I read with interest today, an open letter directed to one radio talk-show co-host on Metro FM’s morning Breakfast Show (South Africa). The loyal listener told Unathi, exactly what she thought of her as a radio talk-show host in a way of offering some much needed constructive criticism. She loves the show and it’s the only show she can listen to in the mornings she said in the letter. But I guess after years of being “tortured” as she put, it was time for Unathi to hear some choice truths.
I thought about it and prayed that should I ever be in the public eye or ear in this case that I should have the grace to listen to “constructive criticism” from where it comes and hopefully learn from my mistakes without any major collateral damage. Before I lose you please stay- with me because this post is neither about the disgruntled Metro-FM listener nor Tips on how to be a “good” radio talk show host, but I sight it because gosh, I just thought if people can be so passionate and fearless about their criticisms constructive or not, we should be just as passionate and fearless in showing love and appreciation for each other.
I love radio and I love sound (music) and in my opinion radio is so much more, so much more personal than what you read or even see sometimes. And if you listen to the radio you are bound to form very personal relationships with the people you’re listening to consciously or not and along with those personal relationships – strong opinions. You can hear when someone is losing their temper, when they’re pretending, when they’ve lost interest, when they’re being sarcastic or fake, feel insecure, enthusiastic, even chemistry between two people is palpable on radio. Of course this is not always the case but most often after you have listened to the same voice for long enough you can tell with some level of accuracy what mood they’re in that day. People fall in love with voices or sound, even of their own voices as the disgruntled listener pointed out about Unathi.
The act of listening means you’re involved. Something about sound has a way of reaching you in places you never thought possible. It has a way of taking you by surprise, off guard.
Like I was blindsided by this one artist, musician, experimental sound guy, whose sound I have been hearing all over town. But before I knew his name before I could hear his sound, his name caught me unawares, unexpectedly, repeatedly. As if the universe knew how easily I can forget people’s names; I heard it almost every day or every other day in conversation, in passing. I had been hearing his name so much around my place of residence at the time that I took the opportunity to go see and hear him play at the Bioscope, on Main street life in downtown Johannesburg. I went on my own, and thought how odd to be playing music in a cinema. But you see that was all part of the performance. His sound silenced all the noise in my head and shot straight through to my heart in the same way that classical music comforted me when I was very young. I left the cinema feeling quite lost for words, how do you describe this, what?! I think I went temporarily out of my mind. Disjointed that line I had heard over and over again sung by Louis Armstrong (and Billie Holiday) echoed in my mind… “You go to my head like a glass of burgundy blue, and I find myself spinning around like the bubbles in a glass of Champaigne” Now I knew what that meant, what that felt like. Even the annoying Vuvuzela sounded like a double base when he played it. I felt almost as ecstatic as the day my brother said, listen to this the Cinematic Orchestra’s Arrival of the Birds and transformation, and I cried out in total bliss while I danced my heart out! But his amazing was one I wanted to keep wrapped around me like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night. Never to let go.
I continued on with my life as if nothing ever happened until one day, I needed someone to create a certain sound on a project I was working on. His is the only name I could think of despite mine. But I had too much on my plate and too little time. I was afraid to meet him, in person, so, so very close. But I asked to meet anyway to talk about the project. He had a cold. You should try Garlic lemon and Ginger, I told him like a well-practiced school nurse. I never get tongue tied. But I was and I desperately wanted the meeting to end even though everything in me wanted it to last for as long as it was humanly possible. I never saw him again.
Until one day, I found myself sitting two empty chairs away from him in a theater. I didn’t know what to say and kept my eyes on the stage while hearing his lyrical voice laughing every now and again through and into my left ear. I walked out with a honey pot/jar: my thanks giving prize from the actors for participating in their experimental play. I love honey.
Three years after I first heard him play I haven’t listened to his music as intensely again, ironically. But I know it’s good… and has been getting better judging by his ever-growing popularity. Recently two weeks ago in fact I found myself in his house on yet another project, with two others this time. It was a not unlike the day I imagine Zimbabwean artist Oliver Mtukudzi sat down to pen these lyrics “I’m feeling low, I’m feeling low, oh Help me lord I’m feeling low”. I was not sure why I was there in the first place. But I was. He listened carefully and long to what they wanted. Later he asked if I was angry with him. And apologized. For something I had long forgotten. A gift in fact. I remembered the music that first day I heard him play and wanted to say “I don’t think you know this but three years ago you ministered to me through your sound. Your music touched me in a way I never thought possible. If I never told you I appreciated it. I do. If I never said thank you I do. If I never said I love your work. I do. But I love you more for staying true to your gift. Thank You Joao Orecchia. You are Amazing”. But, I just couldn’t find the words.
- Dear Unathi Msengana, (namsunrestricted.wordpress.com)