This is a man I met on several occasions over the years. He was huge but very shy. He was very talented but never took the front stage. That was how it was with Adam even when he was part of the great Ilanga together with Andy Brown, Don Gumbo, Busi Ncube and others. This is how it was with Adam even when he backed Chioniso Maraire and before that with Mike Lannas, Louis Mhlanga and others in Talking Drum.
It appeared as if Adam was always there when new big projects took off the ground. Talking Drum, Ilanga, The Storm and the Hupenyu Kumusha/ Impilo Emakhaya project are just but very few such examples.
He was instrumental in projects such as Chiwoniso's Rebel Woman, Willom Tight’s Kuzangoma and Oliver Mtukudzi's album, Tsoka. Apart from this, Adam recorded an 11-track album called Famba Pore Pore.
Adam was undoubtedly one of Zimbabwe’s most gifted instrumentalists who have played for many bands without losing their own identity.
I first met Adam when Chioniso launched her album in Greystone Park in 2005. I met him when the project Hupenyu Kumusha/ Impilo Emakhaya was launched at the Book Café in 2007.
He also visited me with news of his project Mbiration with two Austrian artists Werner Puntigam and Klaus Hollinetz in 2008.
In most of the cases, Adam Chisvo, despite his immense contribution, remained a shadow but one that refuses to go away. He is a shadow that leaves a mark.
Just like Dumi Maraire, Adam has contributed immensely to the development of mbira music by turning both the instrument and the music way beyond the traditional realm.
Despite travelling widely, Adam remained a Mbare boy.
When I later sought him out for an interview, Adam Chisvo was elusive and I had to talk to him over the phone. It was in the morning of a Tuesday.
Below is the interview:
There is a belief that people die when they lose their shadows. For that reason when a dead person grows a shadow, it’s believed they are not happy.
Although this is not about death, it’s the same in music where ‘shadow’ artists who prop up the whole system exist and without them nothing meaningful happens.
The versatile Adam Chisvo is one such shadow that has been hanging over the Zimbabwean music scene for decades.
Chisvo, the soft-spoken and shy giant, plays anything from congas to mbira and has been behind the success of quite a number of musical groups in and outside Zimbabwe.
His journey begins at Shingirayi Primary school in Mbare where the paunchy artist played drums for the school’s traditional dance group and then took to practicing on his own.
Although Chisvo comes from a family of instrumentalists, his parents just like any other parents, were not amused with their son’s love for traditional instruments but their attempts to stop him from taking up congas or mbira playing as a career were unsuccessful.
To placate them, Chisvo had to study mechanics and drifted into the world of motor mechanics until the calling to return to his drum playing became louder.
Chisvo hooked up with the late Devera Ngwena drummer Naison Kabanda and formed Mbira Brothers that recorded the song Tamba Wakachenjera. With this group, Chisvo travelled to Europe where they received rave reviews of their performance and made the Zimbabwean market wake up to Chisvo’s skills.
The European tour opened Chisvo’s horizons when he was invited to join Coco Zambezi together with Oliver Mtukudzi’s former band member Kenny Neshamba. The group recorded Torovembira and Qinisela in 1985.
When Mike Lannas put together Talking Drum, he invited Chisvo to play mbira on a part time basis alongside Louis Mhlanga, Dorothy Masuku and Jethro Shasha.
Later, he joined Ilanga with Andy Brown, Busi Ncube, the late Don Gumbo and Cde Chinx. When Ilanga split with Brown forming The Storm, Chisvo followed Ncube who had founded The Band Rain. He, however, joined Brown and helped him record Tigere and Harare.
Chisvo has also had stints in movies’ sound tracks for More Time, Everyone’s Child and Flame.