Some are blessed with friends who keep them informed on the latest fashion trends by forwarding Fashion-Alert emails. My celeb obsessed friends feed each other’s hunger for the latest gossip by tweeting each other Bossip and Huffington Post articles. I on the other hand have been blessed with a friend who not only keeps me grounded but ensures that every time I assert that I am African it is backed with evidence. (kudos to you friend you know who you are)
Last February, i.e Feb 2009, this “friend” sent a moving email that not only inspired me but also humbled me in the process. This was my first encounter with the musical group Liyana. Being a native of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe I had as a child had the opportunity to volunteer alongside my mum and her friends at King George VI School or as it is known KG6 School. However I had not heard of Liyana. Liyana is a musical band made up of 8 talented musicians with Prudence Mabhena as the lead musician. Liyana which means “it rains” is a significant name for this group as all its members face a physical disability. As most know rain is a gift from God; at least in a place like Matabeleland which has experienced severe droughts in the past.
Since February of 2009 I have followed the group in the news, papers, their tour across the US. It was with great pride and joy when I read that a short documentary about the group had been nominated for an Oscar. I sat through the entire Oscar night show waiting for that special moment. Then it came the nominees for the Best Short Documentary and “Music by Prudence” won the Oscar. I was giddy! I was more that excited…Finally something good highlighting Zimbabwe. Then it happened- the Kanye-moment. The Director of the documentary Roger Ross Williams went up to accept the award and from nowhere appeared the brash Elinor Burkett who interjected his acceptance speech and rambled on until the two had to exit the stage.
Elinor Burkett who is said to have “discovered” the group and introduced Williams to the idea of making a documentary on the group. Initially Williams launched the documentary as “iThemba” (Hope) and this documentary was going to focus on the entire group, however he later changed the direction of the documentary to tell the story through Prudence and titled it Music by Prudence. This created the conflict between Burkett and Williams. Burkett wanted the story to be about the entire group. I have not studied film nor do I claim to know about the art of telling a story through a lense but I somehow supported Burkett’s view. It was wrong to highlight one musician in the group because the success of the entire project was through the efforts of all the members. Although this seemed slightly unfair I am under the view that Burkett failed to see the final picture. Her actions on Oscar Night proved that her anger was not motivated by the exclusion of the other 7 members but rather that she did not have her way.She seemed riled up that she discovered the group therefore she should have had the final decision on the direction of the documentary.
Burkett who is an author and divides her time between New York and Zimbabwe maintains a website which was last updated November 2009. Additionally in her most recent posts she writes about summer vacations and fails to mention Zimbabwe; which if you live there would know boasts of great tourist destinations. The ramblings of Burkett, her former book title “So Many Enemies, So Little Time”, her obvious neglect for Zimbabwe and its monuments leads one to really question the sincerity of this woman and her intentions with the group Liyana.
Williams may have taken a risky angle with the documentary but he helped make the dreams of a young woman once rejected and despised by her family into more than a reality she dreamed of. Today Liyana has become more than just another group from Zimbabwe but an award-winning group. At the end of the day whether the documentary was titled Music by Prudence or iThemba, it has made the rest of the world aware of this phenomenal group of young people.
The change in direction of the documentary was a necessary evil. Though unplanned the Kanye-moment by Burkett did more for drawing focus to the documentary than any press release could have done. Kanye West upstaged Taylor Swift and she went on to win 4Grammy awards. Burkett ruins Williams award acceptance speech hopefully this will equal huge publicity for Liyana in the near future.
Thank you Roger Ross Williams for telling Prudence’s Story…thank you oh so MUCH Elinor Burkett the world needs more abrasive redhead’s like yourself!
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing; it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”-