In 1985, my parents decided the music I listened to was too loud and crazy (mostly hip-hop, mostly drum machines). They moved me to a room next to the laundry floor, but they could still hear the damn music from down there. Finally, they told me to stay in the cottage, which was finally far enough from the main house—now housing my parents. All could sleep in peace. I, on the other hand, could not believe my luck. The cottage had its own bathroom, a stereo, a couch that faced french doors, and a king-size bed. I (still a boy) basically had my own house and could play my music as loud and as long as I wanted.

I recall the music I discovered in the cottage.

One was Public Enemy's mind-breaking "Bring the Noise," another was Eric Dolphy's "Gazzelloni" (it was on an album, Out to Lunch, loaned to me by my math teacher, Barbra Hind—we are still friends on Facebook), and then there was Sinéad O’Connor's "Mandinka," which I first heard on a ZBC Radio Three program that featured the latest and hippest tunes and tracks in London.

I could not make sense of this tune at all. The singer was so otherworldly and deeply Irish and singing about a West African tribe. What did she mean by: "I don't know no shame / I feel no pain I can't see the flame / But I do know Man-din-ka." How did she know about Madinkas? Maybe some lived in Ireland? Though the answer was not immediately available, I was completely of the mind that a pop singer (19 years old at the time) of world-historical significance had stepped on the stage of my young imagination.

"Mandinka," a single from the debut album The Lion and the Cobra, proved to be O’Connor's first hit. It was also introduced to the huge US music market by way of Late Night with David Letterman. But her biggest hit by far was "Nothing Compares 2 U," which, though composed by one of the gods of my cottage years, Prince, never gripped me like "Mandinka." But the track "I Am Stretched on Your Grave," which is on the same 1990 album as "Nothing Compares," I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, just blew my mind—the sorrowful and solitary Irish voice, the 17th century Irish poem, and the "Funky Drummer" beat processed and treated in the manner of Public Enemy.  

We all know what happened at the peak of her fame. I honestly do not want to get into all of that. What I have to say is she continued to make great music after all of that nonsense. In 1994, she dropped "Fire on Babylon," a dub-driven track that's packed with the explosive anger of all who have been colonized and brutalized by the British Empire. In 2003, she performed the preternaturally gentle "What Your Soul Sings" on Massive Attack's last great studio album 100th Window. From the cottage in the Harare neighborhood to this day, the day she returned to the essence, I have never stopped listening to Shuhada' Sadaqat, her final name. I will take her soul-filled music to the essence I, too, must become.