Sunday 18 September 2011

Alick Macheso came at the right time on the scene

I dreamt of things that did not turn out to be. I imagined myself running businesses and so on, but that never happened. I am now a musician, and I can trace that back to the days when my uncles taught me how to play a guitar. It started off rather slowly, then I realised I could do a melody with two strings, then three strings and it went on from there. - Alick Macheso

I first heard about Alick Macheso during the Clive Malunga Jenaguru days at Gwanzura Stadium. Then Macheso was just starting out after Nicholas Zakaria had briefly retired from music.
His music did not inspire me then but two of my friends spoke highly about him. So during one such Jenaguru event, I reluctantly went along to see the much talked about rising star.
I must point out that when Macheso was rising, Simon Chimbetu was at his peak and Jenaguru events were Chimbetu preserves.
Of course, Macheso came up first and he was luck that the people were waiting for Simon who had another show in Chegutu that night. He warmed the crowd who spoke glowingly about his bass guitar playing skills.
The next I would meet Macheso was at the Aquatic Complex some two later when I had taken up a full time job with The Herald. By then he had established himself and had the people eating off his palms.
That night he shared the stage with the late Cephas Mashakada who was also on a rebound. It was an uncomfortable meeting backstage. At the time, most musicians were scared of meeting me or even speaking in my presence.
The third time was when he introduced the Barbed wire dance which I denigrated in my Thursday column, Sounds Check. I pointed out that the dance had no value to Macheso’s repertoire and that he should stick to the borrowed Borrowdale dance that made him famous.
There were a number of threatening calls from fans who accused me of disliking Macheso.
Our next meeting was at the launch of Vapupuri Pupurai, his last with the Zimbabwe Music Corporation at a Harare hotel. It was a Wednesday night and just like our meeting at the Aquatic Centre, Macheso was uncomfortable in my company. Gramma and ZMC officials – Emmanuel Vhori and the late Dunstan Ndebele were there.
The question many people were asking then was why Macheso always took long to release new albums but complain about copycats. I had, before going to the launch, written my Thursday column about why and how Macheso was to blame for giving the so-called copycats room to entertain his audience.
To Macheso, his arch rival Tongai Moyo, Somandla Ndebele and First Farai were top on the list of copycats or vana murondatsimba as he calls them.
I told him exactly what I had written for the next day’s paper. I told him that he should not worry the nation and his fans about copycats because he takes long in releasing albums. I also reminded him that there was inspiration in music and not copycats.
Even today I feel it was too blunt and direct. Vhori and Ndebele walked away a few minutes later followed by Macheso.
I later realised that from that day – 22 June 2005 – Macheso and his band members viewed me as a Tongai Moyo fan. They were right and they were wrong. They were right because the Zimbabwean music industry has managed to split reporters. At any given time, even when Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo were the only big hits, the media was divided. There were those who supported Mapfumo with the faith of Dynamos supporters and others were for Mtukudzi.
Now with Macheso and Tongai Moyo competing fiercely for the centre stage, the media is split. This time money plays a very important role. I recall at the now defunct Daily and Sunday Mirror, how reporters wrote contradicting and glowing reports about Macheso and Moyo. It later turned out that the reporters were on different camps and each had to counter reports in their own stable.
So it was very easy for Macheso to hand me over to Moyo’s camp. Even to my editors at the Herald, I was a Moyo fan and defender. This came at a time when I had met Moyo three times.
Another article I did on a Muzarabani group, Njerama Express also made the assertion that I hate Macheso more pronounced. When Njerama Express were trying to make inroads into the cities, there posters in Chitungwiza were torn and their show at the Aquatic Complex disrupted.
The article I wrote about the group whose music was very promising saw calls from angry Macheso reporters coming in. The accusation was the same: you are trying to destroy Macheso. One caller even threatened to ‘take me out’ when I attend any Macheso show.
Fortunately, I seldom asked for free tickets whenever I felt like attending shows especially those promoted by the musicians themselves. In most cases, nobody would know that I had attended a show. So when I wrote, musicians would complain that I write about shows I never attended.
My last meeting with Macheso before I left the Herald was in 2007 during the Chibuku Road to Fame event at the showgrounds. He was billed to perform at the show with Tongai Moyo but separately.
When I got there, I was shown where Macheso was ‘hidden’ by the Natbrew management because they did not want him to meet Tongai Moyo who was also ‘hidden’ in another room.
