Wednesday 19 October 2011

The Maraire Trilogy - Dumisani Maraire

This is the second in the Maraire Trilogy. It's the story of a family that brought mbira music to the world.Dumi showed the world that mbira music is peaceful and unifying. Today, some of his students across the world and across the colour, race and religious barriers are following in his footsteps. Like he used to say: Let the spirit be upon the people . . .

I met Dumisani Maraire for the first time in 1998 just a year before his death and a year after his wife’s death. He was a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe then. It was at the Alliance Francaise in Harare. He was a proud father since his daughter Chiwoniso was launching her debut album that had won her an international award.
I had heard and read a lot about Dumi. Being a rooky in the media and working alone, meeting the man who colonised the Americas with a simple musical instrument was a great honour.
Dumi was a simple man himself. Short and spoke with ahorse voice which could, maybe, have been a result of years of singing, his hand shake was firm. He had this thing of peering at you while humming under his breath.
An unassuming man whose traditional life was not tainted by his stay abroad, Dumi believed in unity – family I suppose and his famous saying was always: Let the spirit be upon the people, so that we can all move together.
And he made it happen for Zimbabwe when he spearheaded the introduction of the ethnomusicology programme at the UZ as well as the creation of the College of Music.

But who can tell his story better than his son, Baba Tendai Maraire?

Dumisani Abraham Maraire was born in the small village of Chakohwa inZimbabwe, to the parents of Dikani and Nozipo Maraire. Dumi was introduced to music at an early age. As he got into his late teenage years Dumi began to pursue music more seriously. By the time he was 21 years old, Dumi had already written two musicals, arranged and composed music for the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe and conducting musical choirs in his community. This is when Dumi was discovered by Dr. Robert Kauffman. Dr. Kauffman discovered Dumi while watching one of his musicals that he produced. Very moved by the musical, Dr. Kauffman wanted to know the teacher who produced it. Later he found out it was no teacher, but one the students which happened to be Dumi. Dr. Kauffman then asked Dumi if he would be interested in teaching his music to others, while studying music in America. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dumi came to Seattle in 1968 to the University of Washington to study music. It was at this time Dumi would also go play his mbira at local open mic clubs in the area. His popularity grew very quickly, as Dumi would build a fan base for his talent at a time that the black power movement was on the rise. Soon Dumi would pack out pubs playing mbira for crowds of people who wanted to hear the sounds of the mbira, accompanied by his raspy voice. “What made these shows popular was that they involved crowd participation, so not only did you get to here him sing but you also joined in" – Lora Chiorah. In Zimbabwe they believe if you can walk then you can dance, and if you can talk you can sing.
In 1972 Dumi decided to expand his horizons and not just teach the music but to starta band. That's when Minanzi was born. Dumi put out a few releases earlier in his career, but all of those releases were on the mbira. This time Dumi got a group of his best students and formed Minanzi. The name of the release was "Rufaro", which was first available on vinyl in 1972. Minanzi went on to perform at several festivals and even went on tour in the United States. This album featured some traditional as well as contemporary Shona pieces. Dumi entrusted in the talent of the first Minanzi to come up with there own arrangement called "Mardi Gras". For those who still own the vinyl, hold on to it, it’s a classic.
Do to personal reasons Minanzi broke up and some years later Dumi formed his second band, The Maraire Marimba Ensemble. By this time Dumi was starting to build a grass roots movement of marimba that was to be the birth of Shona music's influence on western culture. This band went on to record Chiwoniso. This album would be the only one that Dumi would record with his wife Linda (Mai Chi). By this time Dumi was starting to peak with his style of composing. This album featured songs like "Kapotso" and the classic "Mweya" sung in Shona. By this time Dumi was on the bill to perform at such pubs as the Rainbow Room on 45th in the University District. You could almost guarantee a packed house.
By his third release and third band Minanzi III, Dumi had a cult following in the northwest that sung what we call here at Maraire Enterprises, the Maraire Marimba Movement. Soon people all over the United States were packing their bags to study with the God Father of Shona Music. What started out with one band soon grew to five, then ten, then twenty, until today where there are now hundreds on marimba groups around the world who can trace their roots to Dumi. This was the point where Dumi would give us his last marimba release, "Mweya", which is one of the most popular songs he created. This band went on to perform all over the United States and spread the music of the Shona people.


`Dumi' Maraire Gave Northwest sweet taste of African Marimba

Abraham Dumisani "Dumi" Maraire, a dynamic musician who introduced Northwest and North American students and audiences to the joyful sound of African marimba music, died yesterday (Nov. 25) in his native Zimbabwe.
Mr. Maraire, 56, suffered a stroke.
His death has saddened members of the ethnic-music community in the Puget Sound area, where he was a beloved teacher and ensemble leader.
"When he was on stage, he would forget who he was because he put his whole heart into playing," said Lora Chiorah-Dye, a fellow musician and the mother of his first three children.
"He was so energetic and so charismatic, people would just jump up and dance. He hypnotized everybody with his music."
Mr. Maraire also played piano and guitar at home, and he loved the music of James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack.
Born in Mutare, Zimbabwe, and educated by family musicians and at his homeland's college of music in Bulawayo, Mr. Maraire was widely considered one of the masters of mbira music. The mbira is a thumb piano, usually made of hammered iron keys fixed to a wooden body, and can produce two or three melodies at the same time by a single performer.
Mr. Maraire was a visiting professor in the University of Washington's ethnomusicology department from 1968 to 1972. Composing in his native language, Shona, he specialized in marimba music, singing, dancing and drumming.
He taught at The Evergreen State College in Olympia in the 1970s and had numerous private students. He also put together and led several marimba bands that played throughout the Northwest and British Columbia.
"Dumi was very important in Seattle for his charismatic performances leading his Zimbabwean marimba ensembles and for his promotion of African music," a friend, Larry Israel, wrote in an e-mail.
"His life greatly impacted the lives of hundreds of his students, and his infectious and danceable music was heard and loved by thousands."
Israel and ethnomusicologists credited Mr. Maraire with bringing marimba music to Seattle and North America. Mr. Maraire arranged or composed scores of pieces for marimba ensembles.
In 1982 he returned to Africa to develop an ethnomusicology program at the University of Zimbabwe. He resumed teaching in Seattle from 1986 to 1990, when he earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology at the UW, then returned to teach at the University of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Maraire recorded a number of compact discs, as did his three local marimba bands. He was dedicated to preserving and expanding the traditional music of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Maraire is survived by his daughters Chioniso Maraire of Harare, Zimbabwe, and Tawona Maraire of New Haven, Conn.; and his sons Ziyanayi Maraire of Seattle, Dumi Jr. of Harare and Christopher Sparks of Seattle. He is also survived by the children he had with Chiorah-Dye: their daughter, Danai Maraire of Washington, D.C.; and their sons, Tendai and Dumi Jr., both of Seattle.
Mr. Maraire's wife, Linda Nemarundwe, and another son, Rusununguko Maraire, died before Mr. Maraire. - By Carole Beers, Sara Jean Green

Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Maraire trilogy - Mai Chi

In this trilogy, I will trace the lives of Chiwoniso's mother, father and Chi herself. Although I never met Linda Nemarundwe, the mother, I met and shook the father - Dumisani's hand in 1998 when Chiwoniso launched her album Ancient Voices at the Alliance Francaise in Harare. It was a year after her mother's death. I saw father and daughter putting up a tearful performance in honour of the mother whose story I tell below.

In 1998 the late Dumisani Maraire and his daughter Chiwoniso performed together at the Alliance Francaise along Herbert Chitepo Avenue in Harare. The occasion was the launch of Chi’s debut album, Anciet Voices. Then Chi was still hooked to Andy Brown who was also there. The late Mendy Chibindi who later joined Oliver Mtukudzi was there. I remember Japhet Ncube who is now in SA was there. So was poet Chirikure Chirikure.
Apart from celebrating the launch, the occasion was also used to congratulate Chi for winning the coveted Decouverte Afrique award given by Radio France International for the album that carries one of her most emotional songs – simply titled Amai.
I recall Dumi speaking glowingly about his late wife – Amai Chi and wishing that she was there to see the daughter they had mentored to be like them. It was a tearful affair.
A year later, Dumi passed on leaving a legacy of great mbira playing and music making in his children. Most know Chi but there are other Maraires who follow their father’s footsteps. There is Tendai who is also known as Baba Maraire from Dumi's marriage to Lora Chiorah Dye.
But this is Mai Chi’s story as I captured it eight years later after attending the launch of Chi’s album that celebrated her mother’s life.

