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Albert Nyathi takes to the skies

Academic, poet, musician, writer, actor, music producer and philanthropist, Albert Nyathi has just returned home after a six-week tour, which started in New York in the United States, where he spent three weeks on Broadway entertaining and thrilling audiences, there before moving on to Moscow in Russia, where he and Dereck Mpofu combined forces at a World Health Organisation (WHO) conference for ending the dreaded disease, tuberculosis (TB).

In an interview about this trip and appearance at the Moscow conference, Nyathi said he was honoured to be recognised internationally for a commendable cause.

Mpofu, when asked to comment about their trip, also chipped in: “It was a great thing to be involved in such a worthy cause. We started off by being involved at a national level, then moved onto an international platform representing Zimbabwe. We gave our ideas on TB and we performed in front of respected dignitaries. There were about 100 countries being represented in Russia and about a thousand participants; so it was very exciting.”

Reports reaching me and a video posted on their Facebook page confirmed that they were the best entertainers during the four-day conference in Russia.

From Moscow, they proceeded to Geneva in Switzerland, where again they thrilled audiences with Nyathi doing his poetry thing, while Mpofu played the piano and sang some incredible tunes.

According to Nyathi, he was flattered to see some good friends who flew all the way from London to see him and Mpofu perform at their last show in Geneva. These included Nokuthula and Ndaba, whom he had not seen for some time and they really enjoyed the show.

On May 27, the pair was Johannesburg-bound and they arrived in Zimbabwe two days later.

This is not the first time that Nyathi has done tours outside the country. Since leaving the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in 1991, he has travelled around the world, mainly to give performances as a poet and entertainer. Countries visited include Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Hawaii (US), England, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, Russia, Wales, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Mozambique, Sicily (Italy), Libya, Algeria and Sweden.

Many aspiring young poets wonder how Nyathi does it. I keep telling them that besides nurturing one’s talent, there is a need to boost it through rehearsals and polishing up their acts. Nyathi has been doing that for many years and his act has grown from strength to strength. In 1990, while studying at UZ, he came to me for advice with a team of other poets. They called themselves ALCYTI, an acronym arising from their first names, Albert, Cynthia and Titus. I suggested to them that they should mix their poetry with some music as seen in Matumbi, a 1970s London band which supported the poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ). It made a mark in Britain because people were attracted to LKJ by the music. ALCYTI agreed to follow this route and they rehearsed with the Frontline Kids Band and gave a performance which went down well at a nurses’ conference at Parirenyatwa Hospital. However, as these three poets had just recently graduated from UZ with high ambitions, two of them did not take poetry seriously. They did not think that they would build careers in poetry. Cynthia found a job, got married and left the group. Titus also quit after he decided to leave the country. Nyathi, however, persevered on his own and a year later, he wrote and recorded Senzeni Na, which became a national hit.

Last month I attended a festival of poetry organised by Khumbulani Muleya with a group which calls itself Up in Smoke Poetry Corner. I was amazed at the amount of talent exhibited there. Seventeen-year-old Khulekhani Ndlovu, who confessed that she was inspired by Nyathi, recited a poem about rape. It touched everyone’s heart and I am certain this girl will go somewhere if she continues to pursue this art.

Nyathi was born on November 15, 1962 at Kafusi in Gwanda and attended school at Msitheli Secondary and Matopo High in Matabeleland. He later studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree at UZ and majored in English Literature at Honours level.

Nyathi started praise poetry at a young age where he would sing praise poetry while herding cattle in Gwanda. His interest in poetry deepened at Msitheli Secondary School and Matopo High School, then became stronger when he enrolled to study at UZ.

While at UZ, he participated and took the leading role as an actor in a play titled Mandela. It was also at UZ that he met other poets such as Chirikure Chirikure, Cynthia and Titus. These encouraged him to pursue his poetry further.

So not only did Nyathi follow an academic career, but he also became an actor and later a music producer when he decided to mix his poetry with music. He also got involved in philanthropic work after leaving university.

As a philanthropist, Nyathi coordinated an event in which they donated textbooks to several schools in the Gwanda district area. The donation came as a result of the poor results that the schools had recorded with some schools recording as low as 0% pass rate. The schools that benefited from the donation were Kafusi and Madume secondary schools, while primary schools that benefited were Takaliawa, Makwoke, Zelezele, Mapate and Cobone.

Between 1998 and 2016, Nyathi championed Aids awareness programmes, gender awareness, environmental and climate change programmes, voluntary male circumcision, fund-raising projects and music productions on behalf of many organisations.

In his career, Nyathi has won several awards which include:

  • Zimbabwe National Poetry Award (1995).
  • The group that Nyathi performed with (Imbongi) was chosen by the United Nations to represent African Music at the youth congress in Hawaii in 1999.

He has also worked with several organisations which include:

  • The Budding Writers’ Association of Zimbabwe, where he acted as the organisation’s chairman between 1990 and 1999.
  • The National Handicraft Centre as a board member from 2008 to 2012.
  • The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, where he was acting director between 1995 and 1997.
  • Africa Book Development Trust as its chairman from 2005 until now.
  • Music Crossroads Academy, where he was vice-chairman of the board from 2015 until 2018.
  • United Nations Women’s Organisation as a gender champion from 2012 to 2016.

It was in the middle of such activities that Nyathi found time to write books on his poetry and also composed songs to go with his poetry. Judging by the public response to his writings, My Daughter, which tackles taboo issues with the disarming sweetness of an African fable, has become his best poetry book as it provokes both laughter and contemplation.

While in Russia recently, Nyathi received the shocking news on May 23 that former Cabinet minister and Zapu leader Dumiso Dabengwa, nicknamed “The Black Russian”, had died on his way home from India, where he had gone for medical attention. Nyathi was heavily touched by this devastating news. The next day he sat up to write a poem about this great hero, Dabengwa.

Due to limited space, I will only duplicate two stanzas from Nyathi’s rather lengthy poem which serves as a tribute to Dabengwa:

To a noble, brave, fearless, bold and extraordinary man

In praise of the selfless one who was loved by many

And not so many hated him

You led ZIPRA with love and dignity

Dumiso, you simply departed without saying goodbye

We feel lonely and exposed

We feel robbed, powerless and empty

Abadala bathi “isitsha esihle kasidleli”.

As we try to swim in this polluted water,

We are aware, life will never be the same again

And again never will Africa be the same without you. etc.

I am still trying to decipher the meaning of this rather perplexing poem. Come for a cup of coffee, Albert, and we will discuss it in detail so that I can have full comprehension of your wonderful works.

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