Sunday, February 19, 2012

Goodbye Whitney

She had one of the most beautiful voices ever. She conveyed the emotions that her songs portrayed, so well, that the listener feels it deep inside. Such was the kind of connection that fans of Whitney Houston felt whenever her songs were played. Besides that, she was so beautiful and had the most charming of smiles.

As she is laid to rest, the world would miss a star-musician, actress, model, producer and one who many turned to the lyrics of her songs for solace and inspiration. Her music enabled many of us to have faith in ourselves. Those who were heartbroken found some comfort in her songs. The messages were uplifting and positive and taught us to believe in our dreams and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Houston was among the greatest singers of the 1980s and 1990s. She grew up surrounded by gospel and soul music legends like Franklin and Warwick. Her landmark hits brought R&B and gospel touches into pop music’s mainstream.After her debut, her popularity grew exponentially with her second album, “Whitney” (1987), with all four singles - “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional”, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” - hitting No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Whitney was a trail blazer.In the 1980, at a time when MTV(Music Television) was gaining grounds, it received harsh criticism for not playing enough videos by black artists. With Michael Jackson breaking down the color barrier for black male artists, Houston did the same for black female artists. Whitney Houston became the first black female artist to receive heavy rotation on the network following the success of the "How Will I Know" video. This opened doors for more female black artistes.Her 30-year career that peaked with her 1992 signature hit “I Will Always Love You” paved the way for a generation of singers that followed her.

According to the Guinness Book of records, Houston was the most awarded female artist of all time, with two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, among a total of 415 career awards as of 2010. She held the all-time record for the most American Music Awards of any female solo artist and shared the record with Michael Jackson for the most AMAs ever won in a single year with eight wins in 1994.Houston won a record 11 Billboard Music Awards at its fourth ceremony in 1993. She also had the record for the most WMAs won in a single year, winning five awards at the 6th World Music Awards in 1994.

Whitney Houston also excelled as an actress, acting in, The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale and Preacher's Wife. Her first acting role was as the star of the feature film The Bodyguard (1992). The film's original soundtrack won the 1994 Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Its lead single "I Will Always Love You", became the best-selling single by a female artist in music history. With the album, Houston became the first act (solo or group, male or female) to sell more than a million copies of an album within a single week period.

From America to Asia to Australia to Europe and her roots, Africa, Whitney Houston's music brought joy to many. The musician, who started by singing in her church choir as a little girl and teenager was mentored by her mother, also a singer(gospel), Cissy Houston; and influenced by her cousins, Dionnie and Deedee Warwick and her adopted aunt, singer, Aretha Franklin.

Whitney, like all of us was not perfect, she faced various challenges like alcoholism, drugs and difficult relationships and marriage. She lived through them and was honest and genuine in the face of it. She died at a time many thought she was getting back on track.

Music was her life. Though her life was cut short at 48, while her music career blossomed, she was on top of her game. Her music lives on. She utilized her talent to the fullest and her passion for what she did was legendary, of which the records she set and the numerous awards she won testifies.

Goodbye Whitney!

Picture, courtesy: MTV,, bellanaija,

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Magical Chipolopolo of Zambia

Right from the onset of the 2012 Confederation of African Football(CAF), African Cup of Nations(AFCON) hosted by Equitorial Guinea and Gabon, followers of African football can attest to zeal and commitment of the 'Chipolopolo,' the Zambian national team. Though they played good football but many lovers of African football never believed that the uncolourful side, lacking big players and stars would make it to the finals of the competition not to talk of lifting the trophy; outwitting the tournament favourites, Ghana and Ivory Coast who are strong forces in African football.

