My earliest memory of listening to Papa Wemba takes me to when I was 10. Mum and I sat on a mat outside our house in Arua. The vast compound on which I played football with the kids from the neighbourhood was green with the exception of one spot that was clear. It’s where we played “Tich” (or dulu,) a game in which we would hit the opponent’s stone or nuts with our own bicycle nuts. It was on that compound that I learned to ride a bike two years earlier.
My friend Moses – whom we called Mos – allowed me to learn using his bike. The bike’s brakes were loose and out of control.
Mos briefed me. He told me how the pedals worked, showed me how to turn the bike to change direction, pulled the brakes to give an indication on what I’d need to do to bring the machine to a halt.
I told him his instructions were clear.
I got on the bike, started well, pedalled my way in a zig zag with no control over my speed. Mos ran after me in an attempt to save me from an accident.
“Hold the brakes and place your feet on the ground,” he shouted.
“How should I do that?”
“By lowering your feet to the ground.”
I lost control. There was only one destination for me. The garden. I crashed into our maize garden, got cuts on my arms, a bruise on my shin, soil in my hair. I didn’t feel any pain. Got up like a solid young man ready to hit the ground running again. I climbed back on that bike and tried another time. I did it over and over. It clicked.
I got the hang of working my foot on the pedal. I figured out how to control the handle, how to turn the bike away from the garden, and to stop it with my feet on the ground when the brakes couldn’t help. I didn’t want to return Mos’ bike. He took it after I’d learnt that day.
Mum nodded to the music from our radio. My brother Christopher walked across the compound, drooling, picking up stones to throw at birds that sat on the tree growing out of the anthill in our garden.
Our red radio was tuned to 87.8 Paidha FM. It sat on a shelf that had albums with a few of my late dad’s photos.
Papa Wemba’s Sai Sai was on the speakers. The rumba and afro jazz in that song got mum tapping her feet. She was moving her shoulders, swaying her head to the beat. The bars in the rap section brought a hiphop feel to the song. And to finish it, the tempo changed with the groovy Congolese guitar that gets you on your feet, dancing with your waist and back side. Mum smiled through the song. She felt it in her skin.
The beauty of that song and how it made mum feel got stuck in my mind.
As I made my dinner last night, I played Papa Wemba in the background.
I marinated the beef with black pepper, red pepper, salt and a meat seasoning. I cut onions and carrots. I like the appealing orange color carrots give to food. I cut green paper, garlic and mushrooms.
The mushrooms were a leftover from a recipe I had experimented with the day before. I had baked mushrooms, minced meat, cream and dried onion at 200°C for 50 minutes. The end product looked like a burnt cake and tasted like a concoction of salty peanuts soaked in yoghurt. I ate it all because I’m not in the business of wasting experiments. It had no negative repercussions to my tummy. I’ll keep trying these random recipes.
Six Millions Ya Ba Soucis soothed my background. I hummed a long to Yolele and Show Me the Way.
I poured oil in a pan, brought it to a steaming place, added the beef in hot oil, stirred, covered and left it to fry. I added all that I’d cut to the saucepan.
Blessure filled my house. Mr. Wemba – may he rest in peace – took me to my pre-teen years. I moved my feet on the wooden floor. Swayed my shoulders the way mum did almost two decades ago.
I added tomato paste and reduced the heat under the pan. Left it to slow cook for 20 minutes.
I was pleased with what I made. Ate it with Basmati rice as Papa Wemba entertained.