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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What is the Best Way to Kill a Mouse?

It should go down in history that I caught a rat and handed it over to two cats that looked entirely uninterested. The rat left!

This rat - God knows where it came from - had become a menace. I can't begin to tell you the crumbs I had to sweep away every morning after the opportunistic flea-infested rodent raided my bread and sunk its teeth in everything it came across.

That didn't threaten me. Then it began tearing pages off my books! Those that know me well know my love of books is boundless and I can never pardon anyone for defiling them. So this rat invades my beloved George Beverly Shea's Then Sings my Soul which I had been reading the previous night, and with its teeth of mass destruction, nips the edges of its pages and scatters the mess on the carpet.

Horrified at the enormity of ruin, I devised a plan that could ensnare and teach this evil doer a lesson. I thought of BOP insecticide but remembered that only fixes cockroaches and other weird insects. How about rat poison? No. Because I hate anything called poison. I racked my brains and decided on employing the tricks I mastered in those good village days when we used to track them down in their deep enclaves. We would then roast and salt them to feed our hunting dogs. That worked for wild rats. But that was then.

To destroy this sneaky rat called for fast moves and ingenuity. Chance presented itself one quiet evening while I sat reading. Our "hero" suddenly appeared and even had the audacity to draw nearer, its ugly whiskers twitching with mischief. I didn't move nor breathe, but watched from the corner of my eye, waiting for the right time to lunge for it. And I did, but missed because in less than a second, the dirty thing had scurried away and disappeared. I had fallen badly and lay on the floor groaning.

That's when I realised how much I detested all the members of the rodent genera.

"Damn them," I cursed.

And a film so harrowing began playing on the back screen of my mind. It was about the creepy feeling I got when I first read Albert Camus' The Plague, where an army of dead rats carry fleas that cause bubonic plague that almost wipes the town clean of its people. I then remembered hungry rats descending on the corpse of poor old Sounkare in Sembene Ousmane's God's Bits of Wood and mauling his corpse to the bones.

Determined to eliminate my enemy, I buttered a slice of bread, tore it into pieces and dropped them in a bucket. I switched off the lights and left it to the creature to find its meal.

How it jumped into the bucket, I don't know but when I found it in the early morning, it was not amused. It stood on its hind legs, talons seething, stretched its grotesque mouth, defecated and beat its fat tail against the bucket, jumped, made some irritable noise and finally crouched in helpless surrender.

I covered the bucket with a basin and carried my prisoner and delivered him warm and live to my neighbour's two able-bodied kittens.

Imagine my shock when they looked on with disinterest as the lucky rat ran for dear life! Now if this doesn't go down in history, what surely will?

--Daily Monitor, Monday March 17, 2008

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Return of the Story

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

Many years ago, wide-eyed children sat by the fireside listening to fascinating tales about cunning little hare, how a beggar competed for and won the hand of the beloved king's daughter, how the lion became the king of animals, to mention a few.

Rich with drama, coloured by music and bustling with suspense, the stories always left the children mesmerised and yearning for more. It was a way through which they learned about the joys and pains of life.

Today, the television screen occupies the higher place in homes and students seem more interested in the latest John Grisham legal thriller than the recorded Ugandan folk stories in the library.

The argument is that society has moved on, that it is not possible to sit round the fire anymore to tell stories, and that the art that defined, empowered and harmonized generations for long cannot compete in the world of other dynamic performing arts like music and dance, and should therefore be left to die a painful death.

On how important traditional stories still are, Ms. Allen Tushemereirwe, a lecturer of performing arts at Makerere says, "the mythology and legends of our ancestral traditions were best explained through story-telling. That is why folktales such as the story of Kintu and Nambi still have a place in non-fiction sections in school libraries. We must have a firm foundation for our stories as a way of preserving the identity of a people and the richness of their culture."

Perhaps this foundation is the stage that professional story-teller, Daniel Ssettaba of Roots Africa, a theatre consultancy, talks of. He says: "Story-telling has since changed context and adapted to the stage as a new theatrical art to meet the expectations of the modern audience."

