Thursday 29 March 2012

Jinxed Chinxed - the guerrilla

I have met Cde Chinx twice. The first time was in 2003 when I was writing for the Standard. The first time was in my office down-town Harare.
The second was when he came to Herald offices to complain and ‘put the record straight’ after reports that his house illegally built in some undesignated part of the city was demolished while he begged. There were also reports that he was beaten when he tried to stop the demolition crew. He said all the reports were false.
I have also heard about him a lot. The latest were reports that he had resorted to illegal fishing in Lake Chivero.
The polygamist who fought in the liberation war claims he is yet to benefit and that only those who ‘refused to go to war’ benefited.

Below is an excerpt of the interview he did with Godwin Muzari

‘Things are not working well but I know that is the way it is.
‘You cannot expect things to go the way you like all the time but I believe my time shall come.
‘I tell you, by 2015, I will be singing a better song,’ said Chingaira.
‘I have a farm but there is no electricity to do serious projects.
‘I am looking forward to starting poultry and piggery projects as soon as we have electricity.
‘We are also trying to set up irrigation facilities to facilitate the opening of more projects. At the moment we are just farming on a small scale and this new fishing project promises to be a lucrative venture. ‘I think it will take us somewhere.’

Cde Chinx is one of many musicians whose dip in fortune are mistaken for their support for Zanu-PF yet when most of the musicians accepted the invitation to sing for Zanu-PF, they were already on the down-slide.
Take Simon Chimbetu, for example, his fortunes had started waning when he released a remix of his old songs. Andy Brown too had his career dead when Chioniso Maraire and the late Mendy Chibindi left his group. And Cde Chinx never had a real musical foothold after the death of Ilanga.
In a way, the Hondo Yeminda campaign put some of the artists back on the radar.
But Cde Chinx, Hondo Yeminda was a continuation of the struggle he had started while in Mozambique when he teamed up with Cde Max Mapfumo who turns up for the Jupiter Kings to inspire the cadres. After the war, Cde Chinx was part of the Zanu-PF choir that had the likes of the late Ketai Muchawaya, Knowledge Kunenyati and Marko Sibanda.
Growing up, Cde Chinx never conceived of himself rising to become one of the finest musicians in Zimbabwe for he wanted to pursue an academic career.
Born Dickson Chingaira in Rusape, Cde Chinx’ interest in music started at Chigora Primary School.
On completion of secondary school Cde Chinx got a place to study medicine overseas but he failed to get travel documents and the whole plan failed to materialize. He had always wanted to be a doctor thus he was frustrated when his father who was a carpenter could not raise enough money to send him to a school that could allow him to pursue his dreams.
He then took up a job in 1974 with an engineering plant in Msasa, Harare earning $7 a week but was very unhappy there as his white South African superiors kept calling him names such as terrorist, kaffir, and gook.  This constant abuse forced him to leave his job without giving a proper notice and in 1976, Chinx left for Chimoio in Mozambique to join the liberation struggle.
When he arrived at Chimoio, one of the commanders Cde Mhere Yarira remarked that their group was jovial and as such they should form a choir. The choir that was formed was called Takawira in honour of the late nationalist Leopold Takawira. Takawira choir became just but one of many other choirs which boosted freedom fighters’ morale during the war. Cde Chinx had joined the guerrillas with the sole aim of liberating Zimbabwe but found himself leader of the then Takawira choir which in no time changed its name to Zanla Choir, which acted as a morale booster for the fighting cadres when Cde Mhere Yaraira who led the group was transferred.
Choir that was an amalgamation of all the choirs which had been active during the war. The Africans had but only won political power otherwise economic power was still in the hands of white Rhodesians as was to be reflected but the turn of events in Chinx music career. Choirs were regarded too protest and radical by recording studios that were there at the time and this forced Chinx to change from the genre he was into to more contemporary music. He then went on together with Keith Farquarson to form the group Barrel of Peace. Teaming up with Bennie Miller they recorded hit songs such as Ngorimba, Zvikomborero and Marching.
Latter on they joined Ilanga, a group that was formed in 1986 by musicians who had ganged up together from their various groups. After a short stint with Ilanga he moved on to team up with Mazana Movement Band and then later with Mazana Movement Black Spirits.
 This led Chinx to form his own backing group in order to promote his music commercially. It was not until 1989 that the Early Hits album of Comrade Chinx was released. His most outstanding hit, Roger Confirm stayed on Radio 3’s Hitpick charts for 25 weeks in 1989 and early 1990. 
Apart from being an innovative musician, Cde Chinx is a great songwriter whose songs are timeless classics. Vanhu Vose VemuAfrica for example captures the essence of humanity and unity in the face of injustice and unfairness.  Every year during the Heroes and Africa Day holidays, all radio stations in Zimbabwe play Comrade Chinx’ liberation songs. His song, Vanhu Vese VemuAfrica was voted the Silver Jubilee Award for the Most Inspiring Song of the Liberation War during the 2005 National Arts Merit Awards.
Getting awards is something Cde Chinx has learnt to live with; in the early 90s he also got a double from MNET Africa for the movie Flame in which he played a major role and had his song, Maruza Vapambe Pfumi which then won the best soundtrack. All this shows that Cde Chinx is a force to reckon with in the Zimbabwean film industry.
Cde Chinx’ role is not only confined to the war of liberation where as a choir master, he soothed sore hearts and comforted bruised minds but even after independence when he used his skills to further talents. He has proved to be dynamic and his ability to move with time as well as his experiment with sound as in his genre called Ngorimba has indeed placed him at a level parallel to none in the Zimbabwean Arts.
Yet today, this man who, although did not go out to the war-front – did as much through song. Today, Cde Chinx is the laughing stock of both musicians who took part in the Hondo Yeminda campaigns and the war of liberation.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Devera Ngwena exploited & cast out

