Can a musician’s prediction of death be considered a will?

Friday October 1 2010

Queen Jane with one of her trophies. Some of her songs seem to point to a premonition about her death. Many other musicians have sung about their own deaths.

Queen Jane with one of her trophies. Some of her songs seem to point to a premonition about her death. Many other musicians have sung about their own deaths. 

By Joyce Nyairo [email protected] and Maina Mutonya [email protected]

One of the greatest rumba songs of 1970 was Maseke ya Meme (the horns of a sheep) by Negro Success. The song was written in Lingala by the group’s lead guitarist, Bavon Siongo (popularly known as Bavon Marie Marie).

Released in March 1970, Maseke ya Meme denounced witchcraft and lamented the torment that bad relatives were visiting on a young family member trying to make an honest living.

Maseke ya Meme was an instant hit. Its subject was familiar to Kinshasa fans.

“I am crying for my life/ I am not tired of the world/ but they want me to go/ I won’t say any more/ I am just waiting for death.”

In the early hours of Wednesday, August 5 1970, Bavon Marie Marie died in a car crash on Avenue Kasavubu in Kinshasa. Writer Gary Stewart says that with this tragedy, Bavon’s lyrics “elevated him to the rank of a prophet.”

Aside from the popularity of Maseke ya Meme, Bavon had another distinction — he was the younger brother of the great Franco Luambo Makiadi leader of TPOK Jazz. But Franco did not welcome his younger brother’s interest in music.

In the wake of the shocking and sudden death of the 26-year-old Bavon, the long-running tensions between him and his brother Franco were imposed on the interpretation of Maseke ya Meme. People said that Franco’s envy led him to bewitch his younger brother.

In the book Congo Colossus, Franco’s biographer, Graeme Ewens, actually says that the accident happened moments after a heated disagreement between the two brothers. Bavon had accused Franco of sleeping with his girlfriend, Lucy.

In The Death of the Author, the literary critic Roland Barthes argues that the meaning of a text must never be limited to the interpretation that is given by the author of that text.

We can also use critic Julia Kristeva’s argument that one can build up a biography of a musician based on the lyrics of his/her songs.

In such circumstances, we can infer many clues and, perhaps, even some premonition in the songs of the recently departed Kikuyu musician, Queen Jane.

In Uyu ni Wakwa (this one is mine), Queen Jane tells off all those who are challenging her marriage saying she will stay with her choice of true love.

But these Queen Jane songs are not, strictly speaking dirges. The dirge is a lament, a sad song usually reserved for a funeral.

But is it possible for a musician to use a song as his or her own last will and testament?

In Kenya, Section 8 and 9 of the current Law of Succession Act (Chapter 160) allow for a will to be made either orally or in writing.

If the law allows for verbal wills, should recorded popular music also be interpreted as a valid way for musicians to express their premonitions and final intentions?

The matter of whether a dirge, or indeed, any lyrical reference to death and departure can be used as a vocalist’s or songwriter’s final testament is complex for there would have to be a very explicit statement affirming that the lyrics are indeed the artist’s final wishes.

So in Siku Nikifa (On the day I die) by Necessary Noize do we conclude that Wyre’s work and property has been bequeathed to his brother?

We should also take note of the times when it is difficult for families and fans to adhere to lyrical instructions. A good case in point is the part in Siku ni Kifa where Nazizi says to her fans: “siku nikifa… the fans, DJs musilie vuta kaya” (don’t cry just smoke kaya)!