While working for the Butte Arts Monthly publication, I developed a writing exercise where I replied to a Nigerian 419 scammer to see how long they would email me back before giving up. It was an improv typing exercise to nimble the fingers and the wit.
A day or two after conducting one of those exchanges, I found a letter from an African Prince in the KBMF station page Facebook messages. I stretched my fingers and went to town on him, both as the KBMF Music Director, and the Interim Mayor of Buttetropolis (the original exchange can be found here: https://politicsasunusual.tumblr.com/post/150367743234 )
Prince Siboniso Zulu claimed that he was the Station Manager for Nongoma FM, and wanted to do cultural exchange for tourism and business. He showed me their Facebook page. I showed him the Dark Sevier: Interim Mayor of Buttetropolis Facebook page.
Every week from the 1 st day of the station going on the air The Clark and Dark Show aired 10pm to midnight on Thursdays. Generally we would pick a theme, then weave related music and discussion around it. I took screen shots of the dialogue with the Prince and posted it to the Clark and Dark Facebook page to announce that week’s topic: “The Zulus: Who are they and what are they doing?”
The Prince said he wanted to do a programming exchange between the stations, and maybe even a DJ exchange. He told me that he wanted to broadcast an hour of the Clark and Dark Show to his listening audience this coming Thursday. Uh, huh.
I figured I would try to scam the scammer. I said “Sure, We’ll do a Zulu hour on the show” while googling the Zulu’s, their history, their music, past and present. I produced an opening intro to the Zulu hour, with quotes from “Coming to America” and lion roar SFX. As we got closer to the show, I ramped up the Buttetropolitan trans-dimensional rhetoric, and invented mythology. The Prince entertained my version of reality with politeness and diplomacy, and continued to dialogue.
At the station’s weekly staff meeting (consisting of Clark and Dark), the Station Manager showed me that the Zululand Governmental website listed Nongoma FM as a real thing, and he showed me that Prince Siboniso Zulu was the Station Manager. And I learned, weirdly, their station took to the airwaves on the same day and the same year as ours. And I learned that I was an asshole.
I immediately messaged the Prince and apologized for my behavior. He told me it was fine, fine, and of course he was aware of the 419/African Prince scam. Then he sent me a list of unpronounceable Honorable figureheads that I should greet at the beginning of our broadcast, including the Honorable King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu of the Zulu Nation. What The Fuck.
Ok. Suddenly I’m the scammer and I have to learn some isiZulu. And I had invited him to come stay with me, when I thought it wasn’t real…
In the first hour of the Clark and Dark show I walked the audience through the whole exchange, including the parts about Reptilian Politicians, human sacrifices to the Berkeley Pit, and the War between the Butte Miners and the Illuminati over the Gold buried deep in the mines beneath KBMF, now filled with toxic water just shy of battery acid. Some of that is true.
I fear I offended the Prince when I posted our private chats publicly, so I wanted to contextualize everything for the audience leading up to the Zulu hour.
We are almost antipodal from each other on the surface of the Earth. I knew nothing of the Zulus, and the United States (is that the same as America?) was a vague concept for him and he was looking to ask questions: “What is your economy like? How does your government work? Do you celebrate Christmas there?“ Suddenly I was an unlikely Ambassador between Butte, America and the Zulu Nation. And the power of Community Media.
We went LIVE in South Africa at 11PM Montana Time, 7AM Nongoma Time, to 70,000 bewildered audience members of a 30% English/70% isiZulu language, community education, radio station. We spoke isiZulu badly. And it was a hit.
I made a playlist of traditional Zulu music, contemporary Zulu music, and things tagged #Zulu on BandCamp. Our audience were the radio listeners in and around Nongoma, and the terrestrial listeners of our 100 watt station in Butte, AND the potential global audience listening to KBMF’s live audio stream on the web (which is how the Prince says he discovered KBMF in the first place). We reflected to our audience what we had learned about the Zulus from the internet. Then I played the funkiest shit I had come across in the last year as Music Director.
After we turned off the mics, I walked home and still wasn’t 100% convinced that we were on the radio in Zululand. I opened up my computer to check the Clark and Dark Facebook page. Our page interaction had jumped 32,000 %. Suddenly it became real.
The second hour of our Thursday night show was part of the Nongoma FM Friday morning show for a couple of months. I started the NongomButte Facebook page and Zulu’s and Buttetians began a cultural exchange that continues to this day. This was in September of 2016.
Then we planned the Zulu Summer. The radio station found $3000 in their anemic budget and rented a house for 3 months in the Summer of 2017. Three representatives of Nongoma FM and the Zulu Nation arrived in Butte in late May, Prince Siboniso Zulu, Nkokhelo Msomi, and Mokai Malope.
I was an ambassadorial soccer mom without the minivan. Station volunteers and radio listeners rallied to furnish the house with a hodgepodge of furniture and kitchen supplies. We had a potluck and the Zulus met the station community. I made a calendar and people took dates to host the visitors and show them their version of Montana. Rafting, hiking, tours of local schools, a tour of the mine, many dinners in the dining rooms of the locals.
I had the honor of introducing the Zulu Nation to the Crow Nation. The Lieutenant Governor welcomed them personally to Montana. They shook hands with Bernie Sanders on his first presidential campaign tour.
Three months after the Zulus returned home, four of us from KBMF made a 6 week trip to South Africa.
A sweet documentary was made, called Zulu Summer, that highlights some of the beautiful moments of that initial trip. The Zulus, in various configurations, have returned three times since.