I ran into my colleague, Garikai Mazara, the Sunday Mail entertainment editor and we concocted a plan to bring together the two musicians. We confronted Macheso with the idea and he agreed. Then we went to Moyo who was a bit unease with the idea but we convinced him that everything would be okay. He agreed.
We made the plan without consulting the organisers who, when we told them, were very angry with us. They believed this would destroy their day and make the show a flop. We convinced them and they reluctantly agreed.
Moyo came on stage first and the plan was to usher Macheso when Moyo played Samanyemba. We did and it was unbelievable how the fans received the performance.
Born on a farm in the Shamva area in 1968 in Mashonaland Central province, Macheso came to Harare after independence to join the Vhuka Boys who were led by Shepherd Chinyani.
In fact, Macheso’s coming to Harare was by chance after his uncle had told Chinyani about a musically talented youth who was being wasted on the farms and Macheso was collected from the farm in 1983.
At the time, he played lead guitar after having been taught by Rogers Chimusoro while Chinyani had to teach him how to play the bass guitar because there was no one to fill that gap in his band.
Since the Vhuka Boys used to share the stage with Nicholas Zakaria’s group, Macheso met Zakaria for the first time during those tours around the country. Because the Vhuka Boys had no equipment, Macheso left and joined Zakaria who was staying in Epworth, a suburb near Harare where the group Khiama Boys was founded.
In 1998, Zakaria decided to shelve his career while concentrating on driving long-haul trucks and Macheso took this as a challenge by forming the Orchestra Mberikwazvo with Zakaria Zakaria, Nicholas’ younger brother.
With the help of Bhundu Boy Rise Kagona, he formed Orchestra Mberikwazvo and released acclaimed and record-breaking albums Simbaradzo, Zvakanaka Zvakadaro and Zvido Zvenyu Kunyanya.
His trademark bass-strumming technique, along with his flamboyant dancing has garnered attention from all corners of the music industry, at home and abroad.
Set to chart a different route and formulate a new dance based on the kabhasikoro style started by the late Ketai Muchawaya, Knowledge Kunenyati and Marko Sibanda, when they were known as Kasongo Boys in the early days of independence, Macheso started big with the album Magariro that had a number of hits including Pakutema Munda, Baba naMai among many others.
Perhaps what stood out then was the dominant bass guitar which made both the public and the media talk of a man who could safely be called Zimbabwe’s best bassist ever.
While people thought Magariro’s success of was a fluke, the man who could do the Michael Jackson moonwalking style besides kicking like a horse and swinging like a pendulum leashed another mega hit album, Vakiridzo and then another Simbaradzo in 2000.
Zvakanaka Zvakadaro came in 2001, Zvido Zvenyu Kunyanya in 2003 and was followed by Vapupuri Pupurai some two years later. Ndezvashe was recorded in South Africa after Macheso’s contract with Gramma Records expired.
His group was strengthened by the inclusion of former guitarists Innocent Mjintu from the great Leonard Dembo’s band, and Lucky Mumiriki from System Tazvida’s group.
This combination meant that Macheso’s beat is an amalgamation of all the great Dembo and Tazvida while Borrowdale dance is an improved version kabhasikoro.
Another equally talented dancer called Slomo (real name Francis Dhaka) has embellished Macheso’s dancing prowess and the Orchestra Mberikwazvo live shows are more than just live shows, earning Macheso the Zimbabwe Music Awards award for the Best Live Performer for two consecutive years – 2004 and 2005.
Macheso has also won the Zima awards as the Best Sungura Artiste, Song of the Year for Madhawu and the Best Male Artiste categories in 2003. Today, Macheso is a regular performer in the UK where he sometimes holds joint shows with Oliver Mtukudzi.
It must also be noted that Macheso has also helped a lot of musicians whose careers were waning as well as dragging beginners into the limelight by holding joint shows with most of them. Macheso’s albums have all sold in excess of 150000 copies each.
Macheso’s greatest weakness has been delaying releasing albums. He has attributed this to copycats or vana murondatsimba as he calls them. One of such murondatsimba is fellow musician Tongai Moyo.
For years now, the two musicians have waged a war of words with Macheso accusing Moyo of copying his style and lyrics as well as stage performance. There is also First Farai whom Macheso accuse of plagiarizing his songs.
