MATHEWS KABAMBA, Kitwe
HAVING starred for the once popular Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) Ifyabukaya for over a decade, Joan Musonda is a queen of radio drama in her own right.
A ZNBC Radio One production, Ifyabukaya arguably ranked highly on the table of one of the most listened to radio dramas in both rural and urban areas before the proliferation of television.
All things being equal, the drama series had the reputation of some of the most popular local and international telenovelas and soap operas that have become a regular feature on TV today.
In the 90s, it was not uncommon to see families gathered around a small stereo listening to the weekly drama that usually depicted the daily occurrences in communities.
With the advent of TV and smart phones, Ifyabukaya is a fading memory from the past, the programme no longer commands the same audience as it did before the turn of the millennium.
“Things have changed now, it is not the same. I wish its influence on society had continued because it was an effective culture and moral preservation tool,” Joan says.
She says the programme captivated most of its listeners because the scripts were based on real life issues that families faced in most communities.
“We had most people in the communities writing to the producer about what is happening in their communities.
“Those situations that were intriguing and had good life lessons were scripted and we were given roles to play and make a production,” she recounts.
In the drama, Joan crafted herself a big reputation that saw her play double characters in most series.
Like most artistes that have graced the airwaves, Joan traces her acting roots to drama school clubs – her first public act was a leading role in a play that required her to act as a man.
According to the setting of her maiden play, after coming of age, a Mr Chanda [Joan] wanted to marry but was not interested in picking a life partner among the women in his village.
Chanda ventured into the neighbouring village to find his better half but was disappointed after being served a small portion of nshima at the house of a woman he had identified.
“I think it all started from there. In that play, there were no male students that wanted to play the role so I volunteered and we performed the play during Open Day at school,” she said.
Joan says parents and the audience were impressed with the manner she executed her role and encouraged her to take up acting more seriously. She would continue her acting until her major breakthrough.
Joan 70, started her education in 1954 at Kamitondo Primary School where she did her Sub A and B before doing her Standards One, Two and Three at Buseko Primary School in Kitwe.
She later proceeded to Mindolo Upper Primary School where she did her Standards Four and Six in 1964.
“After completing my Standard Six, I enrolled for a certificate course in Homecraft at Nazareth Homecraft College in Solwezi because I saw it necessary to have a trade,” she says.
On her return from Solwezi, Joan got married to Moses Musonda who had engaged her before she went to North – Western Province in 1964.
When it was accepted that marriage life would disturb her long term dream of acting on the biggest stage, Joan received a lifeline as her husband was her number one fan.
Not satisfied at being a full time housewife, she got employed at the Kitwe Municipal Council [now Kitwe City Council] as a community worker in charge of youth clubs in 1965.
For Joan, the community work with the local authority was just another platform where she could further her long term desire.
An adamant follower of the Ifyabukaya programme then, it really never dawned on Joan that she will one day become a leading actress the drama series she followed as a fan.
“Given my acting background, I was a strong critic for the way the cast on the programme used to execute their roles. I felt they did little to evoke emotions of the listeners.
“What used to happen is that when I am seated with my family listening to the programme, I would correct the mistakes and my husband used to laugh at me,” she says.
As luck would have it, Penias Tembo – a ZNBC Nyanja section producer at the time visited Joan’s youth club for a project he was working on, and that was the breakthrough for her.
“When the Mr Tembo came to the office, I told him to tell Mr Mwansa Kapeya, the main producer that I wanted to be part of the programme because I could add value.
“I seized the opportunity to tell him that I was not impressed with some of the actors and that I would improve the programme if I joined them as a cast,” she said.
Mr Tembo was gracious enough to deliver the message to Mr Kapeya, who in turn gave Joan an opportunity to audition for the programme.
In 1974, Joan joined the cast and played various roles on the programme.
She was only 26 when she started rubbing shoulders with some of the astitute members of the cast such as late Joseph Kabwe, Christine Silungwe, Christen Kabanshi and Davies Ponda among others.
Being one of the few surviving members of that crew, Joan looks back with a sense of satisfaction to have been part of the team that once ruled the airwaves with their act.
She has fond memories of her time as an actor and hails her late husband for being supportive of her demanding career.
“I never had any issues with my husband, even if I am playing a role that required me to address other men as ‘dear’ or ‘sweetheart’. He understood my job,” she says.
Her stint on the programme opened up other opportunities such as having a part time job as a continuity announcer for the ZNBC Bemba section at the Kitwe Studios.
A devoted Catholic, Joan also had a stint with Radio Ichengelo where she produced and presented various vernacular programmes.
Outside acting, Joan was a trained first aider who rose through the ranks to become a first aid instructor for the Red Cross Society.
Stemming from a background that preached a high level of moral standards among young people, Joan notes with sadness the current slump in morals among the youth.
She attributes young people’s appetite for illicit activities to a combination of factors among them poor family values and lack of recreation facilities in communities.
Recently, Kitwe has seen the spurring levels of teenage gangs – for Joan, young delinquents resort to crime because the mining town is a shadow of what it used to be in terms of recreation facilities.
“For every child to grow in a respectable manner, there is need for a certain environment around them. I am saddened when I see young children involved in all these bad acts.
“In our days, it was easy to stay away from vices because there was too much to do. That is how some of us even discovered our talent – these days it is not happening,” she says.
A mother of nine, Joan lost her husband in 1994 after being poisoned.
She advises young people to prioritise education in all their endeavours.