.

Now I am drifting from reggae and bringing in more afro-funk-jazz-calypso influences that I grew up with but being careful not to alienate my fan base. This I feel is more representative of my personal journey as an African. I am now in studio with a band producing a new album.”

Isn’t that nice?