Wednesday 11 January 2012
The Matonto glory
They probably have the shortest history in Zimbabwean music circles where they burst, soared and then flip-flopped into silence.
Their coming, just like exit, was unprecedented.
In 1994, they hit the market with the album Matonto and then disappeared for four long years, after which they returned with another album Nhasi Tafara that had love ballads and dancehall music.
Calling themselves Matonto and recording from the United Kingdom, the foursome - Chris Gudu, Nopsy "Nono" Mkwananzi, Calvin Khayane Gudu and Sime Mlapisane - stormed into the Zimbabwean music charts with their fast and catchy rhythms at a time when Leonard Zhakata, the late Leonard Dembo and the late Simon Chimbetu were hot.
That was 1994 when the disco ruled supreme in a number of clubs in Harare.
Their self-titled six-track album Matonto latched onto the scene, especially the track Makelwane that advised women to desist from coveting neighbours' husbands.
Characterised by non-stop fast vocals from Nopsy, who was studying for a finance degree in the UK then, the song made the album a collectable treasure.
The album also carried love numbers as well as songs that advised people from engaging in casual sex.
Matonto was recorded in the UK under the Calvin Gudu label because other music labels were not keen to take up the project.
After recording the album, the group, which held live shows in the north of England where people from different cultures and nations came to watch the new wonders.
The group played at the Zimbabwean High Commission during an Aids awareness campaign, Club Afrique and at the Town and Country Club in London.
For some time, Calvin, who is in the UK presumably to study engineering, returned to Zimbabwe where he did some videos and recorded solo while his other mates remained behind in the UK.
Chris Gudu (a trainee nurse then) and Sime Mlapisane (hotel management) sunk into oblivion after the release of the debut album.
The four had grown up in Bulawayo where they started their career singing in church choirs and then at weddings.
In actual fact, Matonto was Calvin Gudu because he tried, long after the others had given up, to keep the Matonto fame glowing.
In 1998, he teamed up with Muzi Mangena and produced the single Tombofara that was later included on the album Nhasi Tafara. Although they recorded the album at the Noise Box Studio in the UK, Prince Tendai’s High Density Studios marketed and distributed it locally.
The Matonto that recorded Nhasi Tafara had a new line-up that comprised Chris, Calvin, Humphrey Ngomanya, Sings Ngwenya and Henry Munowenyu.
A few days after its release in Zimbabwe, Nhasi Tafara, on a di-gong tip, landed into the then Radio 3 Top Charts.
One of the songs that made it big was Ncam' Ncam' whose video is well produced and colourful. Then there was Angeke Ngukohlwe. Both were love ballads.
Besides recording solo, Calvin also helped other groups to record.
Under his label, Calvin assisted Vuka Vhangeli, Sekuru Pfutseke and Tanaka Muzi Mangena to find their musical feet.
He worked with Temba Ndlovu of Children of Nandi on the soundtrack for the movie "Soweto" that was directed by Michael Raeburn and produced at the Bray Film Studios in Windsor, England.
Working together with Calvin was Errol Kennedy, a drummer and original member of the group Imagination.
There was also Torera Mpedzisi, one of Zimbabwe's most gifted mbira players, and South I African keyboardist Mervyn Africa, who was with the group Joy.
Then there was the album Ngisele Ngedwa (I am Left Alone) by Izilwane in which Calvin played a vital role during its making.
In this project, Calvin worked with Jealous Sibanda (drums), Humphrey Ngonyama (bass), John Maseko (keyboards), Herbert Mrewa (guitar) and Siphiwe Matshazi (vocals).
Although ZTV still plays the video of Ncam’ Ncam’, Calvin and Matonto have since gone underground.
But the Gudu brothers are crusading along different musical routes with Chris leading a 7-piece band called The Chris Gudu Band.
Below Chris talks to former Radio 3 DJ John Matinde
How long have you been an artist?
Since the age of about 6.
How did you get started?
Firstly singing at home at family gatherings, then at my local Church. When I was at Milton High School I wanted so badly to learn how to play the piano, but could not get as much access to the piano as I wanted, so as a result I would sneak into the assembly hall at night and practice in the dark. That was difficult to begin with but as time went on I was used to finding my way round the keys without looking. In the process I started writing songs which I presented to a local production company who thought my writing skills were good enough to join them writing jingles such as "Sun jam", "TM hyper" and "Tarino". From then I just got gradually sucked deeper and deeper into the wider music scene, and the rest led to now.
What difficulties have you encountered along the way?
The local audience preferring overseas music to local stuff.
How did you overcome them?
By keeping at it until the beat is truly refined.
When writing lyrics what inspires you?
The joy in me and the desire for my fellow human beings to come to know Christ personally and experience his goodness. Man, there is no inspiration like someone dying for your sins so that you truly have dominion over all things and expand your territories in all aspect of your life eternally.
Why did you choose to be a musician?
I didn't choose to be a musician John. You know there are many things I chose in my life, but certainly music was not one of them. Being a musician is what God desires for me and I am simply being obedient to his call.
What have you been up to in the last 12 months?
Working on The Album, Contributing my bit to the construction of (PWR) Praise Worth records and most importantly allowing the Lord to deal with me spiritually in preparation for the ministry.
If yes, what were the challenges you faced?
For me personally the challenge has been going through a whole hip of great scripts presented by an array of writers for the same song and trying to choose which best represents the feel I had while writing the tune. But I pray to the Lord to give me wisdom to do the right thing. I also have a bunch of talented good people at PWR whose judgment I am happy to trust. That takes the pressure off of a little.
What do you think of African Urban Music at the moment?
It's a reflection of aspiration for growth, and I can assure you it can only result in growth. I think that the urban scene gives the Zim artist a chance to compete with the world players. It’s at the infant stage now but believe me I see a lot of hungry creative artists who want the world. I do think though that we need to be mindful of the business aspect of things. Look, music is an industry man, and industry is business and if you don't take care of the business then quit simply you have no industry. We need to understand figures, copyright laws, how money is earned, investments, contracts and so on. If artists understand the business then there will be fewer arguments with record bosses and artists will take control of their destinies and African Urban Music will have a future.