Addressing issues of humanity sounds complicated but Austin 'Mwarimu' Bukenya, a lecturer of oral literature at Makerere University, comes on to make things lighter: "Story-telling is about sharing experiences, reflecting on our modes of existence, our joys, our struggles, our fears and our expectations and aspirations. Uganda is a society in a state of formation, out of the many ethno-cultural entities enclosed with the geopolitical boundaries…the more we tell our stories, the more we share with one another and the more we contribute to the concretization of a truly cohesive community," he said through e-mail.

Mr. Bukenya who is acclaimed for his novel, The People's Bachelor (1972) goes on: "Good story-telling is itself part of the so-called entertainment industry. People want to enjoy the pleasure of intellectual and emotional discovery provided by a well-told story, whether this is in live speech –oracy, writing, theatre or electronic relay.

"One of the causes of poverty in our literature, theatre or electronic performances is a lack of good stories, or the ability to tell them competently."

Story-telling, he adds, is a linguistic skill that is acquired, learnt and mastered; although some people are born with some aptitude for telling stories, that gift must be nurtured too for them to become good storytellers.

This is the challenge that the Uganda Theatre Network (UTN) has taken on by conducting several story-telling workshops at the Uganda Cultural Centre to promote and motivate performing artists already involved in this expressive art.

Mr. Andrew Ssebagala, the national coordinator UTN, believes that Ugandan theatre needs something to spice it up, and that something is story-telling. He differs from the concept that story-telling is a thing of the past and inapplicable in modern Uganda.

"I've traveled widely and I know for sure that story-telling as a new theatre form is very popular in America, London, Holland, Sweden, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Like any consumable, we only need to get people to know that it's available, tell them where it is, what they are going to benefit from it and it will begin to pull crowds," he says.

Ssebagala adds there are so many stories that need be told, and that they can be told dramatically if other theatrical techniques such as poetry, music and dance are employed.

By the look of things, we might soon witness the renaissance of African story-telling but this time round, not by the fireside but on the stage. But whether it will meet the demands of time, space and spectacle mechanics of contemporary theatre, stays with us to ponder.

--The Ivory Post, March 6, 2008

The 'terrible' Mic

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

Daniel was a primary six pupil when the English teacher forcefully made him one of the main speakers at a school debate. In the packed classroom, he sat shuddering and miserably waited for his chance on the floor. Even for a first timer, his attempt was a total fiasco. When the chairman called his name, he stood weakly and the paper on which was written his points shook and dropped from his hands. The big boys laughed. He tried to open his mouth to say something but only managed to heave with fright.

For many people, the thought of addressing a public gathering is a nightmare. Some of these 'great' politicians around town panic at the sight of a microphone. Yet others are born confident speakers.

Napoleon Bonaparte is a darling of history students as a gallant soldier whose overwhelming ambition saw him sweep the whole of Europe with blood and iron, but also because the French man was a scintillating speaker whose words moved his troops to persevere and offer their best at the battle front.

Martin Luther King Jr., achieved much with the civil rights movement because he was a gifted speaker. Years after his death, many of his speeches are favoured among the greatest speeches of all time.

Back home, the late Dr. Milton Obote led this country to independence but is largely remembered for his sharp voice and as a small man who mesmerized his countrymen with clever choice of words. Once asked what he would do if he met President Yoweri Museveni, he said he would "poke him with a stick!"

One is tempted to mention Jesus Christ of Nazareth. His hilarious and didactic anecdotes, his teachings bustling with parables and coloured with suspense, captivated the people of his day to follow him wherever he went. But then He was/is God.

Listening to the rise and fall of well trained a voice reaching out to the world is quite an experience. When a man knows how to involve his audience in his speeches and to hold suspense, a resounding clap-clap is wont of accompanying him back to his seat. That is the power of public speaking; which philosopher Aristotle defined as the "art of persuasion."

In the way of achieving this, some speakers mull over words before spilling them. The weekly kimeeza debate at Club Obligato is synonymous with theatrical displays of opposing forces trying to subdue the other.

