Thursday, August 18, 2022

Tribute to Michael Mmereki ÔÇô A life well lived, a dream unaccomplished

On Tuesday I crossed the border to attend Hip Hop Pantsula’s Launch in South Africa. While there I excitedly opened my Facebook Account on Thursday Morning. The first message on my wall came from B.OM.U.’s former Sec General Winfred Rasina “We are just here, in the midst of our pain and tears, thinking and lonely within ourselves, the death of our friend, fellow artist, brother, son and father; MALOMBO MMEREKI has entered our music industry and we have run out of words to describe the loss. Yet in him we know we shall celebrate a life well lived, a soul and mind so free spirited. Rest in Peace THE GREAT MUSICIAN MALOMBO MMEREKI. ”

After reading this long short post on my facebook wall, I bowed my head, my heart and brain blacked out. I closed my eyes for a minute asking myself why God is punishing the music industry? Why are we losing a musician every month? Why would God rob us such a friend, colleague, uncle and father?

Losing Malombo to me is worse than being hit by stroke, I can simply say I have been hit by a Tsunami. The music industry is worse off – maybe a Hurricane Katrina. I first came to know Malombo closely as a modest man who loved to jam at Satchmos Jazz Caf├® with Banjo Mosele, John Selolwane and the Veterans immediately after his retirement from the army in the early years of the 21st Century.

As time went on we would meet at Satchmos and chat about the yesteryear music industry stories, great musicians and concerts. Malombo referred to me as “Laitie” I called him “Bra Lombos” as months passed by we became close as “Bra Lombos” was also staying a stone throw away from my house in Block 5.

My neighbor Masego Ramakgati would regularly join us with expensive imported wine or whisky from India. We regularly enjoyed Malombo stories about how the Helfers, Armstrongs and other prominent figures were involved in the music industry in the 70’s and 80’s. Malombo would talk about different current and former Politicians, Permanent Secretaries, MD’s of Companies and prominent figures who are musicians or used to be active performers. He would even tell us of prominent ladies and gentlemen who were the city’s tastemakers.
He would share information about his days in the army.

Malombo will shed light of how the BDF Band was formed how he became the front man of the BDF Band. The most interesting story was of all international established musicians he studied with at the British Royal Music School. Malombo will tell us stories about the bands he sessioned for while at the army like the Incrous, Mother, Kgwanyape, Abraxas e.t.c. Molombo could play all music instruments but specialized in the Saxophone, a lyrical and vocal genius who will be remembered for many songs. The main song, which Batswana loved, was Lerato by BDF Band over and above a huge catalogue of songs he has composed. Malombo could play 72 National Anthems without a score sheet.

Malombo was a selfless man – a musician who liked to play and share his music knowledge with others. Malombo was an active member of Unity Band, later formed the Veterans together with Banjo Mosele, which he left after recording the first project with Banjo Mosele, Across Equator. Before his illness there was a plan in which Malombo and Banjo wanted to organize a music concert and music panel discussion to celebrate their 35th Anniversary in the Music Industry. While he will never realize this dream, I am going to encourage Bra Banjo Mosele to go ahead with the project because I believe Malombo would rest a happy man if it takes place. At the height of preparations I became the “Laitie” tasked with writing the proposal and organizing the concert. Being with these two gentlemen running around from RB1, Department of Information, BDF and National Archives trying to get their photos, news clips and any information from their early years was an exciting experience that no one will ever take away from me. I remember the day we came from National Archives, while buying lunch at the Main Mall, Molombo asked Banjo “Why re sena dinepe tsa rona re sale bannye?” Banjo replied “Malombo oa gakologelwa gore bogologolo ne go nowa jang?” We all burst into huge laughter to the extent that the conservative corporate guys having lunch at President Hotel asked the manager to instruct us to lower our voices, which we replied with another big laugh!

As we sit today we only have a record (Vinyl) of the 1974 Incrous recording. I believe this was energy well spent because the knowledge and information I got the past 14 months no one can ever take away from me.I will forever cherish the opportunity they gave me as a “laitie”.
While I am devastated, my good neighbor Masego Ramakgati is gutted to the extent that he keeps coming to my house asking if indeed its true Malombo has passed on. The only thing we can console ourselves with is the fact that we wined with a Legend.

A Great Musician comes once in a Lifetime, Malombo will be remembered by a powerful performance at the Mascom/BOMU Music Awards in 2008. Malombo recorded only one album and won the Best Jazz Award for the same recording. That’s how great he was, not an ordinary musician. It’s a fact it will take another much longer to have another Malombo, may be not in our lifetime will there be any artist to match Malombo. He was an exceptional genius.

Malombo during his last days was always telling me he wants to arrange a meeting with H.E. The President Ian Khama because he believes the Music Industry is going down the drain.He was worried that institutional bands are not interacting with community bands to share resources. The death of boy scouts and drum majorettes in Botswana also pained him a lot. He believed that was contributing to waywardness of youth. Malombo wanted to see Botswana National Arts Council in its feet, Malombo wanted to see Botswana musicians performing in international concerts. Malombo always told me how endless meetings and lobbying regarding the establishment of the Arts Council were held at Woodpecker in the 70’s and how musicians who came from South Africa like Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Steve Dyer e.t.c. tried in vain to assist in this regard as govt officers never liked musicians because being a musician in the past was termed a taboo.

While Malombo lived a colorful music life as a musician, I believe lack of National Arts Council, poor Royalty Collecting Agency (C.O.S.B.O.T.S.) will be the sad things that will pain him in his rest. Malombo advocated for those to be established while at the army and during his short stint as a B.O.M.U. Executive Additional Member. I remember at an emotionally charged meeting at Civic Center where he differed with his executive committee on issues relating to approach on new trading hours, lobbying for establishment of National Arts Council and Piracy situation in Botswana. Malombo was a humble fighter who held no grudges. He would differ with you but would never hold that at heart. In Malombo we have lost a great musician.

Malombo’s life will forever be celebrated in song. Rest In Peace “Bra Lombos” we will continue were you left off. The rights and growth of musicians will continue to be advocated for and one day musicians will be respected as a working class.

Yours in music

*Modibe is a Member of B.O.M.U. Finance and Research Committee

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