Sunday 25 September 2011

Picket brains behind Thomas Mapfumo's fusion of mbira music

At one time, Thomas Mapfumo had no band. He was playing a guest artists for the Pied Pipers and then moved over to join Leonard Picket Chiyangwa who led the Acid Bandrsident at Saratoga Hotel, a few streets away from Mushandirapamwe Hotel at Machipisa in Highfield. Of course, Mapfumo later became the leader of the band. Picket said in 1991, "The touch in mbira music in the music of today was my own idea which I developed and mastered in the 70s. 1 saw potential in that kind of development; today that has been realised with the music now a property of Zimbabwe."

If you surf the Internet, chances are you will not pick Leonard "Picket" Chiyangwa's name quite easily.
The only website that says very little about him has his name under "the noteworthy" section buried behind what are considered as big names and not in the main menu together with Thomas Mapfumo and others who charted Zimbabwe’s music passage.
Picket could have been the man behind the crafting of mbira into guitars way back in the 70s when he was the leader of the Acid Band based at Saratoga Nightclub in Machipisa, Highfield.
"The touch in mbira music in the music of today was my own idea which I developed and mastered in the 70s. 1 saw potential in that kind of development; today that has been realised with the music now a property of Zimbabwe," Picket said in 1991 during an interview with the Sunday Mail.
To help him define the distinct mbira-guitar rhythm was Mapfumo who joined Picket in the Acid Band when he returned to Harare from Mutare after the disbandment of the Blacks Unlimited.
They had been together in Mutare as members of the Blacks Unlimited with the late Jonah Sithole and Marshall Munhumumwe.
In Harare, Mapfumo joined the Pied Pipers at Mushandirapamwe Hotel at Machipisa just two streets away from Saratoga Night Club where Picket and the Acid Band where based.
Mapfumo who was playing rock 'n roll at the time decided to team up with Picket and became the group’s leader later.
The group's first album, Hokoyo that deviated from Mapfumo's earlier works such as Hoyo Murembo, which he did with the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band in the early 70s, came in 1977.
Hokoyo set the militant tone that became Mapfumo's trademark and gave Mapfumo a clear idea of what his music was to be and stand for.
Then came the name Chimurenga from Mapfumo.
Picket and Mapfumo's marriage did not die when the Acid Band disbanded. Instead, they approached Sithole who was playing with the Storm soliciting his support in reviving the Blacks Unlimited.
After the revival, Picket, together with Sithole, later with the late Ashton "Sugar" Chiweshe, Joshua Dube and Chartwell Dutiro who is now based in the United Kingdom refined and de• livered Chimurenga music as it is known today.
"I first played it (mbira music) with the Acid Band together with Mapfumo. Most bands then were playing rhumba and rock and roll including soul. So it was a case of trial and error," he revealed in the same interview.
But back then, it was not an easy task to accomplish.
"The recording company which we were working with pointed out that it was risky to put traditional music on records. But they tried it out and to the surprise of many; the compositions were hits," Picket was quoted saying.
These were compositions such as singles now collected under The Chimurenga Singles 1976 -1980 as well as Singles Collection 1977 - 1986.
Some of the singles are Chauya Chiruzevha, Tozvireva Kupiko, Pfumvu Paruzevha, Kwayedza MuZimbabwe, Munhu Mutema, Chipatapata, Bhutsu Mutandarika, Pidigori and Ngoma Yokwedu.
Picket was part of the pomp and glory that became part of Mapfumo's life until 1985 when like Sithole and Chiweshe, he packed his bags and left to find fame on his own.
His first group was Pride of Africa with which he released the single Botha Ingarara whose flipside was Fundo Inokosha in 1987.
His other song Wapunza Musha was the soundtrack of Zimbabwe's first locally produced film, Jit.
For this success as a credible composer, Picket was grateful to Mapfumo.
"I am very grateful to Thomas Mapfumo for the way he guided me and taught me how to write songs. My long association with him was like an apprenticeship without which don't think I would have made it as a solo artiste," he confessed some 18 years back.
But just like many groups, Picket had no instruments to enable him to realise the potential that locked in him for all the years spent in the industry.
There is no doubt that like many others like him, Picket died unsatisfied.

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