And at the annual public speaking contest at Makerere University, young intellectuals put up a great show as they lament, purr, grunt and generally pour out their hearts on different subjects in a way that brings back memories of impassioned orators leaving you marveling over the mysterious force that could inspire such eloquence.

It's during moments like these that one is reminded of Ugandan emcees and radio presenters who wear fake accents, match them with distracting gestures and the love of poor grammar and wrong syntax, leaving their listeners yawning.

In his book Speaking in Public –Effectively, Richard Bewes thinks such people have "an inflated view of their influence, thinking of themselves as mega performers" but they only manage to confuse their listeners with "flimsy content of the speech."

He specially has no kind words for speakers that "gallop" in a way that "ideas, words and thoughts jostle for inclusion" in a "helter-skelter of a talk." Thus writes: "Some of the things said are magnificent, but they are given no space in which to stand out amid the non-stop torrent of gobbled, half-finished words. The mind of the speaker races ahead of the sentence –which is barely finished before the next thought rushes like an express train…in such an address, the main thread is lost in a tangle of undisciplined verbiage that is very tiring to listen to."

No speaker worthy of his name is ever out of the learner's lane, he notes, and advises public speakers to be humble enough to listen to themselves on tape and to seek advice from their more experienced counterparts which will help them learn "how to iron out the kinks and hindrances that can get in the way of effective speaking."

Like young Daniel's first humiliation at a school debate, Bewes mentions a story of an inexperienced Athenian orator who "had been insolent enough to test his skill in an arena normally reserved only for the best exponents of Greek rhetoric –and he'd been laughed off the platform."

But he had gone on and by dint of sheer hardwork transformed himself into a speaker whose words moved people with action!

--The Ivory Post, March 6, 2008

First play reading in Kampala

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

There is an American story of a play reading artist who read a scary Halloween script so well that it lured a monster out of the woodwork.

Well, play reading as a form of theatrical entertainment has since August last year been a part of Ugandan theatre. And Tuesday, February 26, will be the first ever public play reading presentation at the national theatre.

Written by Mr. Joshua Muvumba, a History professor at Makerere University, Batanda-Bezaala [Kings Beget Kings], will be read by a carefully chosen cast that includes Kwezi Kaganda and Kenneth Kimuli of the Theatre Factory and Ugandan writer Ulysses Chuka Kibuuka, among others.

The three-act script is true to the events of history. Suuna and Kaitaba, who were respective rulers over Buganda and Kiziba in the early 1880s, are locked in battle over the use of the household name that previously belonged to Suuna but has been 'hijacked' by Kaitaba. The highly vainglorious Suuna is so offended at "this insulting indiscretion" and demands "200 hens, 200goats, 200 sheep, 200 cows, 200 girls" in apology and the demolition Kaitaba's "farce of a house" and proclamation by Kaitaba himself that the name Batanda-Bezaala must never be uttered anywhere in his realm except in reference to my own [Suuna's] house." It's this conflict, this contest between "a giant and a dwarf, a mighty kingdom and a kinglet" that drives the play.

The combination of humor and pathos, the clever, funny, regal and thought-provoking language together with the strongly contrasted situations and the use of chorus [chanters] as part of characterization reminds one of the Greek classics.

But will the presenters manage to arouse emotion and stimulate strong interest than would have been on stage?

The director, Kenneth Kimuli, believes they are ready for the challenge following rigorous rehearsals.

"Unlike a stage performance where actors use physical action, movement and voices, we depend wholly on vocal and facial expression to help the viewer visualize and feel with the playwright," he said.

During one of the rehearsals, it was appealing to watch the actors in a round, reading with voices so animated, clear and alert and gestures to match the traits of the protagonists and the spirit and tempo of the entire play.

This show will start 6p.m, and entrance is free.

--The Ivory Post, March 6, 2008

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Spreading the Gospel hip hop style

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

It has been a three-year holy roller coaster as LVC members represented Jesus in the hip hop culture. LVC is an acronym for the Levite Clan, a music ministry whose members - Renee DA PREACH Emcee (Tumukunde Richard) and No Hell 01 (Ivan Wobusobozi) have passionately challenged the youths to shun the negative lures of worldliness.

