Despite the protracted growth of Zimbabwean literature, I am excited that it’s a literature with a capacity to embrace new influences.
Masimba Musodza is a refreshingly unique writer whose work is mostly inspired by his beliefs in Rastafarianism. Known mostly for his Case Files of the Dread Eye Detective Agency Series, the culmination of his genius manifests in a small tightly crafted collection, A Smell of Paraffin &Other Stories, published as an exclusive Kindle edition in 2011.
Perhaps, if Musodza had the social capital of Alexandar McCall-Smith or Mukoma waNgugi, his crime series would have had international prominence by now.
A Smell of Paraffin is a book set in the bustling town of Chitungwiza and is about the sister-brother private investigation team of Chenai “Cee-Cee” and Farai Chisango. These pacy stories are reminiscent of the Macmillan Pacesetters series of the 1980s and 1990s that we grew up reading.
The collection of stories not only reflect Musodza’s desire to “counter the prevalent negative image of Rastafarian people in Zimbabwe”, but also reveals his grasp of contemporary Zimbabwean and world affairs. There is a bit of editorialisation in the five stories — his commentary on topical issues is incisive and yet seamlessly understated.
Though one of his primary missions is to debunk the myths and stereotypes towards Rastafarianism, there are slight exaggerations. Musodza seems to suggest that the presence of Rastafarians in Zimbabwe is a traffic stopping spectacle, which is not the case. On the contrary, Zimbabweans are largely a tolerant people. Bob Marley’s invite to sing at the Independence Gala in 1980 was a significant moment.
So whether by design or coincidence, the destiny of Zimbabwe is intertwined with the spiritual value of Rastafarianism as espoused in Marley’s song — Zimbabwe. In fact, there is a ragga/reggae sub-culture in Zimbabwe that manifests in young people in the townships. They start spotting dreadlocks, smoking marijuana while sitting at the corner bridge, and talk in exaggerated Jamaican accents. They start believing they are living like their larger than life icons — Marley, Tony Rebel, Haile Selassie. In Harare, especially, there are one or two bars with dedicated ragga/reggae sounds. Such places are popularly known as “kumaRasta”. This may not be Rastafarianism as those who believe in it live it. But there have always been strands of rastafari culture around us.
Ivor Hartman says: “In the grand tradition of Spillane, Doyle and Chandler, yet entirely unlike them too, The Dread Eye Detective Agency is a fresh and innovative leap forward for the genre. As well as plainly being a cracking good fast paced read. In all Masimba Musodza never fails to deliver.” Musodza is no doubt a fine crime writer. It is no surprise, that he is a screenwriter by profession. In fact, Musodza first wrote the Dread Eye Detective Agency for television at a time when it seemed as if Zimbabwe’s television industry was poised for growth. The series may yet appear on the screen; Musodza has since formed a production company, Oriit Films.
The cinematic and descriptive qualities of the five stories in A Smell of Paraffin & Other Stories make them so vivid and through the dialogue of his characters Musodza explores the various urgent issues in our communities. Musodza’s ear for dialogue is what makes the series so personable and engaging. Despite solving murders and crime, there is a deeper moral thread in the stories too. If there was a functional Zollywood or an effective broadcaster, Musodza’s literary stuff is meant for the small screen.
Another credit to Musodza is in extending the literary map of Zimbabwean literature to the ever-growing town of Chitungwiza. Our literary imagination as a country is very much dominated by Harare and Bulawayo. Musodza taps into the drama of Chi-town, its bustling energy and dynamism. Musodza territorialises Chitungwiza with each scene — his characters walk through such landmarks as Makoni Shopping Centre and most of the lettered “units” that make up Chitungwiza. He also creates new places within Chitungwiza such as the University of Chitungwiza.
The stories are full of intrigue and plot twists. Every other page causes readers to change their minds as to whom to suspect. And the wonderfully eccentric duo of brother and sister detective team and the backdrop, the shabbiness, of a collapsing system, adds character to the writing.
Besides his unique literary voice, Musodza has successfully leapt on the empowering capacity of the internet to publish his writings. And even though his short stories are featured on various international blogs, it is his pioneering the adoption of Amazon’s Kindle platform that has seen his literary stock rise. Apart from the Rastafarian crime series, Musodza is also the author of the first science fiction novel in Shona, MunaHacha Maive Nei? which became the first book in the Shona language to be released as an e-book for Amazon Kindle.