A number of things happened in 1979 musically.
Job Mashanda was riding high with his Amai Mandigona super hit which he did with the backing of the Muddy Face Band. Oliver Mtukudzi had Ndiri Bofu doing the rounds.
At that time too, two local rhumba groups emerged – Devera Ngwena Jazz Band fronted by Jonah Moyo and Mashura and the Okavango Boys.
While the Devera Ngwena beat was calm, controlled and penetrating as shown in their debut single Devera Ngwena Zhimozhi, the Okavango Boys’ beat in Andrea was fast and danceable.
It must be pointed out that the Devera Ngwena and Okavango Boys’ music were the first home-grown rhumba-like beat. The OK Success had bent over 360° from producing central African rhumba to afro-pop in their songs such as
Jonah Moyo who formed and led the Devera Ngwena describes his music as Tsavatsava. But those who know music will describe the music as a crossover from cha cha cha to some mild form of east African rhumba. Some would call Devera Ngwena’s music sungura. But sungura is dominated by the bassline yet Devera Ngwena’s music has the lead guitar defining it.
Today, however, it has become a tendency to lump together songs which people find difficult to define as sungura.
But I had the opportunity to meet Jonah in 2006 at Jazz 105. His brother Aaron Chiwundura Moyo who is my friend linked me up with the great musician.
Jonah had just visited from South Africa where he has been based since his star started to dim a few after the split of the band over a disagreement on leaving the mine in 1985.
Yet Jonah’s first steps into music were not so much for money or fame but girls. Working and staying on a farm in Kwekwe, Jonah says he started out playing the banjo to win over girls’ hearts. When he left Horseshoe Farm for Kwekwe, Jonah realised that he could indeed make music not for the girls but for the nation.
Later, he found employment at Gaths Mine and played in the mine’s band called the Gaths Mine Welfare Band in 1978. Just like the Hallelujah Chicken Runn Band, Gaths Mine Welfare Band was for entertaining mine workers. Most of the band members also worked at the mine and only played during certain times. Jonah was a clerk.
The mines owned the instruments and took all the proceeds from shows or recordings if there were any.
The Gaths Mine Welfare Band had as its members: Innocent Bitu who had had a stint with the Jairos Jiri Band; Biggie Phiri and Robson Banda who later left in the early stages of the Devera Ngwena to form the Black Eagles. Jabulani Bitu came in for Banda.
In the case of Jonah Moyo and the Gaths Mine Welfare Band, they were not supposed to record or play outside the mine compound until one night when the group played before more than 500 people. This was more than enough evidence to the mine owners that the group could make money for them if they allowed it to play outside and record.
Even before that, Jonah had secretly approached Teal Records (now Gramma) for recording but it was after the relaxation of the contract which saw the group taking up the name Devera Ngwena Jazz Band in 1979.
This was when the group unleashed Devera Ngwena Zhimozhi which tipped the scales at independence. There was not much to the lyrics but a celebration of music and life. Devera Ngwena Zhimozhi/ Chimbo chinofadza vakuru nevadiki/ Devera ngwena Zhimozhi. But somehow the beat caught up with people and set the tone for all their happy-go-luck type of music. And from 1979 till 1986/7, the group would release about two albums per year and sell in hundred thousand. They came in form of Anoshaina Nemabhebhi, Nhai Gremma, Taxi Driver and Wangu P. But it was the group’s Solo naMutsai which showed how good and different they were from the rest.
The group usually sold in the excess of 50 000 copies and their song Ruva Remoyo Wangu hit through the ceiling – most probably the first ever after independence to sell more than 120 000 units.
But years of playing and selling had not translated into anything meaningful for the band members. The mine still took all the proceeds and paid the players wages. Jonah wanted out but some members of the band opted to stay.
This disagreement led to a split of the band in three – Jonah went with the name Devera Ngwena; the Bitu brothers Innocent and Jabulani - and Jonisai Machinya formed Zhimozhi Jazz Band while two other members formed Petro naJohane.
Jonah roped up new members Chengetai Kandimi, Patrick Kabanda, Christopher Ncube, Kudzi Mashereni and Mashi Mashereni and set his base in Limpopo, South Africa.
This was the outfit which toured England, Scotland, and Holland in 1987 playing at Glastonbury Festival in Holland.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Sungura the Band and the music - origins

The absolute master of sungura music is John Chibadura, who brought it to the bright lights of Harare from the backwaters of Domboshava riding on the ashes of Mverechena Band in the early days of independence.

