• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Why do the best musicians die young? (2)

Micheal Jackson -compressed

Ben

We were in one of those restaurants overlooking the waters a retreat into serenity from the madness of this city. A handsome couple sat at the next table, a man and woman of uncertain age, together with their father or senior uncle. I caught their eye once or twice and realized they were listening intently to our every word. Soon enough their conversation slipped into silence and only their chewing and sipping signaled that they were still there. MJ is a public conversation, after all, and I saw no reason not to include our dining neighbors. When our eyes met again I seized my chance.
Uncle, what do you think of Michael Jackson? I threw at the older man.
I’m glad you asked, he said. He drew his chair closer, and we were now five. All I can say is, may God forgive MJ because he didn’t know what he was doing.
Once a man dies, said Egbe Belu, all should be forgiven even if not forgotten.
But not Sani Abacha! shouted the lady. That man if there is a hell, that short man should roast in fire for three thousand years!
I know, I know, said her husband. Darling, let it go . . . But, you see, this man Jackson had the cards stacked against him. He was denied a childhood, making money when he should be in primary school . . .
Well, just step outside, said the lady, and you’ll see children hawking akara and kpof-kpof on the go-slow when they should be in school.
. . . Yet MJ managed to transform a great talent into fame and wealth.
Yes indeed, said Egbe Belu. He just couldn’t manage success.
So many people cant, said Uncle.

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He hated God for making him black, said the lady. That I find difficult to forgive.
He was lavish, continued her husband. He was extravagant. That is an automatic route to failure and ruin.
A route, said Uncle, that all too many black American entertainers and superstar athletes, his predecessors and even contemporaries, had traveled.
His real crime, if you ask me, I said, is that God made him black and he tried to make himself white . . .
That’s right, said the lady. You can’t fool with Mother Nature! MJ messed up his health badly, and he paid the price.
There is really no excuse for despising so deeply what you are by nature that you would go to such extraordinary lengths to turn yourself into your exact opposite.
Wasn’t there a poet, asked Egbe Belu, who said it was surprising that God could make a person black and still expect him to sing and dance?
Whoever said that was an idiot, said the husband. He didn’t know what he was talking about.
That was the African-American poet Countee Cullen, said Uncle. He thought our sufferings as a race were too deep for laughter and lyricism.
And how wrong he was, said the husband. Don’t you see that of all the creatures on God’s earth, black people are the greatest in singing and dancing and comedy. We are simply unequalled in that department of human endeavor.
That’s right, said Uncle. What genius of any other race can rival Michael Jackson? Or James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Lucky Dube, Bob Marley or the Ipi-Tombi?
Go Uncle!
Did you see Street Dance on TV last night? . . .
MJ’s spirit is alive and triumphant!
Talk to me of the music and dance greats of three continents. Shirley Bassey, Miriam Makeba, E. T. Mensah, OK Jazz, Oliver de Coque, Osadebe, Warrior, Fela, Sonny Okosun, Victor Uwaifo, Barry White, Celestine Ukwu, Manu Dibango, Oliver N’Goma, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Rex Lawson, Nico Mbarga, Millie Jackson . . .
Go Uncle! Go Uncle! Go Uncle!
I mean . . . tell me about Charlie Parker, Aretha Franklin, B. B. King, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Nat King Cole, Leadbelly, Bojangles, Ray Charles, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith. . .
Go Uncle! Go Uncle! Go Uncle!
I mean . . . Fletcher Henderson, Jelly Roll Morton, Stevie Wonder, Ma Rainey, Sarah Vaughan, Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis . . .
Go Uncle! Go Uncle! Go Uncle!
Tell me about Sammy Davis, Max Roach, Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Lord Kitchener, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Harry Belafonte, Mighty Terror, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross . . .
Go Uncle! Go Uncle! Go Uncle!
An African musical universe that dominates the world. None to rival it. Afro-jazz, rhythm and blues, calypso, reggae, makossa and rap is the style of 90 percent of the zillion-dollar movie, television and musical entertainment industry of the world.
Oh yes!
And so today we celebrate Michael Jackson . . .
Yes we do!
We love him in spite of himself . . .
Oh yes!
Because Michael Jackson is us . . .
That’s the truth!
His beauty is our beauty . . .
Yes it is!
And his tragedy is our tragedy.
Yes indeed! . . .