Like their name, 'chipolopolo' which means copper bullets.The Zambian players who are little known, except for their long standing dedicated captain, Chris Katongo(Most Valuable Player of the 2012 AFCON), pelted the Ghanain and Ivorian teams with bullets, even 'shooting out' the biggest African players such as Asamoah Gyan, John Mensah, Didier Drogba and current African footballer of the year, Yaya Toure in the semi-finals and finals of the competition. The Zambian footballers had played together for several years, the likes of Chris Katongo, Kennedy Mweena, Joseph Musonda, Rainford Kalaba, Clifford Mulenga and others having played in the last four CAF African Nation's cup.This enabled them to understand themselves and play as a team instead of appearing as a disjointed side with players of individual brilliance.

Indeed, this underdog players proved book makers and analysts wrong. They do not need to be playing top-flight football in Europe and parade six figure earning players who have won many laurels before they can get to the top of African football.

While their story is a testimony of dedication, determination and a 'never say never spirit,' the pains that entire Zambian nation felt in April, 1993 after they lost a generation of promising footballers of the national team in an air crash soon after the air craft conveying 30 passengers including 18 players exploded after taking off from a stop in the Gabon capital of Libreville en route a world cup qualifying game with Senegal. 19 years after, the memories of the huge loss was still at the back of the mind of Zambians including the chipolopolo players, many of whom were school boys when the sad event occurred.

Zambia played all three group games, plus its quarterfinal and semifinal of the 2012 AFCON in Equatorial Guinea. They needed to get to the finals in order to play in Libreville, Gabon, just miles away from the spot where they lost their 1993 squad.

“There was just something about it,” goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene said. “With the tournament being here in Gabon we wanted to take part to honor those who were lost to our country. That made it extra special.”

“We could only get to Libreville by reaching the final, so we did it,” Coach Herve Renard told the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson after an upset 1-0 win against Ghana in the semifinal. “There is something written that we have to go to play to honor the memories of the Zambia national team that died in 1993. It was catastrophic for the nation. The 12 million people of Zambia are waiting for us to go back to Libreville; immediately after we arrive, we will go to the place.”

And the Chipolopolo of Zambia, not only played in the finals of the 2012 AFCON in Libreville, Gabon; they took out time to visit the site of the 1993 crash, said prayers, laid flowers and derived some strength. To cap it all they lifted the the trophy of the competition that shows the best of African football. They wiped the tears their nation shed 19 years ago by tenaciously playing out their hearts on the pitch and wining after a penalty shoot out with Ivory Coast.

“This is magical, magical,” yelled striker Emmanuel Mayuka, one of only two Zambian players to ply his trade in Europe. The players knelt down forming a circle, sang praises and offered a prayer of thanksgiving immediately after they emerged victorious in the penalty shootout. Coach Renard carried injured Joseph Musonda in his arms from the sides and placed him beside other players to join in the prayers. Musonda shed tears when substituted in the early minutes of the finals after he sustained an injury. It was the most important game in his long standing career.

The players celebrated and hugged their mentor and 1993 veteran Kalusha Bwalya(the only member of the 1993 squad whose life was spared because he chose to fly from his base to join the squad for the game before the ill-fated air crash), now president of the nation’s soccer federation.

In one of the most touching moments of the final, Zambian coach Hervé Renard gave his winners medal to Zambian FA president Kalusha Bwalya. The Football Association of Zambian(FAZ) president, Kalusha Bwalya had implemented a long term vision, poling players from the under 20 and Under 23 sides to form the core of players of the future. He was undaunted by first round eliminations in the 2006 and 2008 AFCON. Today, his original four year plan for success has paid off.

Goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene of Free State Stars in South Africa, strikers Emmanuel Mayuka of Swiss side Young Boys and CAF Player of the tournament Christopher Katongo from Henan FC in China were named into the team. TP Mazemba defender, Stoppila Sunzu was also named in the team. Mayuka also won the 2012 Africa Cup top scorers award on three goals based on assists.

The Zambian national football team moved 23 places up in the current Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) ranking to the 43rd in the world and 4th in Africa behind Ivory Coast, Ghana and Algeria.

Indeed the victory of the Chipolopolo of Zambia would remain one of those magical moments in African football.

Picture, courtesy: Associated Press