Mai Chi: Rare Breed of Mother, Musician

The late Linda Nemarundwe Maraire or just Mai Chi, was a rare breed of a mother, musician, teacher, entrepreneur and arts promoter.
Brought up in a Christian family where western values were inculcated and sent to schools where education was supposed to wash away any traces of traditional values, Linda instead fought back and remained herself.
She became a great marimba and mbira player who even taught others who were drawn from a wider cultural divide.
With the backing of a husband, the late Dumisani Maraire, who understood music, Mai Chi founded her own marimba and mbira groups such as Boka, Dandaro, Kudana, Shumba and the electric band Mai Chi and Kubatana.
She also worked and recorded with the backing of the Portland Girls Symphonic Choir, Mhuri YekwaMaraire and Mimhanzi Ensembles among various others.
Besides this, she worked as the African Student Union adviser at Portland State University and helped in the formation of the Mutare-Portland Sister City Association.
As a music promoter, Mai Chi organised the inaugural Zimbabwe Music Festival that was held in Portland in 1994 and was tour manager for Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, and the Bhundu Boys when they performed in the United States.
Off the stage, Mai Chi had a Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education attained from Antioch University.
She taught briefly in Zimbabwe before joining the Save the Children Fund in the late 80s.
As a mother, she taught her children the beauty of mbira music and to admire African traditional ways despite staying in the US where they could have easily adopted the western lifestyle.
Mai Chi, who died at 44 in 1997 in Portland, Oregon, the US, where she had taken residence was born in Masvingo's Ngundu area and attended schools in the area before going to Bulawayo.
It was during her time as a high school student that she met Dumisani at a workshop while she was teaching a song the he had written.
Although she was told that the man who had written the song was present and that he was teaching in the US, Mai Chi did not show any lack of confidence in her presentation.
After the workshop, Dumisani proposed marriage but she turned him down only to accept the offer when they had communicated over a long time by letters.
They married in 1975 and she joined Dumisani in Seattle, Washington, where he was teaching and performing Zimbabwean music.
The family returned to Zimbabwe briefly in the early 80s where Dumisani took up a post with the University of Zimbabwe and Mai Chi went to work for the Save the Children Fund.
When the family returned to US, in the late 80s, Mai Chi chose to stay behind in Portland where she ran a catering business.
Although Mai Chi's life reads like a very simple story of a rural girl who made it after marrying a man who had made it abroad, it is her adherence to traditional life that gives depth to what appears to be a simple story.
Mai Chi's father, Michael, who went to South Africa in search of fortune, was
converted to "Methodism and European ways' and got a job as a teacher at a missionary school on his return to the then Rhodesia.
Because of his adopted lifestyle, he wished his family to practice the western lifestyle. To achieve this, he made sure his daughters attended the best schools in the country.
To some extent, the girls too wished to live a western lifestyle until they moved to stay with their grandmother who inculcated in them the virtues of African traditional lifestyle.
"Raised traditionally is really when people understand about their ancestors.
Many people don't even talk about those things (ancestral history) in their families. Everything is church. Kids don't see it being practiced. They're not
participating. So when things happen, they don't know what to do. A traditional upbringing includes teaching children the ways of hospitality.
"How you give and take from elders. There are different ways of doing it. Like for example, if an elder walked into this house, we would be the first to greet them rather than waiting for them to greet us. If they need a place to sit, we'd have to offer them a place to sit," she told Joel Lindstrom and Catherine Heising shortly before her death.
Lindstrom is the manager of Kutsinhira Centre in Eugene, Oregon, and Heising is the principal organiser of the 1993 Marimba Fest in Eugene.
But her first encounter with music was when she met an uncle who played ngoma (drums) and was very famous in their home area.
Ndava, for that was the uncle's name, would invite her to attend sessions at a local beerhall and she would secretly leave the house.
While one would have thought that a girl brought up in the traditional way of life should have fallen in love with the western ways of life, Mai Chi chose otherwise.
And this is the life she taught her own children to live and cherish. Today her oldest daughter, Chiwoniso, is a shining example of what Mai Chi was about.

Below is an interview Mai Chi had in 1993 with Joel Lindstrom, director of the Kutsinhira Center in Eugene, Oregon — a school for the preservation of Zimbabwean musical culture in North America.