"We are like watchmen on the graffiti wall of youth culture warning against entertainment icons whose bling-bling lifestyle seems right but leads to destruction," says Renee Emcee who recently returned from Canterbury, England where he spent three months as an urban youth missionary.

The group picked a cue from the Biblical Levites who were very well known and highly respected throughout Israel for moving about ministering earnestly in the name of God. So they study the gospel message, apply it to the contemporary world and deliver it in a style and language that urban youths easily relate to and understand.

"Urban youth are the audience that God has commissioned us to reach out to," explains No Hell 01. "Our slogan is 'Taking the gospel to the streets through holy hiphop' and hip-hop is the language urban youth speak."

The Levites who are popular performers at TLC during Gospel Night are particularly concerned about the deceptive message of secular hip-hop on the streets that leaves young people with no honour for God. And to counter that, they fuse holy rap in which they implore the young generation to spurn wrong models and destructive elements of the culture and instead embrace salvation through Jesus Christ.

Through their music, the Levites have ministered in schools, universities, churches, bars, on the streets, and at youth conferences and parties as well as the nations through internet media.

In some songs, they sing in retrospect about their 'bad boy' days when they were married to liquor and drugs, running from school and spending their nights in bars. That was before they saw the light and invited Christ in their lives.

"Now we are taking what the devil tried to use to destroy us (hip-hop) and use it as a prophetic voice in youth culture," says Renee Emcee.

They spot cornrows and dress in baggy jeans and oversize T-shirts. Commenting on the notion that society might misconstrue their sense of dress, the Levites stress that "people should relate to the spirit of the man and not his designer shell."

The group will be launching their debut album, Christ in da Youth Culture, at Calvary Chapel Kampala, located at Gardith House opposite Mutasa Kafero plaza this Sunday, December 16. The 15-track album has been summed as "a challenge to the youths to set their affections on Jesus Christ."

--Daily Monitor, December 14, 2007

Playing traditional instruments on the international scene

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

At the age of six, Joel Sebunjo used to play a small drum given to him by his grand father, a village court musician. His love of playing impelled him to pile dry sticks to make a xylophone. By 13, he had been noticed by respected palace musicians, who then initiated him into the authentic world of traditional folk music and performance and later allowed him to perform at several royal functions to entertain kingdom dignitaries.

Although he holds a musicology degree from Makerere University with a concentration in ethnomusicology (the study of world cultures and their music), Sebunjo insists going into apprenticeship under celebrated Ganda royal court musicians like Busuulwa Katambula, Dr. Albert Sempeke and Ludoviko Serwanga made him what he is today.

His dynamic and interchangeable playing of instruments such as the great west African Kora, endongo (bow lyre), endere (4-hole bamboo flute), amadinda (xylophone), engoma (conical drums), mbira (thumb piano), endingidi (tube fiddle) among others, has endeared him to innumerable folk music lovers.

Born in the mudfish clan, Sebunjo has played in some of the biggest afro-jazz outfits like Bakisimba Waves (Uganda) and Groovy Eldorado Ensemble (Finland).

At the 2006 Lola Kenya Screen film festival, Sebunjo was tasked by Finnish film director, Antonia Ringbom, to make the soundtrack to the film, Les terroristes de la terre (Terrorists of the Earth) by Finland Film Centre. The soundtrack, Akavela (polythene bag), sung in French, English, Wolof and Maninka, calls for the banning of plastic bags.

While on a West African tour in 2006, Sebunjo conducted inter-cultural music fusion projects with Senegalese musicians before embarking on an apprenticeship trip to Gambia, Mali, and Guinea to do an advanced course in Kora/ Manding music. It's in Gambia that he met his long time music mentor, Alagi Mbye, whom he considers one of the best Kora players in the world.

