The men sang. The women sang. The old sang. The young. The drums sang, and the insects sang, and the rain sang, and the endless sky and numberless stars and red dry cracked earth all sang. If you listened closely, even the dead sang. 

I spent eighteen years in Zimbabwe during a time of war and racism, reconciliation and failed reconciliation, poverty and drought and AIDS. And yet the voices were never stilled.

It was hard for me. I can barely sing in tune, and whenever there was singing (and there was always singing), I’d sit and smile and perhaps mouth a few words in Shona or English, too embarrassed to let anyone hear my sour tones.

‘Why aren’t you singing?’ a teenage girl finally asked during assembly on one of my school visits. ‘Do you need a songbook?’

‘I can’t sing,’ I said.

She stared at me, puzzled. ‘But of course you can, unless you’ve got a sore throat. Everyone has a voice.’

Everyone has a voice.

Ten years on I write fiction and make it available online for all to read. At the moment there is Mortal Ghost, a YA fantasy novel which I’m serialising in weekly instalments, and some short stories. Eventually there will be a second novel – part thriller, part SF/F hybrid, part love story – more short stories, and perhaps some poetry. Even a multimedia experiment is not unthinkable.

Books are wonderful, and there are excellent ones published every year. Publishing, however, is commercial, and many who write will never have the opportunity to disseminate their work. There is simply not enough money to go round. The internet offers to writers what amateur musicians have always enjoyed, a place to be heard; a place to share and to learn. Amateur, though often used disparagingly, can be of very high standard; where I live there are frequent concerts or recitals by musicians who have spent years developing their skills, many of whom studied music at university or conservatory but chose not to make it their career. And often there are cooperative ventures between professionals and amateurs. After all, the word amateur derives from the Latin amare, to love.

The advantages of the internet for a writer are not to be despised: independence from the marketplace, immediacy of critical response (analogous to open-access peer review), unlimited editing, collaborative and interactive projects, hypertextuality, the imaginative integration of graphics and sound, possibly – in time – new forms of fiction. And of utmost importance in our conflict-riddled world, words that cross borders without a passport.

I hope that the young schoolgirl survived the AIDS pandemic into adulthood. I hope that she completed her education and found a job and perhaps even has access to a computer with an internet connection. This is my way of thanking her. It would be wonderful if I could hear her story, and once more, her voice.

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5 thoughts on “I will always remember Africa singing

  1. Susan 14 years ago

    They’re right you know, Lee.  It’s wonderful writing.

  2. chiefbiscuit 14 years ago

    I have enjoyed catching up on what I’ve been missing . . . great writing – thanks!

  3. Lee 14 years ago

    Thanks, Kim and Clare. I’m not quite so sure, however. I tend to agree with my daughter – kitsch. One of the reasons I started this blog was to expose my weaknesses in order to learn to become more and more relentless with myself.

  4. clare 14 years ago

    Yes, beautiful post – and beautiful title.  Inspiring stuff.

  5. kimbofo 14 years ago

    This is a beautiful post, Lee. And you are so right about the wonders of the internet, how we can disseminate our work across the world — or at least that part of the world that has access to the world wide web.