African drumming is not just music for entertainment, to dance to, or to admire. It’s a stage for learning ethics. The marimba and mbira music that many of us are involved in, too, is a place to learn to listen to others and still play our part, to be patient, to understand being alone and being together. To drum well requires poise and purpose. A good drummer must be able to hold her part within complexity, to stay balanced while being pulled in many directions, to hold steady and still converse with the other drums. When I hear Mai Chi (Linda) Maraire Nemarundwe perform, I know she is a good drummer.
Mai Chi involves herself not only in the music but also in the community surrounding Zimbabwean music in the Northwest. Here in Eugene we’ve seen a lot of Mai Chi this past year. At last year’s MarimbaFest, Mai Chi: catered the meals, taught two classes, lead a group ritual, sang, danced, and drummed. Her singing, mbira, and marimba workshops here at the Kutsinhira Center have been well-attended. She spent months working with Kudana on vocals for their Spirit Song recording, and has performed with Kudana several times this summer, delighting audiences with her full, resonant voice and bright African costumes. Through all these endeavors Mai Chi builds a community here in the Northwest and connects our community with Zimbabwe.
Since becoming ill earlier this year with kidney failure, Mai Chi has become more inwardly focused, more graceful and dignified. We are grateful that she has shared her journey of healing with her friends in the Northwest Marimba Community. She has reached out to friends and found healing by giving and receiving music, performing with Kudana, or listening to “command” mbira serenades at the home of a friend. She was also a key member of the 1994 Zimbabwe Music Festival committee. I interviewed Mai Chi twice for this article, once in Eugene after my best attempt at a Zimbabwean dinner, and the other on a Sunday morning at Marian’s house in Portland, a map of Zimbabwe spread on the floor in front of us. Mai Chi shared part of the life she led in Zimbabwe before coming to the United States. Through stories of her childhood, I see the seeds that have blossomed into Mai Chi’s music, her teaching, her interest in community. I see glimpses of the people who helped her learn strength and humility.
Linda Nemarundwe was born on November 25, 1952 in the Ngundu area of southeastern Zimbabwe. (Mai Chi, the name she prefers, means mother of Chiwoniso, her eldest daughter.) Received by her grandmother, she was the second of seven children, preceded by Lora and followed by Ruth, Mickey, Alma, Marcel, and Appel. Her father Michael Nemarundwe ran one of the two stores in Ngundu at the junction of routes leading east to the low veldt, south to South Africa, and north to the city of Masvingo. The other store was owned by Europeans and sat across the road from their building, which housed a store and a cafe as well as Mai Chi’s family.
Though they lived on a major trade route it was “Bush,” Mai Chi recalls, “real bush,” with the nearest neighbor a mile away. She never lacked company, she says, because people were always coming by to trade their corn, groundnuts, or other crops for merchandise in her father’s store. Due to the long walk, visitors often spent the night on her family’s verandah. The only regret Mai Chi has of growing up in the back rooms of a brick store is that “we never had an opportunity to live a real traditional life except when we were visiting our relatives.”
Mai Chi’s childhood visits to her mother’s family were hard. Her parents’ was a “mixed” marriage. Her mother, Nyembezi, was raised a strict Seventh-Day Adventist in Chibi, to the north and west of Ngundu, and there were dietary restrictions to be heeded, lots of praying, and no cooking on Saturdays. “When you’re kids, little things like that are significant,” she says.
Her father, Michael, was raised in a traditional way in the village of Zimutu, north of Masvingo. His parents farmed and raised cattle, and his father was a medicine man — a dreamer, not a forecaster. As a boy Mai Chi’s father wanted more of an education than he could get in rural Zimbabwe, so in his early teens he left his parents’ house — without telling them — and walked all the way to South Africa. He didn’t return for fifteen years.
During his stay in South Africa, Michael converted to Methodism and also gained a liking for European ways. An entrepreneur at heart, his first job on returning to Zimbabwe—teaching at a missionary school—lasted only briefly. He soon arranged to buy bread and, using the bicycle he’d brought back with him, deliver it to the areas where Africans lived. One area he delivered to was Chibi.
At that time it was difficult, almost impossible, for an African in Zimbabwe to be self-employed. If they had jobs, Africans worked for Europeans. So Michael Nemarundwe with his bread-delivery business was looked upon as someone well-off. Lots of families wanted to match him up with their daughters. Nemarundwe was first matched with Mai Chi’s mother’s sister. But, on meeting, he preferred Nyembezi, and married her after waiting for her to finish school. Then they moved to Ngundu.
Michael Nemarundwe believed it was best for his children to be raised in a European manner. So when his daughters Lora and Linda were old enough, he sent them sixty miles away to Masvingo, where he thought the schools were better than the local ones. At first Lora and Linda lived with someone their father hired to care for them. Michael picked the girls up in his lorry (truck) every Friday afternoon and took them back on Sundays to start another week of school. When their paternal grandmother found out, and was so incensed by the thought of two young girls living alone in the city, she moved in with them and assumed their care.
Mai Chi remembers that living with her grandmother was wonderful. She remembers her grandmother’s traditional cooking fondly, but says, wryly, that she never really learned to like peanut butter, a standard base for Shona sauces. She’s grateful her grandmother told the kids what her father thought were not the “right things.” For one thing, her grandmother pronounced Mai Chi’s European name as Lindá which means “to look after” in Shona (as in looking after a baby). Mai Chi changed her name further. “I didn’t like using that name [Linda], simply because it didn’t really reflect anything of me. So I interpreted it to Shona and called myself Chengeto [which also means to look after or to take care of things].”
Though they lived in a brick house in the city, her grandmother raised the grandchildren traditionally. She told them stories of her childhood, Shona oral history. Mai Chi’s grandmother had grown up when the Zulu chief Tshaka’s son, Lobengula, came north from South Africa with his armies to raid the Shona. She remembered men from the village watching for the dust clouds raised by the armies and then blowing a wamanda (cow horn) in warning so people could gather a few things and hurry off to the caves to hide.
But being raised traditionally meant more than stories. Mai Chi gestures with her hands as she says,
“Raised traditionally is really when people understand about their ancestors. Many people don’t even talk about those things [ancestral history] in their families. Everything is church. Kids don’t see it being practiced. They’re not participating. So when things happen, they don’t know what to do. Like, for example, if I was home being sick like this, I would go to my aunt Mai Liza [her father’s sister who inherited her grandfather’s medicine bag], and they would pour some beer, talk to the ancestors. It’s not like they’re always going to get an answer . . . but it is to let them know. That way you are dealing with the problem together.”
A traditional upbringing includes teaching children the ways of hospitality. “How you give and take from elders. There are different ways of doing it. Like for example,” Mai Chi explains, pointing at the front door, “if an elder walked into this house, we would be the first to greet them rather than waiting for them to greet us. If they need a place to sit, we’d have to offer them a place to sit.” Here at Marian’s house Mai Chi was given the entire couch but made herself more comfortable seated on the floor, her back resting against it.
In African tradition, a young child would stand up to give an elder a place to sit. You do that automatically. That’s if you are raised in the traditional way. But if you’re not, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s very easy, when we go to people’s families, to say, ‘Oh, these people are raising their children the English way’ or ‘They’re raising their children in a traditional way.’
Mai Chi’s grandmother was a strong, traditional woman who protected her grandchildren. Mai Chi remembers, “one time we got punished by our schoolteacher because we were asked to write a composition using the word ‘cruel’, and I decided to say that our teacher was as cruel as Hitler.” She laughs. “He used to hit us with a ruler [on the knuckles]. It was painful, I tell you. And he was the only one in the whole school that was doing it.” Mai Chi crosses her legs in front of her, remembering that distant day.
Once he denied the whole class to go for lunch. So when my sister went home for lunch, my grandmother says, ‘Where’s Lindá?’ [When my sister told her] my grandmother said, ‘Teachers are not supposed to do that. Children are supposed to have their food anyway.’ So she packs a little sadza and vegetables with peanut butter, ties it in her little duku, [puts it] on her head and goes. We’re sitting [in the classroom]. Everyone’s kind of miserable and somebody says, ‘Linda, Linda, isn’t that your grandmother?’ At first I don’t know what to do. So one of the students says, ‘Well, open the window and take whatever she has.’ So I opened the window and she gives us the sadza and . . . oh, did we enjoy it. That was the best time I ever liked peanut butter.
After delivering the food, Mai Chi’s grandmother didn’t go away. She waited until the teacher came back and asked to speak to the headmaster. Mai Chi’s father heard about it later and took up the matter. “At least we stopped the knuckle-hitting. What was so funny was that he was a distant relative of my grandmother. Well, in a small place like that, everyone is related. So he had to listen.”
In 1964, the number of school-age children in her grandmother’s care having grown, Mai Chi’s parents moved to Masvingo. Her father had a building built — the first in the area with display windows — to house his store and new photography studio. Unfortunately, 1964 was a time of political unrest in Zimbabwe. The following year, Ian Smith’s white minority government would issue its unilateral declaration of independence from British colonial authority. Controls were being tightened on Africans. Loans weren’t available for African-owned businesses. The banned political parties Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and its more radical offshoot Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) both asked for monetary support from the people. Michael Nemarundwe’s business survived but didn’t flourish.
Mai Chi did well in school and enjoyed going. Though not the “number one” student, she got good grades, and, because of her involvement in the school, was called an “all-’rounder”: she sang in the school choir, played netball (a version of basketball), and ran track for her school. Her favorite events were the sprints and the long jump, but not the high jump, she remembers, drawing her knees up to her chest and laughing.
Most of us know Mai Chi through the music she helped bring from Zimbabwe to the United States. Many of us have taken Shona singing classes from her. But Mai Chi’s first exposure to African music was not in a class.
As you grow up, every African child, whether in the city or the rural area, is exposed to African music. We grow up singing. Your grandmother or your aunts or whoever is taking care of you as a baby, that’s what they sing. So you’re exposed to traditional African music. And through stories, because that’s how we learn most of our songs actually, through being told folk stories.
In addition to the stories and songs from her grandmother, Mai Chi’s uncle Ndava (her father’s brother) also influenced her musical interests. Ndava was a traditional ngoma player (a drummer). Ndava was well known in Masvingo. He played in the mbakumba style — the style of the song “Mhondoro” (lion spirit) which Mai Chi taught at the 1993 MarimbaFest. To attend his nightly performances at a local beer hall, she would sneak off; Mai Chi enjoyed hearing Ndava play and sing, but knew her father wouldn’t approve.
Though at school she was exposed to church music, another musical influence from her childhood was rock-and-roll. Mai Chi listened to the popular stars of the day, and, in her early teens, when home from boarding school for the holidays, she got together with some friends (whose parents owned a hotel and needed a band to perform for guests) and played as a rock band. Mai Chi came over for practices to listen and sometimes to sing with them. Though she never performed in public with her friends for fear her father would be angry, this experience initiated her interest in electric music, from which her band Kubatana arose.
In addition to music, politics, too, occupied Mai Chi’s childhood. As in many families, her parents were members of the more conservative party ZAPU, led by Joshua Nkomo, and the children were members of ZANU or its military wing ZANLA, led by Robert Mugabe. At that time, ZAPU members believed in a strategy of negotiation, while ZANU members thought freedom would come only through armed struggle. Mai Chi regularly attended ZANLA meetings, discussing politics as well as ways of convincing ZAPU members of the need for fighting.
By the mid 1960s, the political turmoil died out for a while. Mai Chi stopped going to meetings, but began accompanying her mother on trips that combined politics with music. Throughout the colonial period in Africa, governments, colonists, and missionaries suppressed traditional music. For governments, it was expedient to prevent gatherings and forms of expression that could lead to uprisings. For colonists, African music was difficult to understand, something to be replaced by familiar European songs and instruments. For missionaries, the music (especially drumming) was pagan and had to be eliminated in favor of Western Christian hymns. (Mai Chi can still sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” as she demonstrated over dinner at our house.) By the mid-60s, though, there was a movement among Africans to introduce traditional music and instruments into the church. Specifically in Zimbabwe there was a booklet of African hymns called Nziyo Dzevu, written by four people, among them, Abraham Dumisani Maraire (Dumi).
Because times were hard in her father’s business, Mai Chi’s mother took a job traveling to outlying areas to teach nutrition and home economics to rural women. At the meetings Nyembezi would lead songs from Nziyo Dzevu. Mai Chi enjoyed accompanying her mother on these trips partly because of the singing, which she sometimes joined, but especially because of the drums the local men played to accompany the singing. Though she didn’t join the drumming — women weren’t allowed to drum — she loved to listen.
As a legacy of British colonial rule, most Zimbabwean children who continue their schooling through high school leave home for boarding school. In 1970 Mai Chi left home to attend Luveve Secondary School, just outside of Bulawayo, 150 miles east of Masvingo. There she played netball, sang in the choir, and joined the Student Christian Movement (SCM). Though its name indicates otherwise, the SCM was a political organization, the word “Christian” added and Bible readings conducted at meetings to deflect government suspicion. The students spent most of their meetings discussing current events, problems with the government, and the beginnings of the war for independence. Mai Chi taught her friends in the SCM songs from Nziyo Dzevu.
In Mai Chi’s second year at Luveve, the political situation began to heat up. Since Ian Smith’s government had declared itself independent from Britain in 1965 — illegally according to the British and most of the rest of the world — there were many efforts to negotiate an internationally acceptable settlement. In November of 1971 one such agreement was signed, which, though falling short of Zimbabwean nationalists’ demands for power-sharing, did provide that the basis for settlement be acceptable to “the people of Rhodesia as a whole.” A commission headed by Lord Pearce would decide if the settlement was indeed acceptable to all the people.
In spite of heavy governmental pressure and propaganda to the contrary, the Zimbabwean people said “No” to the Lord Pearce commission. At the time, Mai Chi was an officer in the SCM. One afternoon she received a mysterious visitor from the University of Zimbabwe at the fence that surrounded the girls’ dormitory. He told her to prepare a protest against the Lord Pearce commission by arranging for a group from her school to attend a rally in Bulawayo. She would have less than a week to set it up. Mai Chi was surprised that anyone knew to ask her, but, within a few days, had organized enough students for the protest.
The students had to sneak out of their dorms at night to walk the twelve or fifteen miles to Bulawayo. The head girl at Mai Chi’s dorm refused to participate and, further, refused to unlock the gate to the fence. Mai Chi had to get the key herself and, early in the morning, let out the girls who were going. They walked through the dark, joined by boys from the other dormitory. Arriving at Bulawayo at dawn, they were stopped by the police.
The students were detained and interrogated. Mai Chi was suspended for two weeks and then, when she came back, was not allowed to board at the school. With home so far away, for most students this would have been the end of their schooling. But her cousin Joseph Vende, a teacher at Luveve, boarded her — not even telling Mai Chi’s father — until the following term when she was again allowed in the dormitories.
The next year, 1972, Mai Chi’s third year at Luveve, was an exciting and life-changing one. A Zimbabwean organization, Ecumenical Ministries, was the sponsor of an annual week of teacher-training workshops to promote the teaching of African culture. Teachers from Zimbabwe and neighboring countries attended. In 1972 the workshops were broadened to include secondary students. Four scholarships were offered, one each in writing, music, drama, and art. Mai Chi applied and, from students throughout Zimbabwe, was selected for a scholarship to attend the 1972 workshops in Harare as the music student.
After furthering her studies of Nziyo Dzevu at the Ecumenical Ministries workshops, Mai Chi was asked to attend the SCM conference, held the following school holiday, to teach what she had learned. At the conference, held at Saint Augustine’s, just north of Mutare, she taught some of the songs she had learned. As she was teaching, one of the conference leaders came in with a stranger and, after listening for a while, introduced the stranger as an important guest, the man who wrote the song Mai Chi was teaching. The stranger was Dumisani Maraire.
Mai Chi’s reaction was to keep teaching. “I had so much confidence in myself that I didn’t even think I was teaching anything wrong of his song. It didn’t even cross my mind.” Dumi was surprised to see a young woman teaching his song. Mai Chi was just twenty; he, ten years her senior. He offered to teach her more, and they worked together for the rest of the conference, playing together at a final performance. Before she left to return to school, Dumi asked her to marry him. Mai Chi refused.
Mai Chi returned to Luveve, and Dumi to the United States, where he was studying and teaching at the University of Washington in Seattle. Over the whole next year he called often and they spent hours talking on the phone and exchanging letters. Finally, she agreed to marry. Among the Karanga — the Shona speaking ethnic group Mai Chi belongs to — negotiations leading to a marriage are intricate and fraught with points of possible contention. When a woman has met a man she’d like to marry she tells her aunt, who then quietly finds out about the man. If the aunt thinks the man is all right, she tells her family and they prepare for a visit from a committee of the suitor’s family.
At this time, Dumi was living in the Seattle area, but Mai Chi’s aunt reached approval anyway. So a committee from Dumi’s family came from Mutare — his home town — to Masvingo to talk to the Nemarundwes. The visiting committee doesn’t talk directly to the bride-to-be’s family at first, rather they use a go-between, a munyai, who knows the woman’s family and can, as Mai Chi puts it, “manipulate them.” Tobias — one of Michael Nemarundwe’s cousin’s sons — was chosen as the munyai, but was unable to talk to Mr. Nemarundwe as Nemarundwe left town as soon as he heard that Dumi’s committee had arrived without Dumi. Mai Chi’s father was angry because Dumi was still living in the U.S. and because he felt his daughter wasn’t ready to marry. Arriving in town on Sunday night, knowing the visitors had a long drive ahead of them he said, “They can leave $10 just to say they were here. And if they’re not back in a year with Dumisani Maraire, the whole thing is null.”
Dumi returned to Zimbabwe within the year and came with his committee to Masvingo. Negotiations between the families went well and a rovora (a bride price) of thirteen cows — an especially large number — was agreed to, along with a usual one cow ngombe yomai — literally “thank the mother” - a gift of gratitude to the mother of the bride. Mai Chi’s father, much to Dumi’s dismay, insisted on receiving the rovora in actual cows, not just the equivalent in cash, as is commonly done. The two were married, and six months later Mai Chi moved to Olympia, Washington.
Mai Chi has accomplished a lot since she first left Zimbabwe twenty years ago: birthed and raised five children, learned to drum, and helped nurture a community that’s grown around Zimbabwean music. We’re grateful to her for all she’s given us, the songs she’s shared, the performances she’s involved us in, and the willingness with which she shares her culture. We wish her the best in her healing and look forward to seeing her again on stage, with a Shona ululation and just a hint of a smile.