"He taught me to be a master Kora player, an instrument with which I best express the feeling of my music," Sebunjo purrs on about how he's an adopted Jali. "Jalis are the divine of the land in West Africa. To become a Jali you have to be accepted by the Jali families because they are responsible for keeping the tradition; they are storytellers and perform at important ceremonies. When you're an outsider they adopt you and give you a name. They named me Sundiata."

He claims to be "the youngest Ugandan Kora player known today on the international stage and one of the few Ugandan musicians with a broad knowledge of African music because over the years" he has "been in link with the rest of Africa trying to study their music and instruments."

Sebunjo, 23, has met and shared music with world music greats such as Yossou N'Dour, Didier Awadi (Senegal), Toumani Diabate (Mali), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), Oliver Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe), Jalibah Kouyateh (Gambia) and well-known Swedish musician Alle Moller.

Sebunjo who has performed, recorded and conducted workshops in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Kenya, Rwanda, Estonia and Senegal has since changed his style from folk music to world music to "suit my dream and the market today. World music is simple in terms of fusion which helps me to use African instruments and blend them with modern instruments to make it sound better."

He sings in his native language but his music has a rare feel to it that fires one's passions.

"My music covers a range of subjects from nationalism and neo-colonialism to poverty," he says. "I also try to bring the legends from the cross-cultural diversity in Uganda and sing about things like Wakadala – an old car that existed way before we were born."

His songs Mulilanwa, Kaira and Serukera are popular on Internet radios that promote world music.

Asked why it has taken him long to record an album, Sebunjo says world music is quite expensive to do: "Every instrument must be played live and the studios here can't produce that music to world standards, so one must do the recording and mastering in Europe. However, I hope to sign to a record label next summer through my agents in Sweden and Denmark. My target is to hit the world charts and follow in the footsteps of my heroes Yossour N'Dour, Salif Keita, Toumani Diabate and Samite, Uganda's leading world musician."

Sebunjo also wants to become a good will ambassador for the United Nations.

--Sunday Monitor, January 6, 2008

Kicommando gone bad

By Dennis D. Muhumuza

"It ain't over till it's over." Former baseball star Yogi Berra said that before everyone else turned it into a mantra. But it was not until a few weeks back that its true meaning pierced me in the stomach like a Kalahari bushman's arrow.

I was stumbling my way home one evening when hunger pangs dragged me to the dusty and busy Nakulabye roadsides where throngs of people were waiting for their rolexes and kicommando.

Until then, the only thing I knew about kicommando was that it's some form of Ugandan-made fast meal which self-proclaimed ghetto president, singer Bobi Wine, glamourises in one of his songs by that title, as a quintessential meal that ought to be enjoyed by every ordinary urbanite.

So I arrive at this rolex stall where this man is flipping the chapatti on a hot kisaniya and I ask him in my faltering Luganda:

"Kikomando kya meka Ssebo?"

"Bitano, boss," he replies without looking at me.

"Nkolelayo," I say as I dole him a Shs500 coin, which I had only moments earlier discovered - to my joy - in the small pocket of my faded blue jeans.

The kicommando chef then briskly scooped a chapatti from a pile with his hands, laid it on some black [blackened by dirt of course] wood and proceeded to chop it to bits.

Suddenly, his cheeks swell like a toad's and I watch shocked as he blows into a kaveera like a child inflating a balloon. He collects the chapatti pieces, which he packs in said kaveera, adds beans and uses his big spoon to sprinkle some soup before he hands me my package.

I walk the remaining distance to my ghetto home with a mind preoccupied with the spit that could have found itself lodged in my supper when the 'chef' blew into the kaveera. That's when the idea of throwing away my meal accosts me but my grumbling belly reminds me I must be crazy to entertain such a thought this hungry night.

I begin to think of good things like how tastier my kicommando is going to be; the protein-filled beans together with the fresh chapatti that certainly will energise this broke bloke. Plus the soup is steaming hot leaving the germs no chance of inflicting harm when they are burnt to death.

My mind then wanders to how the name kicommando came to be. If it is from commando, a member of a military assault unit trained to operate quickly and deliver, especially in threatening situations then it's a super name and the best antidote to my hunger.

