PictureThe men I saw in Uchesse, just beginning to load their bicycles to take over those mountains in the distance, to Magachi.
JULY 12: This morning a nineteen-year-old orphan named Rashid hiked the four hours from Cobué to Nkwichi in hopes of being able to speak to someone about how to get started here in a career in music.  I cannot be certain, but I have to think some sort of word had gotten to him that a singer was at Nkwichi and he decided to seize the opportunity.

We set up a hasty translation rectangle with the people we had present around the office at the time:  I spoke English to Lily, who translated to Portuguese to Elias, then Elias translated to Nyanja to Rashid – and backwards in the other direction.  We sat around the large rectangular wooden table just outside the office so that I could face Rashid.  When the concepts were in my vocabulary, I attempted to speak to him directly at first, but that was too intense for him, as he seemed intimidated by the entire situation, so I switched back to English.

It took him a while to get out his story.  Speaking of any topic here is often circular, with each round bringing a new small bit of information, until by the eighth time the full story has been revealed.  Here is an example of how one side of a conversation might go:

My name is Rashid.
I woke up well.
My name is Rashid, and I live in Cobué.
I am a nineteen-year-old orphan who lives in Cobué.
I am nineteen, and I am an orphan.
I am an orphan who lives in Cobué, but I grew up in Mbueca.
I live in Cobué now, but my family comes from Mbueca, where I grew up.

And so on.  Keep in mind that there is another side of the conversation in there, though:

My name is Rashid.
            -Hello, Rashid!  How did you wake up?
[the standard morning greeting]
I woke up well.
            -I’m glad to hear it.  Where have you come from?
My name is Rashid, and I live in Cobué.
            -I see.  That is a long way to walk!  Are you coming from school?
I am a nineteen-year-old orphan who lives in Cobué.
[an orphan that old would not be able to go to school any longer]

And so on.

Eventually it came out that Rashid had attended the Assemblies of God church in Mbueca, but moved to Cobué with the goal of becoming the best singer in the Manda Wilderness.  Before moving, he had carried rice from Mandambuzi and Litanda to Mbueca in order to earn money.  When we say carried rice, we are of course not talking about small bags one gets at a grocery store.  I took a picture when in Uchesse of a group of men who had laden their bicycles with giant bags of bread, rice, corn and other supplies.  They then use the bicycle as a sort of wheelbarrow, which they then push up the mountain path.  This young man had done this until he had saved around 500 meticais [fifteen dollars], enough money to hire a local boat to Likoma Island and back, and while on Likoma, to go to a recording studio and for the fee of 3000 kwacha (nine dollars) lay down two takes of a song he had written.  Clearly this took a great deal of perseverance.  With his permission, I uploaded his piece into my computer to listen to later.    

With additional discussion, it became clear that his real desire was to become a composer, something that this area could actually use, since all the choirs sing the same pieces as each other, year after year.  I just don’t know if there is any money to be made with composing.  I gave him the names of the choirmasters of Khango (Cobué) and Chicaia and recommended that he get to know them.  That way he could learn the tastes of the Anglican choirs in the area, since theirs is the dominant vocal cultural model here and most likely to provide him with leads.  He might offer to give them a song for free, then if they like it, to see if they might be able or willing to provide a small fee for any future creation.  Through word of mouth, he might begin to make some money through these sorts of commissions, perhaps being fed and offered a place to stay in a village when he made his song, much as a troubadour might have done a thousand years ago.  This very slow form of making money would only be a supplement for whatever jobs he might do to make a living in the meantime.  He thanked me and said he would try.  Then I wished him well and told him to be sure to come to the Choral Festival to learn what types of music the choirs were singing.  He said he would, and I told him to please come see me if I didn’t look too busy at the moment.  Again he said he would, but I wonder if he will, given his shyness.

After he left, I listened to his tracks on my computer.  He definitely has potential as a composer and understands how to lay down tracks in a recording studio.  He did not say he had hired a keyboard player – I don’t think he would have had enough money, so he must have that ability too.  His singing needs work for intonation; I think he correctly analyzed his talents.

That night, I wondered how many fifty pound bags of rice I would be willing to cart over a mountain to make six-and-a-half minutes of music; and I wondered whether I could regain that youthful hope – more like faith - that someone, somewhere, might listen, might care, and might help me become better as a musician and even help me find a way to feed, clothe and house myself by pursuing my passion.  I really hope he will check in with me on the 27th.  I know I will be thinking of him until then, and for many years to come.


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