Monday 17 October 2011

The man who inspired Tongai Moyo was media shy, but talented - Leonard Dembo

One common thing between Leonard Dembo and his disciple Tongai Moyo is the way they both died – in the eyes of the public where they lived and in the hands of people who claimed they could help them. Dembo sought help from the disgraced convicted rapist Madzibaba Nzira who paraded him like a prize cow in Seke while Tongai was so desparate that he wanted to visit T.B Joshua who turned him down before he went along to Pastor Makandiwa for help. He even penned a song in praise of Makandiwa. Sadly today, despite all the efforts, both are gone.

The man who inspired the late Tongai Moyo, Leonard Tazvivinga Dembo was a very media shy musician; a humble soul that minded his business of making music.
Born Kwangwari Gwaindepi on 6 February 1961 in Chirumhanzu, Dembo was brought up by his mother.
He spent his childhood herding cattle. This part of his life where he grew up without a father-figure plays out clearly in most of his songs where he sings about poverty – Nhamo Moto and Wenhamo Wotoirinda (Vane Mari Varere Zvavo). His admiration for the women folk could also be attributed to his mother having been his solo guardian. One of his songs which say much about this is Mai Nevana Vavo.
Although Dembo did not go to secondary school, he attended primary schools in Buhera, Bulawayo and then Chembira in Harare. After school in Harare, Dembo went back to Bulawayo to look for a job.
He did not find one but he improved his music before going back to Harare where he proceeded to Mubaira Hotel at Murombedzi (Five Miles) in Zvimba where he joined the Spiders together with Cyril Chinyani and his brother Eugene.
He did not stay long but trekked back to Harare where he joined the Outsiders with which he released his first mega hit Venenzia which swiftly launched his career. He also recorded, Mange Majaira Matsotsi with a band called Five Notes
A fine lead guitarist, Dembo became a hit maker even after forming his own group Barura Express in 1985 after the mountain he used to herd cattle in.
Indeed, Dembo was not like John Chibadura and various other fine musicians who squandered their fortunes. Chibadura lost most of his possessions in the dying days but Dembo, one of the very few well off musicians, drove a Cressida even when the car made history by claiming through suicide the life of Maurice Nyagumbo. His family still stays in the Belvedere house.
Inspired by the Chimbetus, Dembo did not become like any one musician but kept to himself. While others where busy penning songs of self-praise, Dembo wrote for the marginalised. The song Chinyemu is one such good example.


A lot has been said about Chiteketeke except that Dembo almost threw the song into the dustbin after some of his band members had deserted him.
In 2005, I spoke to Innocent Mjintu, who was one of those hastily recruited by Dembo after the desertion. It was Mjintu who brought the wailing Dembo rhythm to Alick Macheso’s beat.

Below is the interview:

Chitekete almost never made it to vinyl

Can you believe that Zimbabwe’s Silver Jubilee Best Song, Chitekete, almost ended up in the dustbin after some members of the Barura Express had abandoned the late Leonard Dembo a month before going into the studio for recording?
Chitekete was chosen as the best song during the Zimbabwe Music Awards held at the Harare International Conference Centre ahead of 24 other songs that included Leonard Zhakata’s hit song Mugove.
According to Innocent Mjintu, one of the youths who were hastily recruited by Dembo together with Shepherd Akim (bass) and drummer Simba, the late super star was so heartbroken that he decided to put aside the five-track album and move on to the next project.
“When Charles Mapfumo, Kidson Madzorera and bassist Gilbert left after a row over payments, Dembo lost interest in Chitekete and started working on the next album but we talked him into finishing the album,” said Mjintu who later played rhythm for Orchestra Mberikwazvo with Alick Macheso.
He added that it took them a month to rehearse and go into the studio for recording.
“Even then,” he revealed, “the song Chitekete was not most members’ favourite. Rather, they liked Chinyemu which hit out at the system that rewarded those who had more while taking away from those who had little or nothing and Sarura Wako, a happy-go song about a man who is declaring his find.”
Perhaps it was the love theme in Chitekete that made the song an international hit it became besides being Zimbabwe’s second song to sell in excess of 100 000 copies after Devera Ngwena’s Devera Ngwena 3 that sold about 120 000 copies in the early 80s.
Three years later, the song that almost ended up in the dustbin was played as a signature tune at the Miss Universe competition in Namibia in 1995.
Innocent recalled how Dembo approached and asked him to join his group as a matter of urgency.
“He had attended one of our shows in Chitungwiza and came the next day for me; I was hesitant at first but later took up the offer. He used to rehearse at the Rose and Crown Hotel in Hatfield. I went there and he asked whether I was comfortable playing his songs. He tried me on Sharai and it worked,” remembered Innocent who came to Harare from Hwange where he had just finished his Ordinary levels.
Together with Dembo, Innocent played rhythm on 10 albums except Sharai that was recorded before he joined the group.
Innocent, together with Shepherd, tried to keep the Barura Express alive after Dembo’s death but could not match their mentor’s vocal prowess hence the disbandment of the group.
Imagine if fate had not stepped in there would not be any Chitekete to talk about.

His death in 1996

Dembo’s death drew more attention just like what his music did largely because in the last days, he sought disgraced convicted rapist Madzibaba Nzira’s help. Dembo had to leave the comfort of his Belvedere home and settle for Nzira’s shelter in the sprawling Seke Township.
In his desperation to get back his health, Dembo paraded like a prize cow in Seke by Madzibaba Nzira. At one time there was talk that he had healed and that he would feature alongside Nicholas Zakaria.
In a way, Madzibaba Nzira became more famous than Dembo himself by making claims that

Sunday 16 October 2011

First Farai comes across as immature, all talk no action

There is already talk that First Farai, self confessed admirer of the late Tongai Moyo will take over Utakataka Express. In an interview with my former colleague and successor at The Herald, Ruth Butaumocho, First Farai does not come out in the open when asked whether he would be glad to take over. But knowing First Farai as I do, bar what Hosiah Chipanga said about him taking some money meant for Cephas Mashakada’s chema, the dude from Chinhoyi lacks stature.
I have known First Farai for quite some time now just like I have known Somadla Ndebele. What First Farai lacks is maturity.
He tells you one thing and then does the opposite. He is too much talk and little or no action.
For example, after the accusations of taking money, First Farai rushes to the media saying he would compose a song called Mari Yechema.
One must follow his claims in the Hmetro where he enjoys free space to peddle his imaginations. In one story, he claims to be a farmer; in another he wants to act and then his wife has a second child.

My Glendale/ Shamva experience with First Farai

Shamva music promoter, Jose is a huge man. He is a small time businessman trying to bring Shamva closer to the world of music. He is also the kind of man who can just call you and speak as if you know each other from a long time ago. So one weekend he forced me to travel first to Glendale where First Farai was performing at Tsungubvi Beer Hall.
The beer hall is a big structure that has lost its appeal because of years of neglect. The concrete benches are chipped and cracked. There is an atmosphere of decay everywhere. Even the people especially the youth who come to quench their thirst here seem to have given up on life.
Glendale started decaying when the cotton ginnery, the only viable industry, closed down. Then the surrounding farms were taken over and the workers trekked into Glendale. It’s a dying town under its own red dust.
Although Glendale is only 20 km from my village, I have never stayed there. I only pass by and I know how it used to be. I also know how the bar used to be.
So when Jose forced me to see how he was changing Shamva and Glendale into musical zones, I agreed.
And First farai is also a huge man but not as huge as Jose. The show was supposed to start at 7pm but First Farai took his time just like a real celebrity. The people waited drinking and hoping.
When he made his ‘grand’ entry clad in a shiny suit, First Farai had a hero’s welcome.
I was not surprised because First Farai grew up in Chinhoyi, another farming area.
Of course, First Farai can’t sing. He does but there is always disjointedness between his voice and the instrumental arrangements. This is what sungura has become – some high pitched voice wailing over sluggish instruments. It’s no longer what John Chibadura brought. Neither is it what the Chimbetus pioneered.
His fans, who never have such a chance of attending a live show, wailed along and danced their hearts out.
After the show that ended around 11pm, First Farai told me that he was not stopping but moving on like a speeding train.
From then on, he would come for interviews which I never gave. I had and still have the feeling that First Farai needs refinement.
To me, First Farai comes across as a confused breed of musician. At one moment, he prides himself on copying Tongai Moyo. Then he gives this impression that he is his own man. There is also a strong dislike of Alick Macheso in him.
Like most small time musicians, First Farai has this thing of cosying up to you and then thinks that you have to write anything about him or defend him.
So when in 2007 a story about his 7 band members staying in a single room in Chitungwiza came, First Farai called me asking whether we would run the story. I said we would. And he went into the ‘mudhara but mudhara’ mode.
The story ran. And then came calls. We had never received so many calls about a story. I became suspicious. The calls only stopped when I asked whether the caller on the other end whose voice sounded like a small boy's was First Farai.
Farai had just relocated to Harare then when part of his life showed some improvement. So he thought Harare would give the magic wand. It did not. First Farai lived on the edge of poverty but he would never admit it.
Maybe, one such sign is the allegations that he stole condolence money during the late Cephas Mashakada’s funeral. That too did not surprise me.
But who is First Farai?
His real name is Farai Batanai. He got his ticket into the music industry in 2003 when he rode the International Music Crossroad train into fame.
Just like many others, First Farai just like Nicholas Zakaria, Alick Macheso, John Chibadura and many others was tutored by Shepherd Chinyani (see story) when he came to Harare from Chinhoyi in 1995.
In an informal discussion, First Farari told me that he heard about Music Crossroad in 2002 and decided to try. He went through and travelled to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in 2003.
His debut cassette was recorded at Prince Tendai’s High Density Studios.
But when he failed to sell well, he sought out Somandla Ndebele for help. He was shown doors to Gramma Records.
First Farai is one of many who are being accused by Alick Macheso as copycats or vana murondatsimba. Of course, he does not agree to this but instead admits that he plays like Tongai Moyo.
“I don't deny that I am really inspired by Tongai and I do emulate a lot of things about him and his musical career.
Just to show how much the guy inspires me, I have even penned and recorded a song in his praise titled Dhewa Maoresa from my album, Mbangambanga. Dhewa, on the other hand, penned a song "Varikumusha" that I went on to record, as a sign of comradeship,” he told Ruth Butaumoto, my successor at The Herald. “If that alone makes me a copycat, then I make no apologies for it. But those in the know will tell you that my product is very different from Dhewa's.”
He denied that his members went on hungry. Some of them came to give us a story in 2008 saying they were not being paid well but First Farai denied it accusing them of embarking on a smear campaign.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Tongai Moyo's unease life - personal misfortunes, hounded by the media

