|Mehluli Taz Moyo, Kuda Humba & Willis|
Smockey’s in Strathaven, Avondale. The group had just relocated from Bulawayo to Harare and their album Qaya Musik was still hot.
This was three years before their much publicised split and the subsequent squabbles which sucked in some big names in the music industry.
Their story is one of intrigue and heartbreak for both the fans and the musicians themselves - Willis Wataffi and Mehluli Taz Moyo.
Regarded as the answer to Ilanga and Talking Drum, Willis and Taz’ dream child group from Bulawayo took Harare by storm a few weeks after their arrival.
This was a group made up of young musicians from Bulawayo and Harare coming together to put up what appealed to both adults and youths.
So good was the group that its debut album Afrika Revenge Presents Qaya Musik, apart from selling like hot cakes, spawned award winning songs.
Indeed, 2004 was the group's year of miracles when the duo shared the stage with Senegalese legend Ismael Lo during the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa).
The group toured South Africa and was nominated and walked away with the Best Jazz Album, Best Song of the Year and Best Male Artist for Wanga at Zimbabwe Merit Awards. In the same year, Afrika Revenge scooped the National Arts Merit Outstanding Album of the Year Award.
The following year also saw the group perform alongside 340ml, a Mozambican group based in South Africa during Hifa before taking on a national tour and then left for SA where they played at the Bassline together with Kwani Experience. The group also appeared at Moyo's Melrose Arch, Blues Room, Baseline, Club Uhuru and Voodoo Lounge.
On their return to Zimbabwe, they partnered the Soul Brothers for a show in Bulawayo and rubbed shoulders with Oliver Mtukudzi, Tongai Moyo, Alick Macheso, Tanga Wekwa Sando, and South African stars Judith Sephuma, Jabu Khanyile, Jimmy Dludlu, Swazi Dlamini, Wonder Baloyi, Mandoza, Mafikizolo, Bongo Maffin and Ringo Madlingozi.
Afrika Revenge became part of every festival - the Winter Jazz Festival at Jazz 105, the Summertime Jazz Festival among many others. There was also the trip to India where they participated during the silver jubilee celebrations of the Art of Living in India where they performed before an approximate two million people.
The group also worked on HIV awareness projects such as Mopani Junction produced by the Media for Development Trust that recorded their album.
The group did the soundtracks for the film, Tanyaradzwa, The Sun, Things Have Gone Wrong.
Below is the interview
It is 9 pm yet the venue and the show should have started but the venue is almost empty. The few people who have come early are lounging about, waiting anxiously for the show as they watch the drummer testing his drums.
There has been a double billing for the youthful group, Afrika Revenge with one advertisement claiming that they would perform at a city night joint from 6 pm till late while another one billed them to appear at Smockey's in Strathaven in the up market suburb of Avondale from 8 pm till late.
Although the double billing has affected the starting time, it only serves to show how popular the group has become and how far night spots can go in trying to use their name in order to lure large crowds and boost their beer sales.
So we wait for the show to start and the band members took the time to talk about the dream that has become a reality and about music in general.
'Afrika Revenge is not a band. It's a lifestyle,' says Kuda Humba, the band manager who was there in Matsheumhlope (Bulawayo) when the first step of the journey that had seen the group move from Bulawayo to Harare was taken.
The lifestyle that has become Afrika Revenge today started in 1998 when the duo of Willis Wataffi and Mehluli Moyo whose stage name is Taz were part of the now defunct Soul Eternal, a rave and soul group that played computer music. The other two members who have since left the country for the United Kingdom were one Fenky and Biggie.
Soul Eternal was first produced by an Italian talent promoter, Raymondi Raymundo who helped the group to find its musical feet. Even from those early days, the group used to play their own compositions and this saw them sharing the stage with the American group Soul for Real as well as Ringo Madlingozi when they toured Zimbabwe.
Pleased with the type of music he had heard the group playing, Ringo invited Willis and Taz to South Africa. But only Willis managed to go and Taz did not.
'I was prepared to abandon everything just to take the trip to South Africa,' Taz says adding that his failure to go was because he did not have travel documents.
But his failure to go to South Africa did not stop the birth of a 15 member project that was put in place when Willis returned. This project was called Afrika Revenge.
Soon after its birth, the group released its first 14 track album titled Sikelela in 2000. The album, according to Kuda, caused a stir on the music scene.
'Qaya music is a mixture of everything that is music. It's everything we grew up listening to. It's African music,' Kuda says.
Willis who composes most of the songs and who is the man behind the korekore lyrics adds, 'Our music is about who we are and not what we see. Most local urban groove musicians play what they see on television - American music. But American music is their music, their lifestyle. We chose to be different, not to be American because we are Zimbabweans. We have a story to tell through our music so that whenever one comes to watch us play, one also comes to a lecture.'
Later 13 other members left and Willis, Taz and Chichi whose real name is Chengetai remained. They then released a six- track album Sibe Munye (Let's be one) in 2002. The video of the plug song, Sibe Munye, is played regularly on Channel O.
Just when things looked bright, Chichi chose to get married, breaking the hearts of her partners in music Willis and Taz who then left Bulawayo for Harare in search of a brighter horizon. In Harare, the two played for a number of groups.
'We played with Tanga Wekwa Sando,' remembers Taz. It was during this time that they gathered other young musicians who are today on the Afrika Revenge line-up.
