Masters and disruptive innovators

Tinashe Muchuri

Tinashe Muchuri

Stanely Mushava Literature Today

Muchuri explores inordinate greed and taking of power over the defenceless by society’s privileged. Most of the problems in the novel are caused by the worship of money and power.

Book: Chibarabada

Author: Tinashe Muchuri

Publisher: Bhabhu Books (2015)

ISBN: 978-0-7974-6439-1

Tinashe Muchuri signs into the league of disruptive innovators with his new novel, “Chibarabada.”

The accomplished debut from the award-winning journalist, themed after an illicit one-day brew, is an aggregation of potent devices.

The title “Chibarabada” (not to be confused with that other dancehall chant) is a Shona expression for rapid movement and, as pertinent to the context, a name for the shebeen concoction.

A society set adrift by purposelessness, injustice, materialism, hedonism, and the diversionary spell of “chibarabada,” which is the material of this ambitious novel which easily stakes a claim among the country’s millennial notables.

Muchuri, visibly out to extend the creative territory of the Shona novel, combines folk art, alternating narrative modes and stream of consciousness to eccentric effects.

The author, however, indulges his esoteric tendency to a fault, dragging down the reader’s flip rate, in some cases provoking doubt given that the novel is set to a child narrative.

While the author’s mastery of the Shona lore is a plausible plug-in for the internal monologues, it comes across as laboured when assigned to everyday conversations, especially the child’s moralistic homilies to wayward elders.

Muchuri compensates for this tendency with a plot that appeals the reader’s humanity. Shingi, the heroine of the story, is a rejected orphan who lives at a dumpsite on the outskirts of the city.

The juxtaposition of a child whose innocence is violated by gross injustice and cheated out of her inheritance and space in society by her scheming relatives may rewire a few readers’ attitude towards children on the street.

It is easy to pack everyone into regular demographics, often as informed by prevailing prejudice, but Muchuri compels readers to stop assuming, gives a voice to the underdog and levels an indictment against a society which sways with power and privilege.

“Oppressors of the innocent will be wanderers in the wilderness, mountains and unfamiliar refuges in vain search for rest. They will be called demons,” Muchuri’s “street kid” prophesies.

The heroine learns the economics of survival on the fringe of society, among hardened criminals, and is subsequently arrested when her act of compassion for an abandoned baby is turned against her.

Much of the action takes place at the “rabu”, colloquial Shona for “dumpsite” where the vagabonds live on retrievables from city garbage.

It is compelling to conclude from Muchuri’s thread that for every child on the street, there is a dysfunctional family and a cold community in the background.

Muchuri’s theme has been the material of emotive art, notably Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Street Kid” and his namesake “Oliver Twist”.

Notwithstanding ethical parallels, the world according to Muchuri is a dark hovel without rhyme and reason.

The lamppost in that dark hovel is the resilience of the human spirit under the boot of the oppressor.

The child never loses her pride even as hunger digs her inside and forces her to live in the dump like a mouse, to import Lt Stitchie’s rendering of his own “Real Life Story”.

Muchuri explores inordinate greed and taking of power over the defenceless by society’s privileged. Most of the problems in the novel are caused by the worship of money and power.

Although his novel breaks away from tradition according to the old masters, its drift is not so much experimental but representative of the new establishment.

The Shona novel can be tentatively classified into two phases, to import Piketty-dating from popular economics.

BC is before Charles Mungoshi, that period when the old masters romanticised about a golden past and lamented distortion of the ancient landmarks in the destabilising trail of modernity, often with a didactic finish.

Mungoshi shook things up with a new kind of novel which framed the same concerns in a more life-like frame, disruptive and dislocated, as if the novel is an aggregation of tortured brain scans.

New writers, writing AD, after the disruption of “Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura”, take eccentricity to scale, a reflection of their progressively degenerating society.

“The sun has set, where do we sleep? I cannot hear what you say. You cannot hear what I say. In this jungle, where do we sleep? We be must drunk, O we are drunk! Yes, we are drunk,” the song heard by Mungoshi one night casts a drunken singer’s spell on the subsequent generation of Shona novelists.

Thereafter, ambitious works such as Ignatius Mabasa’s “Mapenzi” and “Imbwa Yemunhu” are also anatomies of a society in spiritual meltdown and madness is taken to scale.

In a 2014 interview for this column, accomplished literary critic Prof George Kahari indicated that the experimental breakaway was a necessary dare for the growth of the Shona novel.

“The new novelists are improving by the day. They are challenging the predominant way of expressing oneself in one way,” Prof Kahari said.

Succinctly put, the new code insists that disorder is truer to life than order. It may take another dare to break out of it as young writers, storming the arena after the second generation revolt, readily identify with it.

“Whereas the old writers used to write chronologically, in a predictable way as in the folk-tale, the new writers are exploiting more enabling techniques to capture their world artistically – talk of stream of consciousness, in medias res …” said Prof Kahari.

“They imitate social reality in ways they find more compelling for the particular case, from the middle, back and forth; they have stopped going from start to finish… They depart from the sarungano’s reference to a detached setting and forcefully relive the reader through the contemporary,” he said.

Now enter Muchuri with his aggregation of tortured brain scans. He comes aboard equally under the spell of Mungoshi’s drunken singer.

In fact, drunken singers, Tino and Meno, the imbibers of “chibarabada”, are a regular feature of the sub-plot.

There two mafia-run the dumpsite and claim daily fees for everyone who comes to eke out a livelihood there, “matasangana” for turning up at the dumpsite and “matagarika” for continuing at the site.

For all the sustained oddities which run the tapestry of the story, Muchuri never veers away from real life.

Mafia administration was blamed for the destruction of the Glen View Home Industry Complex last year, when an industry of such a scale was supposed to be the business of the council. It is also the order of the day among illegal settlers and artisanal miners.

The two drunken singers who are richly versed in folk art are not to be ignored, as Alick Macheso implies elsewhere. Some of their stories speak to the very space we inhabit on multiple levels.

One of the more pertinent folk tales in the book is the story of the “The Woman, the Lion and the River” told by the heroine’s mother. The storyteller laments mankind’s insensitive conquest of nature which is now backfiring globally in the form of climate change.

 Stanely Mushava blogs at upstreamafrica.blogspot.com

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