I will remember Tongai Moyo for his tearful pleas asking what sin he had committed against marauding entertainment journalists who hounded him after he flew to the UK when his father died in 2003.
The issue of his father’s funeral haunted Tongai and some people even suggested that he should consult traditional healers to cast out the curse that saw him escaping freak accidents.

Apart from Leonard Zhakata, Tongai Moyo was the second musician who was reluctant to meet me for an interview. After trying about four times in 2005, I gave up until the issue of vana murondatsimba cropped up.
Initially, Tongai could not say why he was reluctant to meet me. He would agree and then change a day before the meeting. Even when I finally met him during a gala in Kwekwe, it was a chance meeting but it warmed him up and then two weeks after the gala he called setting up a meeting.
He came to Harare and was based at Bira Hotel (formerly Terreskane) in the Avenues. In a wide ranging interview, Tongai said he had been ripped off by entertainment journalists and that made him unease about meeting me.
He pointed out that the story of his father’s death when he was leaving for the UK only died in the papers after he had paid journalists a lot of money.
“Mhosva yandakapara handiizive,” I recall him saying tearfully. “Mhuri yangu agreed kuti ndiende because ma-preparations ainge aitwa ose.”
He gave me the names of the reporters from across the media spectrum who took advantage of his father’s death. Even on the day I met him, an entertainment editor from a Sunday paper had just met him asking for money to buy petrol.
My second meeting was in Guruve when he had a Heroes Day show. He was very popular in Guruve and the venue was packed. And the third time was at the showgrounds during the Chibuku Road to Fame finals. It was at the height of their feud with Alick Macheso and Garikai Mazara and I organised that they surprise their fans by sharing the stage. (See Alick Macheso story)
Tongai came across as a level-headed musician. He listened and never pushed himself onto the people.
But it also appeared as if he had shadows that followed him especially after his father’s death. First was a freak accident in 2001 that almost cost the lives of his band members while travelling from a show at Nzvimbo Growth Point in Chiweshe. There, he lost all his equipment.
In 2003, thieves broke into his Kwekwe house and got away with electrical gadgets while he was performing, alongside Kofi Olomide at the Harare International Conference Centre.
In 2006, he almost died in a fire when his kombi caught a fire while driving to Harare for the Chibuku Road to Fame. Equipment and Z$570 000 cash were burnt. The fire started just after Tongai had disembarked from the kombi that had developed a mechanical fault.
“After the mini bus had broken down and could not start,” he said then, “I told one of my drivers who was driving the lorry we use to carry most of our equipment that I needed to drive the lorry.
“It was after I had left the seat and the other driver was trying to restart the engine of the mini bus that the bus was enveloped with a ball of fire.”
In 2008, Tongai was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer. I met him briefly and he said he would be alright. But rumours of his death broke quite often after the diagnosis.
In 2009, his BT50 double cab from Gramma Records killed his nephew, Jacob Chosa, when it crashed and in 2010, his wife Barbara committed suicide.
Tongai dismissed the talk of a curse saying, “That is why they are called accidents. At times you can’t avoid them because God might have planned your life that way. But I am very much aware that people who believe in African tradition and Christianity have their different views.”
Like Oliver Mtukudzi, Tongai had no rich musical background. He emerged in 1988 when he joined Shirichena Jazz band with which he release Ndoita Zvangu Ndoga in 1991 and then a single titled Wandibhowa in 1992. He then moved onto another Kwekwe based band, Shirinhema.
Fed up with band hopping, Tongai formed the Utakataka Express shortly afterwards. In 1996, he released Vimbo which set him up as an upcoming sungura artist. The album sold more than 100 000 copies.
He was a self-confessed admirer of the late Leonard Dembo whom he claimed to have played with during his band hopping days. He even adopted one of Dembo’s sons but the boy walked away.

He will go down in Zimbabwe’s music history as a ‘now musician’ who penned songs which dealt with topical issues. His fans will remember his album Chingwa and a recent one he penned about ‘prophet’ Makandiwa.

Friday 14 October 2011

Kudzidza Kwakanaka encouraged many to seek education . . . Epworth Theatrical Strutters made it

It's quite unbelievable to hear often from today's young musicians that he or she wrote a certain composition while walking down the road or travelling in a bus. It takes time to come up with a decent tune, moreso with a masterpiece.
We would really take our time putting on the best suits or smart casual. And the audience would also come looking elegant in different outfits, so the entertainer needed to stay one step ahead – Andrew Kanyowa, Epworth Theatrical Strutters

I attended Andrew Kanyowa’s burial in Epworth in 2006. Although he had moved to Southerton, Andrew who together with his two brothers Nesbert and Peter formed the Epworth Theatrical Strutters, was born and bred in Epworth long before it became a sprawling township it is today.
Andrew, a teacher by profession later became one of Zimbabwe’s celebrated court reporters. After the burial, one of his daughters visited me and gave me the story of the Epworth Theatrical Strutters, Zimbabwe’s trendsetter groups some of whose songs such as Kudzidza Kwakanaka made it big during Rhodesia.
Unlike most musical groups at the time - City Slickers Milton Brothers, Golden Rhythm Crooners, De Black Evening Follies, Arcadia Rhythm Lights, Cool 4 - Epworth Theatrical Strutters composed or sang songs in local languages.

Below is the interview

Epworth Theatrical Strutters revolutionized music

They started small.

The three Kanyowa brothers - Nesbert. Peter and Andrew - who were born and bred in Epworth, then a grouping of decent villages worked on their music in a small room everyday after work.
Andrew and his elder brother Peter were both teachers. Andrew, who played the piano, was a choirmaster at Epworth Central Primary School.
Driven by a passion for music, the three would compose, arrange and rehearse their stuff until they were convinced everything step, note and pitch was right.
In order to reach out to the public in a well-organised manner, the brothers founded the Epworth Theatrical Stars that did everything on stage – dance, sketches, music and anything that delighted the audience.
Their act captured Charlie Chaplin’s theatricals among many other American or European comedians. Of the three brothers, Nesbert was good at imitating Chaplin.
Being Southern Rhodesia and the Federation era, the black population welcomed the brothers who had chosen to call themselves the Epworth Theatrical Stars.
Later, typical of the African culture, cousins - Herbert Simemeza, John Mate, Douglas Maruba, Fred Maruba, Kerdisli Maruba and Gertrude Tetiwe Solani - were incorporated into the group.
The group was then renamed Epworth Theatrical Strutters and songs that are still considered classics reeled off the tongues of the vastly talented group.
One of the most popular songs done by the group was Kudzidza Kwakanaka which is used as a signature tune for a number of radio programmes.
Other songs were Mangwiro, Iwe Mandinema and Uridenga Rangu Mwanawe among others.
Although the group had rivals in the form of groups from Harare Highfield and Mbare - and Bulawayo, it's the first such group to sing in local languages.
Groups such as the City Slickers Milton Brothers, Golden Rhythm Crooners, De Black Evening Follies, Arcadia Rhythm Lights, Cool 4 and others who drew their inspiration from the west composed or did cover versions in English.
Probably it was largely because of this originality that the Epworth Theatrical Strutters was chosen to welcome the National Democratic Party (NDP) officials who included the late Edison Sithole, James Chikerema and George Nyandoro in 1963 at Gwanzura Stadium when they were released from detention.
The late Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo, who was the President of NDP, officiated at the welcome ceremony.
Their invitation to participate at this function could also have been inspired by the subtle political messages in most of their songs.
Take Kudzidza Kwakanaka for example, which encouraged Africans to take up education because it was the only tool they could use in order to attain sovereignty.
Besides revolutionising music, the group brought in a new fashion trend - the bow ties, well-polished shoes, the turn-up trousers, double-breasted jackets and hats.
Above all, the group was an example of how songs and a whole act should be produced.
In an interview with Viv Maravanyika of the then Sunday Mail Magazine, Andrew Kanyowa the last of the Kanyowa brothers spoke about the importance of working hard on a musical piece.
"It's quite unbelievable to hear often from today's young musicians that he or she wrote a certain composition while walking down the road or travelling in a bus. It takes time to come up with a decent tune, moreso with a masterpiece.
"We would really take our time putting on the best suits or smart casual. And the audience would also come looking elegant in different outfits, so the entertainer needed to stay one step ahead," he said.
He also said that way back then, money was not much of an issue with musicians but providing entertainment and they asked for 20 cents at least and 30 cents at most.
"We were not looking at monetary gains but giving entertainment in its truest form."
But despite playing at a welcome ceremony for some of Zimbabwe’s earliest nationalists, the group, just like its Bulawayo counterpart, the Golden Rhythm Crooners and the Cool 4, disbanded.
Andrew, who was 78 never went back into music but concentrated on his career as a court reporter.
His death last week marked an end to a golden era that spawned equally silken voiced musicians in the mould of Simangaliso Thtani, Sonny Sondo among many others.
Theirs was no small matter even after starting small.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Uplifting, lulling and blessing - Shingisai Suluma

I get a lot of people saying my music has uplifted them to be better Christians, and God has been speaking to them through our music. We use the word of God to write our music, so if through the music we help others to be better Christians, then we have done our job.

