/ 6 April 2010

Rhetorical Rasta

Rhetorical Rasta

When you talk to fiery Jamaican reggae singer DJ Sizzla Kalonji, in the country on an African tour, you feel that whatever response the controversial musician throws at you is one he has given a thousand times before.

Watch the Sizzla interview here

For instance, on gays and lesbians, Sizzla’s pronouncement, in Jamaican patois, is: “We see homosexuality as corruption because the Most High said: ‘Take a woman and make her your wife’ … But, not to criticise but to speak the truth, I am not with the homosexuals and lesbians. I think it’s corrupt and corrupting our youth.”

A Google search of “Sizzla Kalonji” and “gays and lesbians” elicits more than 600 hits. One of the web results is a 2004 story by the BBC in which he said: “They can’t ask me to apologise. They’ve got to apologise to God because they break God’s law. Why must I apologise to [sic] corruption? How can I do that?”

He hasn’t been to the United Kingdom since Scotland Yard opened a case against him for inciting the murder of homosexuals. The Bobo Ashanti (a strict Rastafarian sect) musician remains unapologetic. “I’ve been working and we are still burning the fire because we can’t allow for corruption to take over the youth,” the musician says. Slipping into biblical idiom, he says: “We incite no violence. It’s just fire through words, sound and power, because in the beginning was the word, and the word [turned] flesh and dwelled among men.”

On Africa and repatriation, Sizzla gives the stock diasporic response. “I really love Africa. Africa for the Africans — those at home and those abroad.” But, unlike many famous black sons and daughters making it in the New World who jet in and then leave soon after shows, perhaps Sizzla really loves being on the continent. “I think I am Afromantic,” he says at De La Creme, a restaurant on 7th Street in Melville, Johannesburg.

He was in Zimbabwe for president Robert Mugabe’s 86th birthday celebrations at the end of February. Then he flew to Gambia where he met the country’s dictator, Yahya Jammeh. Then there was Ghana, where he was part of the 53rd anniversary of independence commemorations.

In Ghana Sizzla visited the slave castle at the Cape Coast, the edifice where those waiting to be shipped to Africa were billeted before the fateful journey across the Atlantic. “It was a vivid experience just seeing it for myself,” he says. Repatriation is a must, he says, “because when you see the Cape Coast structure, it bears witness that people were taken away … So repatriation is a must.”

He has been in South Africa since March 11. In the time he has been here Sizzla has established a youth foundation that will cater for the educational needs of South Africa’s disadvantaged youth.

The musician, who turns 34 next month, has put out 45 albums since he got his break in the mid-1990s. He has had duets with scores of musicians across genres, including one with local Afropop star Ringo Madlingozi, set to be released soon. “We’re just getting the vibes together,” he says, excitedly.

So what makes him so productive? “I think it’s the responsibility of the Rastaman. Our duty is to fulfil the creed: the naked be clothed, the sick be cared for, the sick be nourished and the aged be protected … Music is life, it’s part of our culture. We eat music, we sleep music, it’s music all around. So these things keep me going.”

On Mugabe, his host in Zimbabwe, Sizzla says: “I think he’s a good president, kind to his nation, just and true. It’s for the people to educate themselves about their leader, about their country. I think he is preserving the royal heritage of the people of Zimbabwe. I think it’s a beautiful country, [with a] beautiful president and a beautiful nation.”

He composed a dirge for Zimbabwe, titled Zimbabwe, in which he expresses his solidarity with its people and calls for a clean-up of the city. It’s not a praise-singer’s song and if you strain your ears you will hear some criticism, but in the interview he is more diplomatic. “It’s not for me to criticise any president or any nation of Africa. It’s for us Rastafarians to see into the matter, unite them [the people] and dispel the myths. If we find a problem we try to curb it.”

When we press him further on the country’s land politics, he sounds ruffled: “No, no, no — let me straighten you right there. Don’t say ‘giving land to the black people’ — black people own the land. If you say ‘giving land’ it means we stole it from them [white people]. I don’t see anything wrong in giving black people their land.” Then it was time for some slogans: “Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad. America for the Americans, India for the Indians, Europe for the Europeans …”

And then he regally rose, as did his entourage, making his way on to the street for photographs. Onlookers soon recognised him, whipped out cellphone cameras and clicked away.