The Jive Talker: ‘Antelope’ sculptor dives deep into cultural and personal histories

‘When my Scottish fiancée and I decided to get married, the consul at the High Commission in Malawi asked me: “Are you marrying Susan to get a British passport?” My reply to that was deliberate. “Not really” I said. The consul regarded me for a moment and filled in “No.”

“The answer is NO, OK? The answer is NO,” he said.’

In the way only an artist could, Samson Kambalu delivers a story connecting the lines of history, literature, art and culture with his tender, personal memoir in The Jive Talker or How to Get a British Passport. Starting with his premature birth in Malawi and closing with the heart-breaking passing of his mother in 2002, Kambalu’s memoir weaves his truly original stories into an unforgettable memoir exploring love, survival, education, philosophy, and his connection to his parents. We are taken through the depths and details of his childhood experiences with malaria and the unruly gangs of anarchic kids that filled his hometown, then through his education and growth as an artist.

With a fast-talking intellectual father and a mini-skirted, convent-educated mother, Kambalu’s deep-rooted love for literature and philosophy is unmistakable, from Donne to Angelou. The art woven through the memoir’s pages become a beautiful way of feeling the author’s strong presence and personality throughout.

The Jive Talker was originally published in 2008 but is now being re-printed by September in anticipation of Kambalu’s statue ‘Antelope’, appearing on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square on 14th September 2022. Much like the book, ‘Antelope’ is a testament to art’s connection to history and Kambalu’s Malawi heritage, as it depicts the British missionary John Chorley and, on a more spectacular scale, the Malawian Baptist preacher John Chilembwe, leader of the Chilembwe uprising. In an interview with Frieze regarding the sculpture, Kambalu says:

‘I am against monuments, but I’m not opposed to monuments in the form of art. If you’re just complimenting power then, for me, that monument has no substance. It’s not so much that we have to do away with monuments, but that we have to bring art into them.’

His memoir follows the same principal — on the surface you have a story filled with humour, enigmatic characters and unforgettable charm, but also present is a powerful political and historical voice, and the feeling that his art and stories are infused with much more than you can initially see.

Praise for The Jive Talker:

‘A book filled with wonder, humour and hope. It is a magnificent achievement’

— Aminatta Forna, Sunday Telegraph

‘Read Kambalu, cry, clap your hands’

Iain Finlayson, The Times

Download an extract here.

The Jive Talker by Samson Kambalu is published on 4th August 2022 by September Publishing (9781914613180, p/b, £12.99)

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