Later in my room, on the floor, I close my eyes and hurry through my kicommando at the end of which I feel full like a pregnant woman. I'm almost jumping into my bed when I get this creepy taste in my mouth. I rush outside and throw up. By now the toxin is ringing loudly.
Before I know it I'm holding my stomach painfully; the kicommando is strangling my intestines. I rush to the toilet and the whoosh warns me this must be cholera. The doctor is called, and it's another three days before I sigh with relief.

That's when I decide to end it. That's when I proclaim for all the world to hear - it's over - my rendezvous with the (in)famous kicommando!

--Daily Monitor, January 7, 2008

The Bachelorette

What do women really want? That's the question every avid follower of The Bachelorette that has been showing on NTV every Friday night, must have asked the moment Jennifer Schefft turned down Jerry's proposal. Surely this thing called love is overrated. Otherwise how could a girl, in desperate need of love be served a dish of 25 hunks and she still fails to find the one to call her love? 

The batch included two virgins (lift your glass to that), real estate moguls, ski instructors, lawyers, name it. And they were everything: good looking, muscled, witty, ambitious, funny and tall, but no thank you, according to Jen! 

It was a shattering experience for the ditched who saw Jen as the truly missing love in their lives. They pulled out all the stops: showered her with praise, bought flowers, serenaded her, Mark gave her a pendant and tempers flared as they fought to have time with her. They played basketball to see who makes more slam-dunks, raced to the towering Empire State Building and scribbled love notes detailing why they would make the best husband. And the lucky winners got a one-on-one date with her. 

Fabrice, the self-proclaimed romantic from Paris, who denied rumours he was gay, won the basketball game and an unforgettable kiss that had him tearing while on a date with Jen. Ryan's letter enchanted her the most. The two then popped champagne and shared a rousing kiss in a jacuzzi surrounded by tingling bubbles while the Empire State Building race winner, Wendell, used his time to make Jen laugh herself silly. 

Every week ended with an emotional rose ceremony in which Jen pinned a rose on the lapel of those with potential and the rest had to go. It hurt to watch Stu denied the rose. He so was smitten that he always seemed in a trance just in front of Jen. And David - dreading the prospect of stepping in Stu's shoes -fainted. Some said he wanted attention on national television but it was clear the pressure was unbearable. Then came tactless Jason. The 29-year-old had been saving his virginity for Jen and when he told her, she was unpleasantly shocked. And poor Jason didn't get the rose. 

Jen was enjoying herself with a raised axe. She chopped the initial 25 to 15, then 10 and 6. With the stakes high, Fabrice walked out on her: "I don't want to marry you now," he shocked her at one of the rose ceremonies, and wished her the best in her continued quest for true love. Jen consoled herself claiming Fabrice knew he wasn't getting the rose that night. The previous week she had reluctantly presented him the remaining rose, and Fabrice liking to be at the top of things, had had his ego bruised. 

His jealous counterparts may have called him "a jackass that says one thing and does another" but the unpredictable Fabrice was certainly smarter. He is the only one that was not forced out by Jen's rejection. The cameras loved him; he cried, he laughed and reminded one of Richard, the winner of the BBA II show.

Then Jen visited the homes of the four remaining bachelors. Ryan's mom was overwhelmed by her beauty, John Paul's asked her to choose her son saying she wouldn't regret while Wendell's mom had "the feeling Jen is not into Wendell the way Wendell is into Jen," and was proved right when her son was eventually booted.

"It's just too painful," cried Ryan just after he became the third last bachelor to be spurned. Interestingly, he had just been described by Jen as "adorable and too sweet!" He was still hurting when Jen toasted with the two finalists: John Paul and Jerry. "I came here to find a connection and I definitely found one. With Jerry, I felt the sparks from the beginning," she said, and went on spewing endearments about John Paul: "He has everything I want. He's truly amazing and has a great family." 

The last chance had come for the two bachelors to seduce Jen's heart. John Paul didn't waste words: "I've developed unconditional love for you completely," he said with a quiver in his voice. "Everyday I look into your eyes, I see my woman" and on his knees, he popped the question. 