This war of words is fought through lyrics with most of Macheso’s songs on the album Vapupuri Pupurai hitting hard at the so-called copycats.
The real reason for the hatred between the two former friends has been given various sizes and shapes. But one that has stuck out is about a UK-based woman whom the two dated unknowingly.
The woman is said to have been buying the musicians identical clothing items and that Macheso would boast about his UK girlfriend to Moyo. This truth came out when they went to perform in Mozambique and Macheso visited Moyo’s room wearing socks the UK woman had bought for him.
When he was leaving Moyo’s room, Macheso saw that his friend was putting on identical socks. Since he had been boasting about his UK girlfriend, Moyo asked him whether he meant the same woman he knew. Macheso said that was the one and the truth sunk.
The other view that first surfaced was that Macheso got angry when his former guitarist Spencer Kumulani left to join Somanja Ndebele before joining Moyo.
Macheso is said to have blamed Spencer for taking along his guitar riffs to Somanja and then Moyo.

The truth about Alick Macheso –
Born: June 10, 1968
Hometown: Shamva
Family: Married to Nyadzisai with five children – four girls and a boy
What were you like at school?I enjoyed music and football. I was also very keen on my studies, and my favourite subjects were English and Maths, but Maths dzaindivexa (maths vexed me).
What did you want to be when you were little?I dreamt of things that did not turn out to be. I imagined myself running businesses and so on, but that never happened. I am now a musician, and I can trace that back to the days when my uncles taught me how to play a guitar. It started off rather slowly, then I realised I could do a melody with two strings, then three strings and it went on from there.
Who is your inspiration and why?It’s difficult to say. Jonah Moyo, Devera Ngwena, Leonard Dembo and Four Brothers have all had their influences on me. But for me Jonah Moyo was the best. I met him and I said: “I grew up listening to your music.”
What do you think is the best invention in history?I think a phone is quite a useful invention, but the guitar is also an amazing thing. Strip it away, and you come up with strings and a plank which produce an amazing sound. We can also go on to cars and so on, but for me when I look at myself I ask ‘how is it possible for something on two legs to remain standing?’ Maybe the human being was the best invention!
What was the last book you read?Kutonhodzwa KwaChauruka by Chiguvare. That was in 1989. I have read a few other books, but I would say that was perhaps the only book I read and fully understood.
What do you fear most?I am scared of violence. I hate fighting, or being beaten. I have only fought four times in my life, or at least when I was old enough to take charge of my actions. Since I started doing music, I haven’t fought anyone. When I get angry, I just walk away.
If your house burnt down and you had a chance to retrieve two items, what would those be?My guitar and my passport! Those are quite important items because my life revolves around them.
What would you like to say when you get to heaven?I would tell them down there I witnessed enjoyment and sadness. I would also tell them I also sang on earth; that I used to sing a lot and sometimes I would pass people singing and discover that they were singing my songs. Ah hey, taifara! (Chuckles).
How do you compose your music? Is it the sound or lyrics that come first?It varies. I am always thinking. Sometimes I get one or two verses and I think ah, I need a guitar to get a melody to go with the lyrics. It’s not always with the bass guitar, sometimes I get a rhythm guitar and so on. Sometimes you go to sleep and you forget, then months later, you remember the melody when you are playing around with the guitar.
What led you to give up alcohol?I didn’t get enough time to drink. When I used to drink, I would walk into the house around 12am, 1am and so on. Then I started questioning myself whether it was something I wanted to continue doing. Since 2000, I haven’t taken any alcohol.
What gives you the energy to stay on stage for such long periods?When I was little, I enjoyed playing football. When I am at home, I use a bike to travel around. So you can say I am used to exercising and like to stay fit. When I started in music, the people that we started with were on stage for very long periods. So when I feel like performing, and there is time, I will not walk away from the stage. But when I am tired, I tell the group that we are not taking bookings for so many weeks. But if I am fit, I enjoy what I do because we have families to feed.
Are you enemies with Tongai Moyo?It’s all lies, just talk by people. I chill with Tongai kumaraini, we laugh together. I sing Samanyemba and iye anoridza Charakupa. People talk a lot; it’s not in my nature to pick up fights with people. The Macheso/Tongai beef is a myth. Things are not always as they seem, and what people say isn’t always true.
