Kwame Phillips and Debra Spitulnik Vidali

Kabusha Radio Remix: Your Questions Answered by Pioneering Zambian Talk Show Host, David Yumba (1923-1990)


Vidali Photo 2 Kabusha original program script and letters September 1989

This installation repurposes Bemba language analog material from and about one of Zambia’s most famous radio personalities. Originally collected in Zambia between 1986 and 1990 by Debra Spitulnik Vidali, it has been digitized for a new initiative entitled the Bemba Online Project (BOP) and for a book project. David Yumba was the creator and producer of the Bemba language radio program Kabusha Takolelwe Bowa, a Bemba proverb meaning “The Person Who Inquires First, Is Not Poisoned by a Mushroom.” In the program Yumba answered listeners’ letters about politics, society, family, and current events as they were read aloud by co-host Emelda Yumbe. The show ran for more than 25 years on Radio Zambia, up to the time of Yumba’s death in 1990, and was one of the most popular radio programs in Zambian radio history. One might think of David Yumba as a Larry King or Michael Moore of the Zambian airwaves, tinged with a bit of Dear Abby or Doctor Ruth in his personal advisory tone, all overlaid by a characteristically Bemba oratorical style of a grandfatherly griot or trickster.

The installation features a remixed and reinvented Kabusha “radio program” produced by Kwame Phillips and Debra Spitulnik Vidali. The remixed version emulates the format of the original 60-minute program. Excerpts of Yumba’s answers in past programs are used to answer questions from present-day Bemba archive workers about the politics and technicalities of archives, as well as new questions from “anonymous” letter writers about current Zambian and global politics. As the archived voice of the sage David Yumba is activated to advise a new group of question askers, the installation throws issues of subject agency, immortality, translation, wisdom, and ownership into bold relief.



Kwame Phillips received his PhD in Anthropology and Film and Media Studies from Emory University in 2014. His PhD research focused on Caribbean service users in London. Kwame works in visual and sensory media production, ethnographic documentary, and soundscapes. He is currently teaching ethnographic film in Thailand.

Debra Spitulnik Vidali is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Emory University and Director of the Re-Generation Initiative. Current research concerns epistemology, ethnographic theater and experimental ethnography; media anthropology; civic engagement (US); and discourse circulation. In addition, she has published extensively on the Bemba language, Zambian sociolinguistics, and Zambian radio.