|Easily taken by emotions, Soma at Tongai Moyo's funeral|
Somandla Ndebele, the fourth most recorded Zimbabwean artist with 20 albums in a career that spans 20 years, is a very sensitive, soft and emotional character - more of a grown-up baby who feels pain more than others. One such picture is when he broke down at Tongai Moyo’s funeral. It’s understandable because Tongai Moyo was very close to Soma.
There is a shop in Guruve’s Mudhindo area named after Somandla Ndebele’s album Zvamauya Zvanaka. It’s a small grocery shop which has a counter that serves as a bar in one corner.
While such a name did not surprise me because bars and shops in remote areas ply on such names, I later learnt that Soma was a regular in the area.
I ran into Soma in Harare around 2007 and I asked him about the shop’s name, its owner and that he was a regular there. He laughed it off, dismissing it as just of those rumours.
But I did not tell Soma that people in Guruve where the shop is say he had helped in building the shop. Even the woman laughed it off when I asked her about it.
The last time I visited the area, the shop was closed and the cheerful lady-owner was said to have left for South Africa.
Fortunately, Soma was not angry about the shop’s name and my prying just like he was angry when I did a ‘negative’ review of his album, Chidamoyo, in 2006.
The review came out the same day the album hit the street and Soma came breathing smoke. My editor had that same morning in the diary meeting, said we should write more such reviews quite often rather than describing every album that comes as a scorcher.
Below is part of my review: It seems as if most Sungura artistes have reached a dead end in creativity.
A number of albums released since last year have shown that most Sungura musicians have become bankrupt lyrically and instrumentally. Somandla Ndebele's latest album, Chidamoyo that goes on the market today is just one good example of how bad and sloppy Sungura artistes have become. In Chidamoyo, Somandla has neither the lyrical nor instrumental stamina to stand the market and inspire people into buying the seven-track album. Bitterness and a penchant for revenge have remained the message in …
Rumour swirled later that day about why I had written a negative review – apparently, Soma had refused to pay me! I was summoned to the editor’s office to explain.
For quite some time, Soma never liked me until Alick Macheso came up with the murondatsimba vibe where both Soma and the late Tongai Moyo topped the list then the Muzarabani-based Njerama Boys.
Soma came under fire because Spencer Khumulani who had left Macheso joined the Denda Brothers, the band that backs Soma.
Macheso blamed Spencer of taking his sungura beats to Soma and then Tongai.
The height of the murondatsimba saga was pretty ugly for the music industry. It divided artists and for the first time, Zimbabwean music sector was faced with a possible violent backlash from fans and musicians themselves. Even the media too was not spared. Either one belonged to the Macheso or Tongai Moyo side.
It was also a very interesting time which made me find out more about Njerama for example and Tongai Moyo as well as Soma.
I recall interviewing Tongai Moyo from his Kwekwe base. It was my first time to talk to him. I also sought out Soma and then Njerama. That cast me as an anti-Macheso journalist. I then received threatening calls. Njerama even had their Aquatic show disrupted and their posters torn off. It was after this when Soma softened to me.
Soma is a very soft and emotional character. Rather a sensitive one. More of a grown-up baby who feels pain more than others. One such picture is when he broke down at Tongai Moyo’s funeral. It’s understandable because Tongai Moyo was very close to Soma. They had a duet and the Macheso’s accusations of Murondatsimba welded them together.
The former Dzivaresekwa High School pupil, Soma came through from school choirs when he was a young. In 1989, when he was in high school, he released his debut single, Mandiomesera with flip side Chidochemoyo. The single found its way into the then Radio 2 Top 20.
There were three other singles before he started working on albums in 1992. More than 20 years later, Soma has 20 albums making him the second most recorded artist apart from Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo and Deverengwena Jazz Band.
Soma is not as active as other musicians. This made the media to refer to him as a spent force. But in the interview below where he talks to Ruth Butaumocho in 2010, he says handisati ndapera.
Like any other musician, Somandla had his highs and lows. For some time the musician has been keeping a low profile, and even holding shows in rural and mining areas, in a development that has resulted in some people calling him a spent force. However, the singer believes that he still will continue to inspire future generations through music.
RB: Who is Somandla Ndebele?
SN: I was born many years ago and did both my primary and secondary education in Dzivaresekwa and Zhombe.
RB: When did you kick start your musical career?
SN: I developed a passion for music while I was in secondary school at Sidakeni High School in Zhombe.
Then I was in the school choir and I remember very well that during that time, the school won the first prize in the provincial choral competitions.
When I came to Harare, the passion further developed and I started composing my own songs.
It was during that time that I met the late John Chibadura in 1986. He inspired me to become a full time musician and he even gave me a guitar that I used to record my first single in 1998 called Mandiomesera with ZMC.
RB: During your stint with the late John Chibadura, what lessons did you learn?
SN: The late musician taught me to persevere in any situation and he often said practice and rehearsal were vital if one wanted to produce a good quality product.
One may have a good musical product, but is then "killed" during recording because of inadequate rehearsal by the musician. Over the years, I have learnt that it is quite important to practice well before going to the studio to record.
RB: What have been your lows and highs in the music industry?
SN: It has always been difficult to get musical instruments to use for live shows, but my breakthrough came in 1998 when my album "Tave Parumano" fetched better sales on the market.
I was able to buy my first car and some instruments. The heavens smiled on me and I am happy to say that since then, I have never looked back.
Three of the albums that I released went platinum and two gold discs from Gramma, which I believe is a reflection of the quality of work I have been producing.
RB: What is your relationship with Tongai Moyo and are you still as close as before?
SN: He is a friend of mine, a relationship that started way back.
During 1998/9 we used to hold musical shows together, a development that resulted in the release of a joint album called "Mwoyo Wekurera", which contains the hit song "Masimba aMwari".
Because we have so much in common, we ended up doing yet another duet, "Chirangano".
Yes we are still friends. However due to commitments one each part, we have not been able to hold as many shows as we should together, let alone do a project.
But I am optimistic that one day we will be able to find time and possibly do another musical project together.
RB: For some time now you have been keeping a low profile, and even holding shows in rural and mining areas, in a development that has resulted in some people calling you a spent force?
SN: If you look at musicians you will find that everyone is everywhere these days when it comes to shows.
As a musician, I am trying to reach out to as many people as possible and I am going to areas, which we have never penetrated before. This is the trend these days. We are merely going to places where the money is.
There are several musicians whom I will not mention by name who are holding shows in high density areas, something that they never used to do.
Handisati ndapera (I am not yet finished), I am just responding to market demands.
RB: How has your community responded to your music and have you been able to give back to your community, in whatever way?
SN: People in Dzivaresekwa, where I live, are very happy with my product and I am extremely humbled with their support. Over the years, I have been participating in the Dzivaresekwa Bus Disaster musical gala, to assist families of those who perished in the tragic accident.
I also assisted Sidakeni Primary in Zhombe by buying computers and sinking boreholes at the school, an initiative that I did with my late father, Mr Naison Ndebele.
RB: Why are you nicknamed Mafia?
SN: It is just a nickname that I got while I was in high school and I am not sure why.
RB: Somandla, what happened to your arm?
SN: I was born like that and I have learnt to live with it. I can even drive a manual car and do all other jobs that need both hands.
SN: I am happily married and have been blessed with five children, four boys and one girl.