For example, people say a gunguwo (ingqunqulu) is a coward because it flies highest, but how many of them have died? You rarely see their carcasses! Then you hear others saying the hare is the cleverest animal, but how many have you seen being salted, ready for eating after being hit by cars? I would rather be called a coward and live happily. As they say all the heroes are dead!

University of Zimbabwe Lecturer Memory Chirere, in the article carried on Macheso’s website writes . . .
But watching Alick Macheso play with his new band in Bindura in late 1999, well after his first album Magariro, released in 1998 and just after releasing the second album Vakiridzo, one was not certain if Alick would be anything. After all there were stronger Sungura echoes then from Nicholas Zakaria, Ngwenya Brothers, Chimbetu, Tazvida and others. It happened at Bindura’s tiny Kuyedza cocktail bar, of all places in Zimbabwe.
It was on an odd Saturday late afternoon and there were only about fifty people hanging around, killing the hours with the help of a beer. If you looked around you, you could see the chimneys of Trojan mine in the distance and outside, Chipadze Township was taking a weekend nap. On such a day one felt some easy pity for Alick.
This was a man ‘born from somewhere near here’ that had just left (and some said been dumped by) the great Nicholas Zakaria and was trying his luck on his own.
Orchestra Mberikwazvo, his backing group looked like a band hastily put together. Considering their youthfulness, they looked like a cheeky little band of mutineers! Macheso looked nervous and someone in the little crowd constantly called at him, claiming loudly that he was a friend of Macheso’s father. Macheso did well to wave and smile at ‘the family friend’ in acknowledgement. It was not surprising because Macheso was born indeed around Shamva-Bindura in 1968.
Pakutema Munda from the album Magariro and Chitubu from Vakiridzo, seemed to touch the audience and suddenly the rude crowd swelled in size. Apparently they were coming into the bar for free! Crowd and band warmed up to each other and something in Zakaria Zakaria, on the rhythm guitar, seemed to burst open as he moved backwards and forward and the crowd liked it too.
His resemblance with Nicholas Zakaria was awesome and if Macheso had picked a quarrel with Nicholas, why was Zakaria Zakaria (Nicholas' brother) here with Macheso, the Bindura revellers must have wondered. Much later you felt that the crowd realised that it had somehow abused the band on the makeshift stage and serious jive began. Macheso smiled knowingly and the trips to the counter and back multiplied and one wanted to see how the wiry young man and his band would go on.
All that in sharp contrast to Macheso’s current shows at Pamuzinda or the Chitungwiza Aquatic complex. Here people raise their arms to Macheso, wanting to embrace the man, his song, his dance and band, to preserve them in a securely sealed envelope for the sake of memory. He obviously wouldn’t quite fit into the tiny Kuyedza bar back in his Bindura. He has not only grown, he has become a phenomenon.
Macheso has the unusual gift of poetry. His lyrics elicit an easy-going camaraderie. He sings like the guy from next door, very familiar and liberating. That is why he is the favourite man of the ordinary mechanic, the unassuming kombi (Zimbabwe's public /private minibus transport) driver, the seller of ordinary wares and many more.
If you look and listen, the Macheso's lyrics appeal to the little and remote reserves of energy in the people of a country faced with economic challenges. Listening to Upenyu Hwemunhu (Life), you sit back in the kombi, and feel very private and secure. Indeed Upenyu hwemunhu hunozivikanwa nemurarami wahwo- only the individual really knows where his/her life is.
You want to laugh and cry, too, because in these moments of hardships we have all done many shameful things just in order to get to the next day.
If you are not on the kombi, you are at home in your bedroom, kitchen or lounge. And you listen to Madhawu. You just feel it. There is that open invitation to stand up and dance and shake your body and laugh at how your body is still with you after all. That song, Madhawu, makes you feel mischievous in a strange way.
Maybe Macheso’s best lyrics are in songs like Mwari WeNyasha (Lord of Mercy), Amai VaRubhi (Ruby's Mom), Kunyarara Zvavo (They remain silent) and Kumuzi Kwatu (My home). In Mwari weNyasha on the Zvakanaka Zvakadaro album, the singer asks three rhetoric questions in a row, compounding one with the other so that you wonder how many question marks should be employed here: Imhodzi rudzii yamadyara matiri mabo?/ isingaperi nokutumbuka?/ isingakohwewe-e?/ dura rayo riripi?/ chero netsapi dzayo dziripi...? (basically asking God why the hardships are taking place and why they won't stop).