"Oh God," he cried on being turned down. "It's crazy!" Jerry had earlier been interrogated by Jen's best friends but had refused to confess his love for her. Jen herself had reservations; said Jerry was all romance and no substance but was pleasantly surprised when Jerry uncased his love for her: "You make me feel weird, uncomfortable and then comfortable," he said. "I'm crazy about you, you amaze me." And seeing her melt like wax, he went for the kill: "My morals have been questioned [sigh]. What I feel about you has been questioned [sigh]." Then he promised to share everything in his soul with her and to "wear his heart on his sleeve." 

A delighted Jen kissed him passionately and said how he says things "cute and sweet". But when the dimpled art gallery director asked her to marry him, she turned down his offer claiming she felt they were better off as friends! 

Ironical, it was. Having laughed, cuddled, sensually kissed and even confessed to have developed feelings for the last six of her wooers, how then could she not pick her soul mate? 

It's hard to understand what women really want. Meanwhile Jennifer Schefft should enter the Guinness World Book of Records for leaving behind a trail of innumerable heartbreaks! 

--Daily Monitor, February 4, 2008

Book Review

Title: The Rose that Grew from Concrete
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

The Rose That Grew from Concrete is a collection of the poetry of slain African-American gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur written from 1989 to 1991 and published by Pocket Books in 2006.

The rhythm, rhyme and sheer brilliance of this work adds to the evidence that Tupac was not only a rapper but a literary genius as well.

In the preface, his mother, Afeni Shakur, says the poems "represent the process of a young artist'es journey to understand and accept a world of unthinkable contradictions."

Regardless of whether you admired Tupac or not, his poetry fills you with sadness and inspiration for the good reason that it's an honest outpouring.

Many of the poems are devoid of the vulgarity synonymous with the lyrics of his songs because they were written before he was hardened by getting shot at and doing time in prison.

There is a poem about the enduring spirit of the black woman, the tears of a teenage mother and one about crack titled U R Ripping Us Apart.

He wonders at the unfairness of it all when the rich and powerful prevail while the underprivileged strive through strife.

His desire for equality of all men is revealed in Family Tree when he notes: "Because we all spring/ From different trees /Does not mean/ We are not created equally…"

The Shining Star Within, dedicated to Marilyn Monroe, shows his rare gentleness: "…There was no compassion/ for this thriving star/ only exploitations/ and confused jealousy..."

Jada, dedicated to Jada Pinket, wife to Hollywood actor and rapper Will Smith, brims with love: "u R the omega of my heart/ The foundation 4 my conception of love/ when I think of what a Black woman should be/ it's u that I First think of…"

Some poems remind you of renaissance poet Claude McKay. He mentions Nelson Mandela and boasts that the blood of Malcolm X runs in his veins.

In How Can We Be Free, he writes with moving sincerity "…we must be blind as hell/ 2 think we live in equality/ while Nelson Mandela rots in a jail cell/ Where the shores of Howard Beach/ are full of Afrikan corpses…"

Highly philosophical and humorous is Liberty Needs Glasses, a poem that starts, "Excuse me but Lady Liberty needs glasses/ And so does Mrs Justice by her side…Justice stubbed her Big Toe on Mandela/And Liberty was misquoted by the Indians…take 'em both 2 Pen Optical/ and get 2 pairs of glasses."

Tupac writes with sensitivity and a touching candour that betrays his fears and passions in almost all the 72 poems. Most amazing is his ability to remain optimistic. He was the "young unaddicted Black youth with a dream" that, In The Event Of My Demise, talks of the countless things he wanted to accomplish before his death.

He was shot dead in 1996 aged 25 but he had by then recorded 12 very successful albums, appeared in six major films and written these poems – making him as the book title suggests –the rose that against all the odds grew from a crack in the concrete and breathed the fresh air.

These poems have a universal appeal and will teach you that whatever the circumstances people will - if they really want to -achieve.
--Sunday Monitor, March 2, 2008