Chibadura was there when the first ever sungura song, Huri Hwese naKatsande, was released by the Dzivaresekwa-based Holy Brothers Band. He was there together with Shepherd Chinyani, Sam Chikadzura and Fox Maluwa.

Chibadura and Chinyani introduced the brand to Ronnie Gatakata, Ephraim Joe, George Matizha, Moses Marasha, Never Moyo and Bata Sintirawo, who were based at a Mtoko hotel.

Chibadura stole the shine from the Chimbetu Brothers when the Sungura Boys were expelled from Mushandirapamwe Hotel, where they backed the brothers.

There has been a lot of debate on the origins of sungura and how it ended up being served as one of Zimbabwe's hottest music menus.

Before sungura, there was just Afro-pop, and that meant Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi's style and that of any other Zimbabwean musician. There was also Afro-jazz.

This was the situation until the birth of the Sungura Boys – a grouping of rustic farm dudes who started playing on the farms, especially Mashonaland Central - Shamva, Bindura, Mvurwi as well as some parts of Mashonaland West - Chinhoyi, the scattered mines – and Beatrice.

The name sungura is taken from a Swahili folk tale which means rabbit. The earliest east African rhumba records had a picture of a rabbit as part of the label.

These records were trendy on Zimbabwean farms long before the end of the war when comrades who returned home and had received their training in Tanzania introduced it to rural areas.

Even then, sungura had to gain momentum outside Harare before it was accepted a few years after the war. 

One such place was the then Gillingham, now Dzivaresekwa, where most boys from the farms first stayed and met Shepherd Chinyani.

I refer to virtually every popular Zimbabwean sungura artist – the Chimbetus – Simon and Naison - Nicholas Zakaria, John Chibadura, Alick Macheso, the Ngwenya Brothers, Ephraim Joe and Tineyi Chikupo, among many others.

Just at what point the brand of Zimbabwean rhumba was christened sungura is unclear. But what is known is that the band that became the Sungura Boys was initially called the Holy Brothers Band while based in Dzivaresekwa in the late 70s. Then there was Chinyani, Chibadura, Sam Chikadzura and Fox Maluwa.

This group released the first sungura song called Huri Hwese naKatsande. 

Later, the group disbanded, and the members moved on. Chinyani and Chibadura joined Tineyi Chikupo in his group, the Mother Band. 

When Chikupo left, Chibadura and Chinyani travelled to Mtoko, where they joined Ronnie Gatakata, Ephraim Joe, George Matizha, Moses Marasha, Never Moyo and Bata Sintirawo who were based at a hotel at Mtoko Centre.

When the war heated up, the group relocated to Domboshava, set base at Mverechena Hotel, and assumed the name Mverechena Jazz Band.

The group again changed its name from Mverechena Jazz Band to Sungura Boys when they relocated to Mushandirapamwe Hotel to back the Chimbetus after the abrupt departure of the OK Success.

Chris Matema of Gramma Records advised the Chimbetus to approach the band in Domboshava for help. A deal was struck, and sungura the music and Sungura the Boys came to Harare.

But after a while, the Sungura Boys, just like the OK Success, felt that backing the Chimbetus, who had assumed the name the Marxist Brothers even when they recorded with the Boys' backing, was not working.

The Sungura Boys backed the Chimbetus on their earliest singles, Patakatsika, Sarura Wako, Denda, Tezvara Waramba and Ndiri Musonja.

But the Sungura Boys wanted a share of the pie and recruited John Chibadura as a vocalist. Thus, Chibadura, who had cut his teeth in Dzivaresekwa with Chinyani, came to Harare for the second time.

When the stand-off heightened, the Sungura Boys were asked to leave Mushandirapamwe Hotel. Fortunately, this allowed Chibadura to rise, and he did.

But again, his fame did not go down well with others resulting in Chibadura leaving the group in 1985 to start his band, The Tembo Brothers. With Chibadura's departure, the Sungura Boys died a slow death.

It was, however, replaced by the Khiama Boys, formed and led by Nicholas Zakaria, who had emerged from the Mazowe farms via Gillingham, where he rubbed shoulders with Chinyani.

Even Ephraim Joe moved over to Khiama Boys before he went solo. There were many others: Cephas Karushanga, System Tazvida, Alick Macheso and Sailas Chakanyuka.

At its height, the Khiama Boys unleashed one mega-hit in the name of Mabhauwa that ushered in System Tazvida as a great and unique vocalist. 

But the success of Mabhauwa also meant a split that saw Karushanga forming Mabhauwa Express and System Tazvida founding the Chazezesa Challengers. 

Much later, Macheso formed the Orchestra Mberikwazvo when he, too, found himself in the cold after Zakaria took leave and locked up all the instruments.