Freddie Mercury would have been 65 earlier this year. It's hard to imagine the most flamboyant of glam-rockers as a pensioner. He died 20 years ago from an AIDS-related illness, but his extraordinary musical talent endures. For the legion of Queen fans, YouTube provides heaven-sent music and video alike. Radio Gaga (with its video montage taken from Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis), I Want to Break Free, Under Pressure and the beautiful Love of my Life, the list goes on and on.
Like all those who are taken from us before their time - one thinks of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and Princess Diana, among others - Freddie's image is frozen in time. Inez in Huis Clos says "One always dies too soon - or too late. And yet one's whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly underneath it, ready for the summing-up. You are your life, and nothing else." Well, Freddie certainly packed a lot into his 45 years.
Born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar in 1946 into an Indian Parsee family, he left Zanzibar at the time of the 1964 revolution (which overthrew the Sultan and his Arab/Asian government, and led to the union with Tanganyika and founding of Tanzania) and settled in the UK. His musical talent was evident from a young age as a pianist, guitarist and vocalist and, after a few flirtations with unsuccessful bands, he formed Queen in 1970 with Brian May and Roger Taylor. Queen's glory decade began with the phenomenal success of Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975 and reached a climax with their show-stopping performance at Live Aid in 1984. Freddie's ambition was for Queen to be "the Cecil B DeMille of rock n'roll" and David Mallet's Queen videos, with their use of film from the 1920s and 30s, pay homage to the glory days of cinema spectacle.
Sadly, his prodigious talent goes almost unknown in Zanzibar, apart from a sleazily-pleasant bar called Mercury's in Zanzibar town. In 2006, the Zanzibari government sanctioned a celebration of Freddie's 60th birthday, but subsequently withdrew its support of the event after an Islamic pressure group complained on the grounds that Freddie was not a true Zanzibari , that he was gay, which is not permitted under sharia law, and that"associating Mercury with Zanzibar degrades our island as a place of Islam". Freddie would have loathed this intolerance, which speaks volumes about the prevalent attitude in most African countries, regardless of the dominant religion, towards homosexuality.
The great Christian writer, CS Lewis, at the end of the chapter entitled Sexual Morality in his finest book, Mere Christianity, writes as follows: "...If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, then he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasures of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising .... and backbiting; the pleasures of power, and hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the Human self I must try to become. They are the Animal self and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But of course, it is better to be neither."
In Uganda, anti-homosexual rhetoric is particularly virulent, to the extent that parliamentarians have called for the death penalty for practicing homosexuals, and elements of the popular press have published the names and photographs of homosexual Ugandans who dare to make their status public, and have incited violence against them. Early this year, this despicable conduct almost certainly led to the shocking murder of gay rights activist David Kato in Mukono.
Maybe, in time, a more liberal and tolerant attitude towards the ways in which adults choose to indulge their sexual pleasures will develop across the African continent. And maybe Freddie Mercury's matchless talent will be honoured by more than a tourist-targeting cocktail bar in the country of his birth.