Shingisai Suluma was accompanied by her husband, Steven, when she came for the interview in October 2005. Just then her album Tatenda Taona released in 2004 had peaked at number one on the radio charts where it held on for 20 long weeks.
Tatenda Taona was her sixth album after Zvanaka (1995), Huya Ishe Jesu (1998), Mumaoko (2000), Nokuti Wakanaka (2002) and Fara Zvakadaro (2003).
Both Shingisai and Steven are soft-spoken. We sat in the Herald’s conference room, a big cold room where editorial meetings are held.
I learnt on the day that Shingisai had been condemned to death by her doctor and when she got off the claws of death, she penned all the songs on the album Tatenda Taona.
“I wrote the songs on the album after coming from hospital,” she told me, “The song Tatenda Taona is basically about my gratitude. I am saying we have seen your power and we are grateful.”

Below is the interview:

There is something universal with music, love, pain, laughter and death.
When music is played in a foreign language, it arouses interest in people who do not understand a single word of the language. That is the same with emotions when two people from different cultures or races meet. That too is the same with pain – everybody feels it.
People weep when they lose their loved ones. They all laugh when something humorous is said and they all tap their feet or nod their heads when a gospel track is played.
While Zimbabweans may not know what inspired Shingisai Suluma to produce her latest album, Tatenda Taona, it is clear from the response the album is getting that they feel the same way she felt when she sat down to write the songs.
“I wrote the songs on the album after coming out of hospital where doctors had condemned me to death. But God raised me from the dead and gave my life back to me.
“Most of the songs on the album are, apart from thanking God, celebrating my decade off making music. I was passionate when I wrote all the songs on the album,” she said.
For Shingisai making an album is not a one-day affair, “It takes a lot of time, commitment, creativity, personality and individuality to make a quality album. For me, it means thorough preparations which start with writing songs. I think my style of music makes me appear mature. It is slow and infectious.
“When compared with others, my style is similar to country music while others play gospel linked to sungura or kwasa kwasa,” she explained.
She said her music is original because she composes it unlike others who are still stuck in borrowing from hymns and dirges.
“Other gospel artists are still borrowing from hymns and dirges but my strength comes from my originality and creativity. I also believe that sticking to one album per year pays,” she further said.
Her musical career started in earnest in England in the early 90s where she had gone to study for BA Honors in Art and Design.
“Although I come from a musical family – my parents used to sing in the church choir – I was not interested in music when I was forced to sing in the choir.
“In England, friends whom I sang in the choir with recognised my talents and encouraged me to take up music full time. I did and recorded the album Zvanaka while I was at college. It was not popular probably because of poor marketing,” she said.
When she returned to Zimbabwe, Shingisai did not give up, instead she formed the 16 member Joy Street Choir to help her revive the England dream.
Together with her husband, who engineers, produces and shots her videos, she started slowly to climb the musical ladder.
“It was not easy when I did my second album Huya Ishe Jesu since we had to record it elsewhere and find other people to do everything for us.
“Record companies had no confidence in us and as such were not interested. It was only after the success of Mumaoko that they started showing interest and the desire to work with us,” she remembered.
The popular track Mirira Magwanani is taken off the album Mumaoko.
Today, Shingisai is lucky to have a studio in her home where she does all her recording as well as help others to realise their dreams.

About Shingisai
Shingisai was born into a musical home. Her father was a pastor. By the age of eight she had already joined her family singing in church.
By the time she turned seventeen Shingisai was leading the church choir in praise and worship. She knew she was called to be a worshipper. With her two sisters Tutsirayi and Nyasha they formed an acapella trio and performed at several concerts and church functions.
Shingisai recorded her first album in England where she was studying for her first degree, in 1995. That marked the beginning of greater things to come.
Shingisai married Stephen Suluma who is her music director and producer. God has blessed them with two daughters Tashinga and Tiara. Tashinga loves to play the keyboard. By the age of 7 she was performing at school and church. Tiara has already started singing praise to God.
Shingisai has recorded eight albums and has won several national awards in Zimbabwe. She is currently living with her family in the USA and studying.
Recently Shingisai and her team realised that many people are failing to access her music. They decided to transform their ministry into a listener supported ministry. Downloads of her music are available free on this website. They displayed confidence in you the listener and supporter of her music that the ministry can be sustained by your voluntary contributions. Please partner with them and make a contrubution towards this great work.

Shingisai Suluma, now one of Zimbabwe's top gospel singers, admits it all may never have happened without the persistance of her parents. On a tour of the United Kingdom, her first trip to the country after 14 years, the star speaks to New about her reluctant rise to stardom. This is The Truth About: Shingisai Suluma
Born: February 28, 1971
Home Town: Born in Gweru but from Mutasa, Manicaland
Marital Status & Children: Married to Stephen Suluma with two children Tashinga, 11 and Tiara, 5

It has been said that you are a born performer. What got you hooked on music so early on in your life?
My parents were musically-inclined, they both sang in church. My sister and I would find ourselves also being made to sing. When you are from a musical family, they want you to follow that and we found ourselves doing hours and hours of rehearsals at home, and singing in church on Sunday whether we liked it or not. I was around six or seven years when I would get up and sing in church. Now, seeing what music has done for me, I am thankful and appreciative of my parents’ persistence.
Did it cross your mind back then that you would grow to become the superstar gospel singer you are today?
I never imagined it! The idea of recording music really never crossed my mind until I arrived in England in 1991 for my university studies [Art and Design BA Hons]. It was through the encouragement and insistence of friends that I recorded my first album Zvanaka in 1995.
Your husband is your current producer. When did you start working with him?
He did not come on until the second album. He worked with me on the second CD Huyai Ishe Jesu, and we have gone on to record seven albums in total, including the latest Ndewake which we are launching on the UK tour.
You are currently based in the United States. What took you there?
I left Zimbabwe in September last year because I had projects in China where I taught English for three months. My husband had organised further studies [Masters in Divinity] in the United States so when I finished in China I joined him. I’m also beginning studies for a Masters in Marriage and Family Counselling next year.
How much song writing do you do?
My husband and I do the song writing, individually or jointly. Sometimes I come up with the tune, but I must say he does most of the writing, he has the biggest talent. It’s easy for him because he plays the instruments.
What’s your favourite musical instrument?
I have tried the guitar but found it very difficult, not least because I love my nails and so pulling strings presents problems. I have recently been playing mbira – which also tests my nails but I’m better at it. We want to add mbira to give our music a traditional Zimbabwean flavour for our American audience.
Which Zimbabwean musicians to you look up to?
It’s got to be strictly a woman! Before I started singing, I used to look up to Mai Wutawunashe, and I also admired Olivia Charamba and wanted to be at her level. I have also learnt some things from Fungisai [Zvakavapano].
Do you remember your first show?
It was on the first week I arrived back in Zimbabwe in 1996. I was invited by the late Brian Sibalo who had got a copy of my first album and wanted me to come on as a support act at the Sheraton Hotel [now Rainbow Towers]. It went well although I was nervous to sing for the first time before a big audience. It was overwhelming.
What’s the nicest thing ever said to you by a fan?
I get a lot of people saying my music has uplifted them to be better Christians, and God has been speaking to them through our music. We use the word of God to write our music, so if through the music we help others to be better Christians, then we have done our job.
Have you ever been bitten by an animal?
Never, but I exercise caution around dogs. I try to like them which probably has spared me a biting.
What are you most afraid of?
Mosquitoes! I hate mosquito bites. I think I have been stung by mosquitoes more than any other person I know. I don’t know why they come after me, I wish someone can tell me. I seem to be a favourite of mosquitoes. My father suggested I must swallow mhiripiri (chilli) but that’s an unproven theory I suspect.
What was your worst job ever?
When I was a student in England I worked at an old people’s home. I was on a scholarship but I was required to pay may way around in living costs and that was about the only job I could do without a qualification. That’s got to be the worst.
You worked as a teacher when you returned to Zimbabwe from England?
Yes, I taught art and design at three different schools in the late 90s and after 2000 -- Oriel Girls High, Alan Wilson Boys High and Eaglesville Secondary School. The salaries were ok then, but things were changing until they finally became unbearable with the economic and political developments.
What’s the scariest thing you have ever done?
Rowing in a small boat on Lake Chivero. I can swim but I was extremely frightened … there was something just dangerous about it.
If President Robert Mugabe was to ask for a single piece of advice from you, what would you tell him?
I would tell him that if you love the Lord, and if you serve the Lord, then you will have eternal life.
What was the last book you read?
This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti.
How do you start your week?
I go on my Facebook and e-mail to respond to e-mails. I also plan rehearsals with my group and as a mother and wife, I have to do some house work and prepare the kids for school. It’s hectic.
Who would you most like to meet – dead or alive?
Cece Winans and Shirley Caesar -- two musicians that really inspired me.
In your opinion, what’s the best song ever recorded?
Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, but then he did a lot of amazing songs. Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You comes close, I want my voice to be like hers!
Which song from your eight albums do you like the most?
I would say Nanhasi and Mirira Mangwanani were well received by the public and you somehow find yourself leaning towards saying there must be something special there. Personally, Ndopaanouya and Zvaachakuitira (Tatenda Taona) are both songs that speak directly to my heart. I would have to pick those two as my favourites.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Farai Pio Macheka impressed me as a reluctant survivor

From selling vegetables at a Glen Norah market to being a fishmonger, the late Farai Pio Macheka gave me the impression that he was not only a reluctant musician but survivor who had given up on himself.
Indeed, Macheka committed suicide complaining that his music wasn’t being played on radio and that nobody wanted it.