Almost every one of them played for Tanga Wekwa Sando at one time. The bass guitar player, Pablo Makapa met Willis and Taz when they were turning up for Tanga. This is how Victor Mparutsa, who had played keyboards for the late Jonah Mtuma's Sisonke, met the duo of Willis and Taz. Even Tendai Manatsa, Zexie Manatsa's son, who plays lead guitar, joined the group from Sando's band. Only the drummer, Carlton Mparutsa, came to the group by accident.
'I had come to Harare on holiday,' Carlton says, 'and Victor phoned me asking me to rush to the Red Fox Hotel to replace a drummer who had not turned up for the jazz festival that was underway then. Victor told me that some of the members of the group were the ones who had sung the song Sibe Munye which we used to listen to. I rushed and sure enough, there they were and I played drums for the group without any hitches.'
'Well, we had no problems with Carlton's playing,' adds Taz who is believed to be a direct descendent of King Buthelezi.
With a youthful group whose musical background was sound since the Mparutsas had played with their elder brothers in the RUNN Family and Tendai Manatsa was no stranger to music since his father is one of Zimbabwe's greatest musicians, the group took to playing at up market jazz joints such as Jazz 105, The Book Cafe, the Mannenburg as well as the Londoner in Strathaven. They also played alongside Mbare Trio and Summer Breeze.
'We backed Sandra Ndebele in six shows and helped Tendai Mupfurutsa,' says Taz.
During one of these shows, the film maker John Riber of the Media for Development Trust heard the group playing and he asked them to provide a soundtrack for his upcoming movie. And the chart topping album Qaya Musik that carries the popular song Wanga was born.
'Our album was recorded at the MFDT studios which are believed the best in the country. An engineer, Michael Bajuk, was flown from America just to work on the album,' explains Taz who also says that the CD was made in South Africa by Compact Disc Technology Company.
According to Kuda and Taz, the album has sold more than 10 thousand cassettes, making the group one of the most sought after in the country.
'We have set very high standards for ourselves,' Kuda says about this success. 'We will do everything we can to maintain it. That is why we operate professionally with every member getting a salary whether we hold shows or we don't. We survive basically on music. We are all full time musicians. As you see, none of us drinks or smokes.'
The female vocals on the album were done by Ruth Mbangwa and Namatai Mubariki who has since joined Oliver Mtukudzi as a backing vocalist. The other two ladies who appear on the Wanga video were hired..
'We perform better without ladies,' Kuda reveals. 'Although we would like to have some as part of our group, none out of all those whom we have auditioned was suitable. We look for ladies who can sing in Xhosa, Ndebele as well as Shona.'
Unlike youths of their age who are into music, Afrika Revenge has so far been in the news for all the good reasons. Their lyrics are clean. They do not court controversy in order to earn popularity.
'As much as we are musicians, we always try to behave. What with Aids around? We would not want to lose some of our members since the strength of our group lies in them. We have to be wise,' says Kuda who also plays congas.
He adds that with the kind of popularity they have now, there was a 100% chance that after every show each one of them can take a girl back to the hotel. 'We try to discourage this.'
As the interview draws to an end, the venue is almost filled up mostly by young ladies dressed in the tightest jeans and skimpy designer tops. Some of them are waiting to have their CDs autographed.
Well, for those who were crying for their beloved music, there is still hope in the form of Afrika Revenge, a youthful group that can play much to the pleasure of Oliver Mtukudzi's fans, a group that discarded computer generated music for the real thing that can be felt.
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But three years down the line, rumours of a split started circulating. These were denied in the early days. Wataffi even said they were working on an album together as a group that would released in 2008.
Mehluli was seldom available to the media since he had turned into an indigenous businessman or a dealer. But the media was relentless in querying why the group was not holding live shows together and why Mehluli and Wataffi who were once inseparable were rarely seen together.
The truth came when Wataffi announced that he was signing up with Alex Gowo’s outfit, Hit Factory for the release of his solo album Zhizha.
A press conference was called for but Mehluli did not attend. This aroused great interest. It later emerged that Mehluli had four tracks on the album which he did not want included. This was a clear indication of the death of Afrika Revenge.
Two years after the split of Afrika Revenge bits and pieces of why and how the group doddered and fell emerged.
It later emerged that a certain Harare businessman was behind the split and that a Bulawayo woman was part of the scheme.
Although people close to Afrika Revenge were not keen to have their names published because they fear reprisals, those who chose to speak said Mehluli Taz Moyo and Willis Wataffi Kachambwa had no problem with each other and that they can work together well but for the businessman.
They say when the group came to Harare from Bulawayo; the founder members were the best of friends until they started working with a very influential businessman.
Problems started when the businessman coveted Kachambwa's girlfriend from Bulawayo using one of the band members.
A scheme was even hatched using the media to tarnish Kachambwa's character by branding him a homosexual but one of the journalists who had been tasked to peddle the lie grew cold feet.
When this failed, the businessman summoned the members of Afrika Revenge and promised to help them if they formed a group without Kachambwa.
One of those who attended the meeting later spilled the beans to Kachambwa saying his conscience was plagued with guilt feelings since he was a Christian.
The young musician has since formed his own afro-jazz outfit and is doing very well.
It's also understood that the girlfriend who was brought to Harare where Kachambwa was setup so that she could prove his cheating also told him later that there were people behind his fall.
When everything else failed to work, spanners were thrown into Kachambwa's way and in the process Afrika Revenge died.