Tuesday, 21 February 2012

I've just been shaken - Paul Matavire a few days before his death


A few months before his death, Paul Matavire came for an interview at The Herald. It was my second time to meet him. The reporter who was supposed to interview him had a tough time when the musician declared that he wanted to be interviewed while standing. It was an awkward moment but when a smile lit his face, the people who had gathered in the reception area burst out laughing.

The first time I saw Paul Matavire was in 1988, five years after he had joined the Jairos Jiri Band, during a show at Gweru Teachers’ College when I was in first year.
His songs had already made him well known when I was in secondary school.
Seeing him in concert made a greater and deeper impression in most of the trainee teachers who were also saddened when two years later, the musician was incarcerated for rape.
It turned out that the rape case that had him sent to jail was committed in Chiundura communal lands a few weeks after the Gweru show.
The second time I came close to him and even shook his hand was in 2004 when he came to Herald House for an interview. I had just joined the paper then and he had just released his come-back album, Zimbe Remoto with the help of the South African artist Fred Gwala.
I recall vividly how he drove fear into the reporter who was interviewing him.
He stood in the reception area, staring ahead and said, ‘Can I be interviewed now.’
The reporter kindly offered him a seat but he said, ‘I want to be interviewed while standing.’
It was an awkward moment for us because nobody was sure whether he was serious or it was a plank. After a stand-off, the musician smiled and indicated that he was ready to take a seat.
He had been released from jail and was retired in Rutenga where he had a farm. Maybe it was why his stunt drove fear into the female reporter.
Unfortunately, a few months later, we heard that Matavire had been admitted into a Masvingo private clinic.
I also recall talking to him over the phone while he was in the clinic for a story I did then. One thing about Matavire was his humour even when he was down and low.
This is exactly what he did when he had appeared in a Gweru court while waiting for judgment. In 1989 before his sentence, the musician made fun of the magistrate in his song Joke of the Year. Even when he was released, he made fun of his return in the song Back from College in 1991.
‘I have just been shaken,’ he told me hiccupping in-between. ‘It’s a little wind. I will come back.’
He never came back because he died in his Rutenga village after he had been discharged from the clinic. He had relocated to the area from Maranda communal lands in Mwenezi where he was born in 1963.
I also recall talking to his young brother, Hlupeko, from Rutenga the day Matavire passed away in 2005.
Hlupeko said Matavire had shown some recovery signs from the hiccups which had wrecked him a day before he passed away.
That closed Matavire’s brilliant musical career which had started when he abandoned his social worker training to help the Jairos Jiri Band make history.
The Jairos Jiri Matavire joined was older than Dynamos and Zanu-PF. It had been formed in Bulawayo's Mzilikazi Township way back in 1959 by members of the Jairosi Jiri Mzilikazi centre for the handicapped, the group that started as a mere choir then was known as The Sunbeam Kwela Kings. When Zexie Manatsa joined the group in 1969, they changed the name to Sunrise Kwela Kings.
In my interview with Zexie, he told me that when he and his late brother Stanley moved to Bulawayo, they stayed in Nguboyenja close to the Jairos Jiri complex.
He said they could hear guitar sounds coming from the complex every day and one day they walked in to find out what was happening.
‘One day, we walked into the complex and asked for permission to test their guitars. The late Jairosi Jiri then found out that we could play better than the inmates. He asked us to play for the organisation, helping raise funds.
‘Fanyana Dube, one of the inmates joined us and we formed the Sunrise Kwela Kings.’
This is the name the band used until the late 70s when the name was changed to Jairos Jiri Kwela Band before becoming the Jairos Jiri Band when Matavire became a member.
Their song Take Cover released in the dying months of the liberation war in the late 70s was done by Jairos Jiri Kwela Band. It was the song which put the band on the musical map such that when Matavire came, he had part of his job cut out for him.
Matavire had first attended the band’s show in Gweru since the group used to perform at all Jairos Jiri centres across the country. A year later in 1982, Matavire abandoned his social worker training to join the band full time in Bulawayo after he had taught himself to play drums and the guitar.
His debut song was in honour of the founder of the organisation, Jairos Jiri titled Pamberi NavaJiri. It did not take long for Matavire to establish himself as the Clarence Carter of Zimbabwe with his explicit lyrics which also earned him the nickname Dr Love.
Despite being blind, he lost his sight aged six after suffering from glaucoma, Matavire’s lyrics describe situations vividly as if he saw the action. His two songs Tanga Wandida and Dhiabhorosi Nyoka are testimony to this.
Apart from love songs, Matavire was agreat social commentator as shown in his song MaU, Nhamo Yeusavi and Akanaka Akarara among many others.
When he was released from jail Matavire returned to Jairos Jiri Band but it was not easy for him to stay. He then left to form his own group, The Hit Machine with which he released Akanaka Akarara (1993), Gakanje (1995) and Fadza Customer (1998).
The other two albums, Zimbe Remoto and Gonye Remari were done with the help of Fred Gwala.

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