Remembering Patrick Chisembele

Friday Ballad with BALLAD ZULU
THERE was a time in Zambia when modelling your music career around established musical artistes was the norm.There were many James Brown imitators. For instance, the late Jeff Mulenga and the Explosives mentioned to me how James Brown influenced him. He even modelled some of his dance moves around James Brown.
Jeff managed to carve out a music career that was vastly removed from James Brown with his Explosives band. His “Journey to Kasama” album is an all-time classic.
Then there was Ackim Simukonda. When he was a cabaret artiste at Ridgeway Hotel (now Southern Sun), he played covers of many artistes but was the master of playing songs by Billy Ocean and Lionel Ritchie.
In fact, “All Night Long” by Lionel Ritchie was like his own song. He even performed it on ZNBC television. His album recorded in the UK was a soul disco album that reeked Lionel Ritchie and Billy Ocean, vastly removed from his “Chipondo Chandi” version of himself.
But almost forgotten by Zambians at large is one Patrick Chisembele. His rise to fame in Zambia was his being Zambia’s answer to Michael Jackson. The version of Michael Jackson from the “Thriller” album.
He certainly did look like Michael Jackson. But he mastered Michael Jackson’s dance moves and was a darling of many discos in Lusaka. When Michael Jackson started getting plastic surgery, I used to wonder if Patrick would also undergo those expensive procedures.
Patrick joined the Great Witch band in the early eighties when the Witch underwent a music direction change. The Witch abandoned their Zamrock sound and were now embracing the disco sound.
Patrick fronted the hit song from the Witch’s 1984 “Kuomboka” album, “Jah Let the Sun Shine”. Strangely, it was not a disco song but a reggae song. The Witch disbanded shortly after the “Kuomboka” album project. Patrick, still looking like Michael Jackson, embarked on a solo career.
And he was a pretty decent live performer.
Patrick went through a personality change of sorts in the early 90s. He embarked on recording new songs using a different name. He now started calling himself Bolingo. He was now a Rastafarian of sorts. His new songs did not capture the Zambian public’s attention much.
Born in Ndola, April 1963, Patrick picked up the arts at a very tender age. As early as three years old, he was already toddling about in the home to rhumba tracks and bubble gum pop songs.
It was no coincidence that one of his uncles nicknamed him ‘Bolingo’ after one popular hit rhumba song of the 70s.
At primary school, Patrick was into mimicry of his schoolteachers, popular musicians and television personalities but his serious music inclination began unfolding at secondary school.
It was at Munali Boys that he linked up with Patrick Chona with whom he formed a twosome dance and singing set – The PCs. The duo danced at parties and teen time variety shows and at one time appeared on television miming to David Joseph’s disco hit “You Can’t Hide Your Love from Me”.
In those days of disco craze, he became a phenomenon at disco dancing and won many prizes. Sporting a wet look hairstyle and dark glasses he became popularly known as the Michael Jackson of Zambia, and why not? ‘Wako Jacko’ was one of his main sources of inspiration with the other being traditional dancer Wycliff Rudaka.
When he completed his Form Five in 1981, Patrick Chisembele had greater things in showbiz beckoning him.
The ‘Great’ Witch had already spotted his talents and it was only natural for them to recruit him. By then, the group had a project in the name of the album ‘Moving On’. Patrick did backing vocals together with songbird Masauko Mwale, Christine Jackson from Zimbabwe and The Rusike Brothers.
Whilst promoting the disco oriented album, the WITCH camped at Ceaser’s Palace in Luanshya. But it was the second disco project ‘Kuomboka’ that catapulted Patrick Chisembele’s musical exploits to greater heights. He penned three tracks for the project and two were picked for the album. There was “I Can Do Without You” and “Jah Let the Sun Shine” which became an instant hit as soon as it hit the airwaves.
This stomping disco/ reggae fusion sent disco houses agog. The lyrics of the song carry a prayerful message to the almighty Jah to let his light pour down on humanity for the sake of peace, love and harmony. When the Witch disbanded in the mid-80s, Patrick went solo.
(The article continues next week)
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