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.