It was journalist-cum-music promoter Martin Chemhere who brought Farai Pio Macheka to me in 2007, a year before he committed suicide. Chemhere was trying to help Pio rebound.
My first impression of Pio was that of a reluctant musician being dragged. The interview was a sluggish one. Pio had nothing much to say except one-word answers.
I remember a few shows were held and there was talk about him coming back. Then came the silence.
When I later ran into Chemhere at Ximex Mall, he was not upbeat about Pio anymore. They had parted ways.
When news of Pio’s death came, I spoke to his wife Eusebia who told me that Pio had lost interest in music opting to go fishing. He, in fact, had become a fishmonger.
His sister, Anna, also said when Pio committed suicide; he had asked her to pray for him. She said they thought that Pio had thought of going to South Africa to look for a job since he had a class 2 driver’s licence.
“He was always complaining that his type of music, Chimurenga, was not receiving enough airplay on national radio and also that music promoters were shunning him. This made him bitter, though we did not think that his disenchantment with the state of the entertainment industry would lead him to commit suicide,” said Anna.
Pio was a good musician but the odds seemed to have been against him. In 1997 when he was riding high, unknown assailants thought to have been linked to Thomas Mapfumo cut off his dreadlocks and accused him of being a copy cat.
After that incident, he went underground, presumably fish-mongering until his return in 2001 when he had a new manageress Judith Mabika.

Below is the story I wrote when he committed suicide

One of Zimbabwe’s popular Chimurenga musicians, Farai ‘Pio’ Macheka committed suicide and did not die after a short illness as earlier reported, his relatives said.
Macheka is said to have committed suicide by drinking a pesticide, ‘Roga’ and died on admission at Chitungwiza Central Hospital.
However, both the police and hospital officials could not disclose the actual cause of Macheka’s death.
However the Herald reports that Macheka is said to have been already dead when he was brought to Chitungwiza Hospital.
The chief executive officer of the hospital Dr Obadiah Moyo said when Macheka was brought to the hospital for treatment, he was already dead.
“We assisted with the provision of mortuary services for Pio as he was brought here already dead.’’
Police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Memory Pamire said he was also not aware that Macheka had committed suicide.
However Anna Macheka (44), his elder sister and the artiste’s wife Eusebia Garisayi (24) said Macheka committed suicide.
“Pio was complaining that the royalties he was receiving for his music were a pittance as compared to the effort and resources he had invested.
“He was always complaining that his type of music, Chimurenga, was not receiving enough airplay on national radio and also that music promoters were shunning him.
“This made him bitter, though we did not think that his disenchantment with the state of the entertainment industry would lead him to commit suicide,” said Anna.
Macheka’s wife said: “He often complained about the current radio’s fixation with sungura music saying that this was killing the music industry as other types of music were being sidelined, but we never expected him to take his life over that.” - October 2008

Singer may have killed himself over royalties, lack of airplay

An upcoming Zimbabwean singer may have committed suicide because of his disenchantment over lack of his recognition for his music and trifle royalties from album sales, his family said.
Pio Farai Macheka, famed for his hit song Karinga Wangu, was disillusioned with the music industry and particularly unhappy that his music was not receiving airplay and promoters were not giving him gigs, but he never showed signs he was suicidal, his sister said.
"Pio was complaining that the royalties he was receiving for his music were a pittance as compared to the effort and resources he had invested,” said Anna Macheka, his elder sister.
She added: "He was always complaining that his type of music, Chimurenga, was not receiving enough airplay on national radio and also that music promoters were shunning him.
"This made him bitter, though we did not think that his disenchantment with the state of the entertainment industry would lead him to commit suicide.”
The singer, 41, was dead by the time he arrived at Chitungwiza Central Hospital last week, hospital authorities said.
"We assisted with the provision of mortuary services for Pio as he was brought here already dead,” hospital CEO Dr Obadiah Moyo told the Herald newspaper.
Pio’s family say he took his own life by drinking a pesticide called roga.
Eusebia, his surviving 24-year-old wife said: "He often complained about radio's fixation with sungura music saying that this was killing the music industry as other types of music were being sidelined, but we never expected him to take his life over that."
Macheka famously claimed that Chimurenga star Thomas Mapfumo had hired men to attack him and shave off his dreadlocks because he had allegedly copied his style.
He announced his arrival on the scene with Mabweadziva, his debut album released with his backing group, Black Ites.
He released two other albums, MaKitchen Party and Mutonga. –

He was born on 16th of May 1963 in Harare. In family of five (consisting of two boys and three girls) he was the last born. Originally he comes from Chirumanzi (Masvingo). He is one of the Karanga tribe. His totem (clan name) is Murozwi. He grew up in a poor family, and his family struggled to meet his needs and school fees. He started his grade at Deews Primary School in Masvingo province. He left Masvingo for Harare in 1974 and continued with his education at Glen Norah where he sat for his grade seven in 1977.
After grade seven he went to Saint Peters High School where he did his form one. He could not proceed to form two because of financial constraints. So in 1979 he did not go to school because his father was earning very small money that he could not continue to support the family.
He started on art craft and music from which he earned himself enough money and continued with his secondary education which he was doing his real results corresponding collage he sat for his 0 level in 1984.Commitments he was involved in, which he earned some money.
In the year 1996, He formed his first musical group called “The Ancestors Beat Band”. It was consisted of eight members. The band did very well reggae music. And on the other hand, he was fighting on a war of his own, the traditional music war.
This war was continued when he approached some recording companies because they could not accept to record his staff as they regarded as copyrights of other musicians like Thomas Mapfumo. The long fought battle with those companies was a blessing in disguise. So he continued performing shows without any recordings.
So he managed to acquire enough fame which excited the large audience which he used to house during his live performances. The only limitation to his success was large sums of money he used to hire musical equipment which used to drawn most of his earnings. Things began to change. For the better under the management of Nyarai Packry and Pervy Nyika. They recorded his music entitled “Mabwe Adziva” which was composed of.
In 1987 victory came to his side when he managed to record two traditional seven singles which flopped duo to lack of air play and publicity he never lost hopes. In the same year, he joined The Demera Band under the leadership of Phillippa Ndemera the name to which he added “Ites” to make it “Ndemera-Ites Band”.
He played with Ndemera-Ites up to 1991. In 1992 his father died. By then he stopped playing music. It was very unfortunate that the person who was promoting the band was the beaten by some hooligans who insisted that we should stop playing Chimurenga Music.
So he and other guys who played mbira were fired The Demera-Ites continued play. But this time the resorted to play a Simanje Manje Beat (South African Beat).
In order to make songs meet he started to sell some vegetables at a market place in Glen Norah. That very same year he was discovered by a new recording company called Record and Tape Promotions.
“That was my first successful album which also included the hit song "Karinga Wangu" which topped the charts for several weeks on number one.
This was the beginning of his success story as he was now playing the songs at full packed venues, just like the big name of that time.
He also started sharing stages with local and international artist. Namely Oliver Mtukudzi, Lovemore Majaivana, Shabba Ranks, Gregory Isaacs, Misty in Roots, Kanda Bongo Man, Freddie Gwala, Aleck Macheso, Tongai Moyo, Ambuya Stella Chiweshe, Ambuya Dyoko, Ephat Mujuru just to mention a few. –

My friend Kireni Zulu's small man with big mouth

Club M5 in Westlea Harare was Kireni Zulu’s favourite spot. The club is at the top of shops and to get there one has to go up a flight of concrete steps.
I got Kireni Zulu’s invitation through a very close friend who had become the solo guitarist’s number one fan. I had heard about Kireni and listened to his music before then.
The friend, Toendepi Shone who is now the MDC director general convinced me and I agreed to go along. To start with, I hate small bars where people pack themselves like sardines. This is what M5 is – a narrow corridor where there is no enough space for movement when it’s full. Second, Westlea was a new haunt for me. But for the sake of my job, I went along.
Indeed, we arrived before the place was full but Kireni was already strumming his guitar. He was seated on a high stool by the window. There were some speakers, and amplifier and his guitar. That was all. Oh, there were also two lady dancers and backing vocalists.
On the window ledge was a bottle of Fanta. From time to time, Kireni would stop to take a sip and say: “Tiri pano navana Mukoma vedu tichinwa fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanttaa!
When I was introduced to him, Kireni was delighted. And that meeting marked our long lasting friendship.
With time I got to know all of Kireni’s jokes. One of my favourites was the one where he says a husband and his wife were raped. So after the rape, the wife said to the husband: Saka manyengwawoka nhasi?
Indeed, Kireni’s performances were more than gigs. They became some kind of informal gatherings where the fans would also be given time to showcase what they can offer.
So whenever I pray Ndichakuvaraidza, I visualise my friend Shone on the dance floor. And Kireni would ask people to clear the dance floor for Shone before playing the song.
Kireni’s popularity grew despite the fact that he plays simple music. Then M5 became small for him. He then landed at Jazz 105 where he would also play before a capacity crowd.
My first impression of Kireni was that of a small man (indeed he is a small man) with a big mouth. Of course, he talks and that’s why he manages to hold his fans spellbound for hours on end.

