"Butte is one of the most amazing places that I've ever been," said Prince Sbo Zulu at the end of his three-month visit here in Montana this week. "I'd never been to a place where so many people had such a good heart. We are blessed to have come to Butte. I recommend it to anyone anywhere around the world."
Three months ago, in full traditional Zulu dress, Prince Sbo, Nkokhelo Nhlaka Msomi and Mokai Schux Malope danced their way down the local airport ramp and into the hearts of Butte. Before they left Tuesday, they did more than many locals ever manage.
They visited both Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. They dug for crystals, rafted rivers, soaked in hot springs, visited ghost towns, and were regulars at Dark Sevier's raucous Wednesday night open mics at the Silver Dollar Saloon. They played chess, learned to blow glass, arm-wrestled locals, touched their first snow and managed to survive a ride in Amanda Curtis' breakneck Thing. They attended The Montana Folk Festival, Evel Knievel Days, An Ri Ra, and accepted the Crow Nation's invitation to participate in Crow Native Days. They were proud parade marshals in Butte's Fourth of July parade.
The trio returned the favor by sharing their own culture with the people of Butte. At the Covellite Theater, they hosted Tuesday night showings of the 10-part television series, "Shaka Zulu." Afterward, they answered questions about the great king Shaka Zulu and their own culture. They taught Butte a Zulu warrior dance and many learned at least a few words in isiZulu. Hello is Sawubona. Unjani means “how are you?” And yes is Yebo. You hear Yebo a lot in Butte these days. In a popular move, the trio launched "Let's Talk Butte," an interview show on KBMF-LP 102.5 (Mondays and Tuesdays 4-5PM) that provides a forum for educators, scientists and citizens of Butte to share their expertise and observations.
"I always had a picture of America,” Nkokhelo said, “but the people of Butte are something else. Here, they take you as their brother, as their kid, your father, all despite whether you are black or white. That's the first thing I learned about Butte, the respect for one another. Here, people value one another. It's very touching. Also, you cannot tell if they are rich or poor. Maybe you can tell in New York or Los Angeles, but here a person might be well off, but he doesn't show it off. That's one of the inspirational things in Butte."
It was radio that brought the Zulus to Butte. Prince Sbo, founder of Nongoma-FM 88.3, discovered KBMF-LP 102.5 online, liked what he heard, and reached out. "It's important to build relationships that help us to learn what we can each do for our own communities," he says. "Building relationships with other people, visiting other places, will help you to open your mind, to think out of the box."
Both stations not only launched on the same day three years ago, they are both founded on platforms of community development and social justice. "When you hear the vision of the two stations," says Nkokhelo, "you understand that it was all about empowering people, uplifting the communities. You see here that KBMF is like family. At the DJ socials, you greet one another whether you know each other or not. You invite people to your houses. We don't always do that."
"When we started "Let's Talk Butte," says Mokai, "we'd met so many professionals, so many professors, so many people with expertise in things like environmental studies, mining, breweries. We asked them to talk. We didn't take sides on it. That's something we pride ourselves on at Nongoma-FM." The show has proven so popular that KBMF-LP general manager Clark Grant has vowed to continue production of the interview series.
"If we are from a radio station, if I am from a royal family," says Sbo, "that means we can be influential in helping others to understand that we are all equal. That we all can have the same opportunities, which we are free to create. There is a lot of activity in Butte with things like micro-breweries and glass-blowing and more. I usually only hear about things like this in big cities. Here in Butte, people do for themselves, the community helps each other. I will engage more with the people from Butte to share these kinds of ideas so that we can better develop our own skills."
"Here in America, we learned many things. One thing we need to implement," says Nkokhelo, "is WiFi. Communication these days focuses so much on social media and other online things. It's how people gain intelligence. It's how they learn from other people, from other countries. We will take all the good things we've learned here and share them at home. That is civilization."
"Butte is a very sacred place," said Mokai. "When people Google it, they learn about the mining history, which is great, but it's much more than that. The people of Butte are so generous and kind. The people back home are amazed at how the people here react to us. How well they treat us. I think people in Butte can open minds in Nongoma."
Butte will miss the Zulus, but happily, they'll be only a streaming link away. Yebo.