I wanted to write about someone who inspired me and who was alive at the time of my writing. Franck Matamba is that unsung hero. Upon reading this, he will probably curse me and wonder why I make it a habit if not a job to make ‘such a fuss about nothing’. I will simply answer that, for the strength that I needed to pursue my dreams, he meant everything.
The burden of expectations takes its toll at our most vulnerable (most likely around puberty, so-called middle-life ‘crisis’, etc.). At that point, a person decides either to fight every battle to claim the right to live and lead their own life; or they accept that “resistance is futile” and let themselves be assimilated by the fear of losing the protection of their familiars (family, government…) over the surely trivial matter of having control over one’s own life. Either decision ‘to be or not to be’, is not easy. Both require the highest sacrifices: either losing oneself or losing those around you.
It is the latter that my hero, Franck, chose, with the knowledge that only those who will trust and truly love him will come back to him. He made his way, away from the assumptions of his heritage to follow his dream and experience his own life and learn his own lessons. Since before I even knew him, sport was his passion. And twenty years down the line, I see him wallowing in the clouds of that dream, continuing to want more, not just for himself, but also and without any bitterness, for the children and youth he nurtures to give them the support that he did not have when he needed it the most, at the beginning.
We know that our family’s emotional blackmail is only the first hurdle. Once we are living our dream, the intrinsic obstacles of the field itself will erect at every stage to make us doubt ourselves. I have had those doubts when the very occasional gig did not go as planned, finding the right producer took what felt like forever or the only record labels that came through wanted to make my music more ‘commercial’, all almost trying to beat me out of my passion and into so-called normality, no doubt a ‘proper’ 9 to 5 job. Life itself throws distractions at us, such as the financial blackmail of recurring bills, the emotionally and/or financially extorting partners and the ever-demanding offspring motivated by peer pressure, which in themselves are clearly enough to blur the most determined path. Then I think of Franck…
There is no doubt that music and I have always had a strong relationship. Like sport is Franck’s, music is my way of expressing myself, from songwriting to performing, from music research to radio, from singing to dancing. I have seen how music has been a means for many other people too. although I have learnt that ultimate goals may differ: it therefore became important for me to be clear about the reasons why I was doing music and what I was trying to express, in order to stay true to myself against the obstacles of the industry itself and in order to chose the right partners to assist me in this. Like Franck, I learnt to respect money for its undoubtful place in the world we live in, to afford life and some of the financially demanding whims of our passions. However, I believed what I had perceived from him, to refuse to accept money as a measure of our worth (the currency of talent), and anything it buys as a measure of our progress or evolution.
As I sit at my office desk (replacing a previous night job) thinking of all similar sacrifices that Franck and other people like him have made somewhere else, many times to the detriment of their health, in order to afford life and live our passions, I smile. The battles are never over, they just change forms with our own internal evolution. They kick at us the darkest of doubts, constantly nagging our immune systems with new threats. I pity the naggers: it must be hard to nag in spite of knowing how vain it is just to give yourself the semblance of a life. Their thrill is not in winning this war for they already know the outcome, imprinted as it is in the stubborn mind of the passionate dreamer. Their thrill is in delaying it, feeding as they do on the breadcrumbs of each doubt taking control for a split second over our lives at our most vulnerable. They know, as do Franck and I, after so many years of ups and downs: the fact is that the essence of us remains: we have already won the battle.
In spite of this intrinsic victory, the dreamer cannot get comfortable for this is the right time for life to unleash its deadliest of weapons. If ever you measured success on the quantity of your achievements or your personal Public Relations Staff drew the finest ink in town, your glorious days can soon be overshadowed by the natural cycle of life. Yes, Time will come and erase the very existence of your records, the shine of your medals and awards. Time will bring forth its tongue like a sword and speak of fashion and newness (newcomers, new records, new heights) to make you feel irrelevant and obsolete or worse like you never did make the print on the final tapestry of life, leaving you with only one impression: that you never advanced, in fact that you’re last…
…as if progress, your progress were ever dictated by your position on the current charts or your visibility in the current news. As an athlete and a record holder, Franck Matamba taught me this: the human race is not about coming first, it is about always achieving your personal best and constantly learning to enrich every next step, every next performance, every next generation of your art. It is not a moment in time or achievement but the journey that matters and it is how far you have come that measures your growth. You learn that you are not just a survivor, you are life itself.
I write this while Franck is alive because our heroes need to know the inspiration they have provided, not because they were perfect but because they have enriched us with a unique and full perspective of being human.
Franck Matamba is an athlete and sports coach who holds the national record in Gabon for
– the 800m men outdoor, 3 Jun 1994 (in 1:48.45) in Caluire, France
– the 4x400m men outdoor, on the 16 Apr 1995 (in 3:41.1) in Yaounde, Cameroon with the relay team H Nzengue, A Ondo and Charles Tayot
– the 800m men indoor, 27 Feb 1994 (in 1:56.48) in Bordeaux, France
– the 800m men outdoor, 8 Jul 1995 (in 1:48.45) in Caluire-et-Curie, France
This article was first published on African-Counter as part of the African heroes section.