Below is the article I wrote in 2006 after attending the show

Last Easter Oliver Mtukudzi was playing at the Harare International Conference Centre while Alick Macheso and Hosiah Chipanga were at Pamuzinda Xscape Highway.
These venues are within a 10km radius of Club M5 in Westlea where, on the same day, the solo guitarist Kireni Zulu was doing his own thing.
Although Club M5 accompanied about 100 people it’s not easy rare for an artist to fill the auditorium when Mtukudzi and Alick Macheso are playing in the vicinity.
The other weekend, the resurgent musician Kenneth Chigodora failed to attract more than 20 people at the same venue when Macheso was at Warren Park 1’s Blue Venus.
And then Daiton Somanje had to entertain less than seven people in Glen View 1’s Club Penyai when Macheso was at Club Lashers at Budiriro 1.
Both Mtukudzi and Macheso have huge followings but Kireni has built his own following. And his fans love him such that every joke he cracks is received with loud applause and every song he plays draws many onto the dance floor.
“I have understood where other guitarists who preceded me went wrong. Of course, they were great considering that entertaining a crowd for more than 10 hours is not an easy task. But there were things that they did not do. These are the things I am adding to my act,” he told me during the break.
He added, “I plan my shows beforehand. I realised that every show has to be different. I strive to bring new material for every show. I know that people love my jokes. But then they cannot come to hear me saying the same jokes 1o times over. I must, therefore, create new jokes and surprise my audience.”
These new ‘things’ which Kireni introduces have seen the numbers of people who follow him grow and some have special songs played for them. This interaction makes the solo guitarist’s shows more than just live shows but family gatherings where people are brought together by music, laughter and the joy of being alive.
“But it is not easy to play the guitar alone. Perched on a high stool with drunken people all over the place, one has to know how to communicate with them because one silly mistake leads to enormous consequences.
“For example, I cannot sing about the bad things the beer cases when I am entertaining guzzlers. I can’t also sing about prostitution when most of my fans are women.
“But I sing about HIV and Aids because we don’t want to see people dying. I sing about it in a clever way that does not scare or make people hate me. I would not have performed if I end a show without singing about HIV and Aids.”
The boy from a farm in Zvishavane who taught himself how to play the banjo has, from 1976, travelled a long road to achieve the success he enjoys today.
“I used to steal my elder brother’s banjo which he kept in the eaves of our hut in Zvishavane. I would then find a secluded place where I played the instrument. One day, I was asked if I could play.
“They were not sure and after grumbling, they gave me the banjo and I played it with confidence. My brother sang while I strummed. With time, I became a relief player,” explained Kireni.
From the farm, the family moved to Mazvihwa. Then Kireni and his brothers left for Rimuka in Kadoma when the war of liberation intensified.
In Kadoma, Kireni helped his brothers in the family photographic venture while honing his guitar playing skills. With Rimuka being close to Harare, Kireni who was an avid listener of the then Radio 2, one day he responded to a call for solo guitarists to record with the broadcaster in 1991.
‘I travelled to Harare where I recorded my songs – Mwedzi Unopererei, Masquatter- and Zvinosanduka.
“One of my elder brothers invited me to come and stay in Harare in order to pursue music while taking pictures. It was then when I met Clive Malunga during the Jenaguru Music festivals at Gwanzura. Clive took me to Record and Tape Promotions and then to Gramma Records but both advised me to form a group,” he remembered.
In his bid to form a group, Kireni said he approached Baba Mechanic Manyeruke who gave him his band – the Puritans – to work with.
With the Puritans, Kireni went for auditions at Gramma where he sang Mwedzi Unopererei and Musha Uri Kudenga but still the record company told him that his music would not sell.
“I returned to Baba Manyeruke who told me that he had done what he could. Simon Pashoma (Radio 2 DJ) introduced me to a newly formed record company called Mutema where I was asked to record all my songs which were accepted at the Zimbabwe Music Corporation.”
The songs he recorded were compiled into his 1998 album titled Panyika Pano and in 2000 Mazai Adhimba followed.
In 2001, Kireni weaned himself from Mutema Studios and signed a contract with ZMC after which he released Mupata Wachidembo with Nyevero coming up later.
His latest album, Marabi Music has proved to be a perfect product that augurs well for marabi music.
“Marabi music is music played by one man using a three-stringed guitar. One can have many dancers or backing vocalists but as long as there is one guitar the music remains marabi.
“I have retained the guitar and added backing vocals. I know my fans want my music to be like that,” he said.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Mateo & Friends heartbreakers

Mateo Kaunda, Patience Musa and Willom Tight who made up the Mateo & Friends outfit met at comedian Edgar Langeveldt's Nexus Talent Agency in the late 90s. Willom, who was a member of the Zim Jam group together with Langeveldt, hung around; Patience had come to the agency in a bid to refine her voice while Mateo came in search of backing vocalists after a stint with Albert Nyathi in 1993

I first met Mateo Kaunda & Friends when I was writing for the Masvingo Tribune, a provincial Daily News sister paper in the late 90s. It was during an Artists Against Poverty Campaign show ran by Daves Guzha’s Rooftop Promotions.
There was a concert in the Harare Gardens and I spoke to Mateo who at the time was riding the crest of a success wave. Of course, I had seen him in Budiriro One before passing.
At the time, he was performing alongside Willom Tight, Patience Musa, Jimmy Buzuzi, the late Sanchez Fred Allan and Walter Paradzai.
They had also just released their album Asambe Africa that was making huge waves on the local music scene. I recall writing that the youthful group was going to be Zimbabwe’s best performers.
I was wrong and I was right. Shortly afterwards, the group split. The rest dumped Mateo. I was right because Patience and Willom are still into music while Mateo has been forced to give up because of illness.
One day I gave Willom a lift to Budiriro One in 2000 where he once stayed. I took the opportunity to ask him what had happened. His words: ‘Akakura musoro patakapihwa Z$20 000. Akatanga kusauya kuma-rehearsals . . .’
I also boarded the same bus from Bulawayo with Jimmy Buzuzi once and he repeated the same about Mateo.
Then my last meeting with Mateo was at Simon Chimbetu’s funeral. They were staying in the same neighbourhood in Mabelreign. At the time, Mateo was slowly losing his senses. I gave him a lift into town. All the way, he was talking incoherently. He even offered me his fridge for sale.
Then I later heard that some people knocked out his front teeth when he tried to be funny during Chimbetu funeral in Chegutu.

They made today’s beat yesterday

They almost became Zimbabwe's first ever session musicians to hang together for years and make music that can be described as today's beat that was made yesterday.
Calling themselves Mateo & Friends Mathew Kaunda, Patience Musa, Wilbroad Muponda (a.k.a Willom Tight), the late Sanchez Fred Allan, Jimmy Buzuzu, Walter Paradzai and Conrad Masimba - young as they were experimented with and successfully produced a unique afro-soul beat that still sounds as new as it was during its release years ago.

When the three main members - Mateo, Willom and Patience - went solo, none has ever managed to produce that calming and comforting beat as heard on Vanodana or Pamuhacha.
It was a beat born of Mateo's soul, Willom's ragga and Patience’s jazz.
Of course, they have gone on to be stars in their own rights but not stars in the mould of the afro-soul beat that for a short time was the beat Zimbabwe had lacked.
And none can claim to have become more successful as a solo artiste than the grouping that almost made it big after meeting at Edgar Langeveldt's Nexus Talent Agency in the late 90s where Willom, who had been a member of the Zim Jam group together with Langeveldt, hung around.
While Patience Musa had come to the agency in a bid to refine her voice, Mateo came in search of backing vocalists after a stint with Albert Nyathi in 1993.
He had also played with Muzi Mangena and Prudence Katomeni and had released a debut album titled The Music with backing vocals from Alice Mtwalo and Jane Harid.
These also helped Mateo on his next album Wada Rugare.
Then came the big break when he rubbed shoulders with Zimbabwe's greats - Oliver Mtukudzi, Mechanic Manyeruke among others - during HIV and Aids campaigns.
After this experience, Mateo then unleashed Mateo '96 but for his next project, he had to scout for talent and this brought him to Nexus Talent Agency.
Willom Tight was already there at the time. He had tried his luck with the Bissas Combination in 1993 before joining Langeveldt to form Zim Jam.
When he met Mateo, Willom became the rapper he was looking for and their combination worked as seen and heard on the albums Impressions of Africa Vol. 1 and 2 as well as on Asambe Africa.
Asambe Africa was a soulful tune that captured the true African sunset scenes when herd boys drive their cattle back home from the grazing fields and the sounds of crickets in the night as lovers sit under muhacha trees back in the countryside.
It also captured the joys, the laughter as well as the agonies of growing up.
There was Mateo's voice crooning and there was Willom's rising and soaring above Patience's mellow voice that seemed to melt with each chord.
But in 1999 the friends decided, after their successful Ray of Hope Campaign that saw the release of Tariro Iripo/ Ithemba Likhona album, to tread different paths with Willom releasing his debut album Ndinoda Wangu two years later, which he followed with Hodzeko and then Sweet Stupet.
While Ndinoda Wangu was a hit both on television and the market, it was however, the only hit Willom has had.
Maybe, to prop himself up, he teamed with Dino Mudondo until early this year when the two parted ways. During the time Willom worked with Dino, he produced Sweet Stupet that was nowhere near Ndinoda Wangu and Asambe Africa.
Mateo on the other hand trudged on releasing lacklustre material in the form of Mateo Collection, and Ngoma Mafaro.
Only last year, Mateo produced Hazvisi Nyore that was closer to the stuff he used to dish out during their days as Mateo and Friends.
Patience, who started her career when friends introduced her to Prince Tendai, has not been doing much either.
Her musical journey took her to Prince Tendai who then introduced her to James Maridadi who was then a Radio 3 DJ.
When nothing materialised, she ended up at Nexus after which she teamed up with some girls in a group known as Ashviller that, sadly never got to perform anywhere.
Then along came Mateo and then Asambe Africa and now after the decision to part ways, the Other Four or better known as Patience Musa and the Other Four that had the late Allan, Buzuzu, Paradzai and Masimba
Her debut album was Zviri Nani 2003 and she has a second album but all is low key.
At least Patience is still doing the club circuit while Willom, who has just parted ways with Dino, is understood to be taking a rest.
While people cannot be forced to stick together, one feels it would have been better if they had stuck together?
With them gone the way they have, that afro-soul beat has also gone - dead.