But the journalist Trust Khosa will tell you that Macheso’s best lyrics are in Shedia where triple voices dialogue publicly about how they should negotiate private family space. Yet someone from the farms and mines might argue that the real Macheso substance is in Mindikumbuke because even if you have not lost any parents, that song can still remind you of the other good things that you have lost in your life – a job, a girl an opportunity…
But the Macheso lyrical space is not that very wide after all. Half of his songs are about relating to one’s own relatives or generally about coming to terms with colleagues. You find all that in Shedia, Madhawu, Kunyarara Zvavo, Patunia, Amakebhoyi, Teererai and others. But the lyrics remain refreshed and repackaged with each outing and that is where the Macheso variety is. You also have here Ndombolo vibes and rapping and it is sweet because the brother is fluent in Shona, ChiChewa, Sena, Venda and Lingala. He can casually throw out lines and abstract verbs in all these languages.
Since the formation of Orchestra Mberikwazvo in 1997, Macheso has gone on a bass guitar revolution. You feel it in the varied bass guitar vibes that change as you move from Petunia to Madhawu to Teererai. The Macheso bass guitar tends to be the axis around which everything else in this band revolves.
The Macheso bass guitar has a kind of reckless abandonment that only the happy leader of a band can allow. It speaks of innovation and ingeniuty. Instrumental innovation and ingenuity has also crept into the fingers of Macheso’s key guitarists, Zakaria Zakaria and Lucky Mumiriki.
It is not about merely playing the guitar. It is about manufacturing new ways of playing the guitar. It is about believing in the guitar in order to have the guitar give you that outstanding position amongst other guitarists.
Whilst Zvakanaka Zvakadaro could be Macheso’s best album in matters of lyrics and huge sales, one would argue that Vapupuri Pupurai is his best offering instrumentally. The song Teererai is particularly monstrous. Taking turns to parade guitar by guitar, Teererai is about how the human mind and hand can find extension through guitar, creating new and finer possibilities. A thing that the Zimbabwean socioscape itself is dying to have. How to make the economy tick and tick for the ordinary man is one of the greatest challenges to Zimbabwean society today.
Macheso's last album, Ndezvashe-eh, is comprised of improvisations of the 1970s cha-cha rhythm. This led to Zimbabwe's best music critic, Wonder Guchu writing a piece in the daily mail, titled, 'Macheso Breaks Monotony'. The reason was that Macheso's style was being copied by a lot of aspiring and established musicians and Macheso found a way to get round the copycats by establishing a new rhythm still based on his strong, African rock, Extrabasso.
Macheso’s productivity is also ably projected by his conscious decision to come up with a kind of dance to accompany the music. It is not enough to give people music. You need to show them how to dance to it too. ‘Borrowdale’ the name of the Macheso dance comes from Harare’s Borrowdale racecourse.
The dance incorporates notions of ‘running the race in order to win.’ Macheso can dance. He is one of the best dancers in Zimbabwe today. Alondside Slomo, his side-kick, they can mesmerize with their slow motion dance. It is slow motioning in real life as in film! Reality mirroring Art? But then Macheso has quickly come up with a different dance called 'Razor Wire'. He has gone on to invent other dances such as - Kangaroo, inspired by kangaroos he saw during his Australian tour.
Macheso is arguably the holder of various firsts in Zimbabwean music, among them the best selling and the best selling upon launch. Although he does not make political pronouncements in his songs, his ability to grip the eye and ear of Zimbabwe is next to none. Macheso remains in the ghetto, amongst those who ‘don’t know and are not known.’
Through just seven albums, Cheso Power has grown to represent what millions of Zimbabweans can identify with.
Album number EIGHT, Zvinoda Kutendwa, has now been released and it's a scorcher.

1 comment:

Musimboti said...

Alick Macheso is a truly talented musician. What impresses me most is his humility to his fans despite his tremendous success. The beef between him and Tongai was fuelled by Tongai's fans who led him to believe that he was an equal to Alick even when all the evidence points otherwise. It led him to release his Toita Basa album same week as Zvinoda Kutendwa, which backfired even though the latter had been pirated heavily. I listen to both musicians, but it annoys me when people try to compare the two. Five albums down the line Alick had sold over one million copies in Zim. Whilst the rate at which he releases album can be improved, I would rather have one album with six good songs every two years than one poor one every year.