The Jive Talker: Or, How to get a British Passport
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Samson Kambalu's father wore three-piece, London-made suits from the Sixties. He'd planned to be a doctor but settled for hospital administration and a peripatetic lifestyle with his ever expanding family in tow. He is 'the Jive Talker' of this extraordinary memoir - a man of thwarted ambition, boundless optimism and manic philosophising, he died of AIDS in 1995, bequeathing his son 'the Diptych' - an eclectic library of science, philosophy and English language classics a passion for words and a boundless imagination.
In this completely original, often subversive, book, Samson Kambalu writes of his childhood in Malawi, a country few are able to pinpoint on a map. As the family moves from feast to real poverty and deprivation, and back to plenty again, depending on their father's professional fortunes, we are introduced to life in a country in which no dissent is tolerated, where political opponents are 'disappeared' and a portrait of Life President Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda is always guaranteed to be watching. But this is also a country in which a little boy obsessed with books, girls, Nietzsche, fashion, football and Michael Jackson wins a free education at the Kamuzu Academy ('The Eton of Africa') and grows up to be one of England's most promising young conceptual artists. With dazzling prose, wicked humour and not a little bit of artistic licence, The Jive Talker opens the door to an Africa that is rarely written about.
Socrates, who spoke to me while flying around my face, his voice a deep constant buzz like that of an electric transormer: 'What if, some day or night, a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to
beans), which they did not know needed days to cook. A good number of the marauding warriors were poisoned to death while the survivors were disarmed by the creation of the British Protectorate of Nyasaland on 14 May 1891. Their exodus thus terminated, some of the Ngoni settled in Ntcheu District in a village they called Chingoni. When the Montfort Missionaries came to Chingoni Village in 1901 to establish the Roman Catholic Parish of Nzama, my maternal great-grandfather lost his land in a deal
tea that morning. He tried to mash the dessert up with his winder, but still did not like it, so he just held on to it until the waiter wrestled it away from him. Come afternoon it was the oral interviews. The three teachers who interviewed me, one of them French, asked me, among other things, what I wanted to be in the future. I replied, a doctor. 'What kind of doctor?' the fat one with teeth like a rabbit asked. A real doctor,' I said. There was laughter across the table and it worked: a
should have paid more attention to all his jive. This guy's refusal of metaphysical distancing sounded as if he had spent the night before with the Jive Talker. I felt revitalised and approached my chosen mask with outrageous enthusiasm. When the masks were ready, and the Gule Wamkulu steps mastered, we were taken to the bwalo for our debut performances. The village headman sat on a stool under a mango tree flanked by a rosy-cheeked anthropologist with an Apple laptop on his lap. I wondered if
into the night. On one of those nights, Mr Benard, the Greek teacher who liked to eavesdrop, heard us laughing at some lewd point and walked in. He put the light on and saw us lying on the bed, side by side in our boxer shorts – it was hot – my roommate fast asleep on the other bed. He put us in detention. I gathered later that he thought he'd witnessed a bundling scene and spread various rumours among the staff and prefects saying that I was queer. Eventually the whole school believed it. And