Monday 4 June 2012

Rute Mbangwa jazz' new face

I met Rute Mbangwa when I was writing for the Southern Times way back in 2004. She had just released an album and being a jazz beat, I considered her very brave. Jazz, I had learnt over the years, is not for the faint-hearted or those who are out to make a quick buck.

When an instructor with the Children’s Playing Arts Workshop picked on the short stout girl to lead in the opera, Christmas in Africa way back in 1994, little did he know that he was setting her on a career that would see the girl emerging as Zimbabwe’s own Mama Africa.
Nine years later, Rute Mbangwa who never had any interests in jazz and never been involved in any musical ventures during her childhood, is today Zimbabwe’s most promising young jazz artist.
“I have a powerful voice,” Rute said. “And besides being soulful, it soothes.”
Explaining how she became interested in jazz music, Rute who is just 19 innocently said: “It just came. I real do not know. I had never had anything to do with it. I did not know the like of Louis Armstrong before.”
Admittedly Rute’s venturing onto the music scene was an accident but a harmless one.
After the experience with Christmas in Africa, Rute was fortunate to meet her cousin, Rockford ‘Rocqui’ Josphat, one of Zimbabwe’s leading urban groove artists during one holiday.
At the time, Rocqui was a member of his school choir and was very much into music.
“I remember that we wrote love songs together and then practiced singing them as Acapella,” recalled Rute. In 2000, their friends who were pupils at a Harare girls’ school invited the duo to perform during the Miss Valentine at Queen Elizabeth School in Harare where they sang their compositions much to the pleasure of those who had attended the function.
In 2001, they went to participate at the Spotlight Talent Identification Show in Harare as a duo but when they met three other aspiring musicians, Ngoni Kambarami, and the duo of one Jimmy and Newell who made up the group Anther Tribe.
“Once at the show, we teamed up with these guys and sang as Anther Tribe. We did copyrights of a song called Danna and Mafaro that I had co-wrote with Jimmy,” Rute said.
They were voted the best Afro-jazz group and the best overall group. For their efforts, they received Z$25 000.
One of the judges during the talent shows the renowned township jazz musician, Tanga Wekwa Sando, fell in love with Rute’s powerful and soulful voice.
“Tanga asked me to join him as a vocalist and dancer.
Together we did the album Shungu from which came the hit song Paida Mwoyo,” explained Rute.
Because she lives on music, Rute had to hold solo shows with the backing of jazz-fusion groups such as Summer Breeze with which she appeared during the 2003 Summer Jazz festival held at the Zimbabwe’s jazz joint, Jazz 105.
“I had an opportunity of trying my music on the people during these shows and it worked.”
She also worked with groups such as the youthful Afrika Revenge when they recorded their blistering second album, Qaya Musik whose plug song is Wanga. 
“Besides recording, we did a lot of shows with the guys.”
There was also Fungai Malianga who is now playing in pubs in the United Kingdom. “I backed him n live shows.”
“I also had a stint with Betty Makaya. In fact, I wrote one song for her and we co-wrote another,” she revealed.
She was drifting from Tanga at this stage.
And she started looking for a band that would back her. Too Open was a group that she had met during shows and somehow, they just clicked.
“They play the type of music I like. And it was natural that I had to work with them,” Rute who launched her debut album, If Only My Heart Had a Voice, in Harare said.
The album is a brilliant product, which with favourable airplay could propel the teenage artist to unprecedented stardom.
“It’s not all that easy,” she confessed. “Sometimes I wish I had not ventured into this (music). The radio stations are not supportive of us who play jazz. And with such attitude, our music is dying.”
Besides unsupportive radio stations, Rute bemoaned the footloose nature of band members who leave to join other bands thereby disrupting progress.
“There is so much exploitation in the local music sector. If you wish to perform as a curtain raiser for an established group, you will be told that provided it’s for free, you can come,” she said adding that sometimes she finds it better to just keep her cool.
She also said that if she chose to perform for free, she would still pay her backing group as well as many other sundries.
“If you show that you are desperate, then you are easy prey,” she said innocently.
What makes things more difficult for Rute is that she is doing her own marketing and promotion and that needs a lot of money.
Whatever the case, the fact that she dared venture alone into a zone that other older women had feared to go it alone, must be enough encouragement for Rute.
In fact at 19, she has a whole world ahead of her and enough time to correct whatever has gone wrong today.

Below is a one-on-one she did in March 2011 with Ruth Butaumocho, Herald entertainment editor

Jazz music in Zimbabwe is still regarded as a genre for the mature and still remains an exclusive ‘boy's club, looking at the number of male musicians who have done extremely well in this sector.
However, in the midst of all this, there are female artists who continue to make a mark in this sphere. Rute Mbangwa is one of the country's gifted jazz artistes who is not only a talented composer, but also possesses a powerful voice. Entertainment Editor Ruth Butaumocho (RB) had a chat with Rute (RM) on her career.
RB: Can you tell us about yourself?RM: I am a 26-year-old single mother. I was born and bred in Harare, and I did both my primary and secondary education in Marlborough.
RB: How did you venture into music?RM: I started when I was still very young, at the age of nine, which is when my talent for singing was discovered. Then I had joined Chipawo.
Because of my ability to sing, I would get roles in music in most theatre acts. In 2001, I participated in a talent show that was organised by ZBC called "Spotlight". Our group, which included the likes of Sebede, Roki Josphat, Newel and Ngoni Kambarami, came first in the jazz category.
It was at that event that I was spotted by Tanga (Wekwa Sando) and eventually got into jazz. In fact it was Tanga who nurtured my talent to be where I am today.
Having realised my capabilities as a musician, I then released my first album called "If Only My Heart Had a Voice", in 2004.
RB: That to me sounds like a passionate appeal to be heard. What was going on in your life at that time Rute?
RM: Well, personally there was nothing going on in my life at that time, but I was reaching out to hundreds of women who had just got married and only to realise that their husbands were cheating on them. In fact, it was a way of sharing their pain and also encouraging them to be strong and look at life in a different perspective.
RB: Being a female musician, do you think the landscape is conducive for women in arts?RM: The landscape is still far from being conducive for women artists because of a number of reasons and the majority of them are deeply entrenched in our socialisation. There is a lot of stereotyping in the arts, where female musicians are perceived to be women of loose morals, and go on stage specifically to hunt for men. You realise that female fans who attend shows with their husbands, also consider you as a threat when they see you on stage, dancing in a certain way which is part of the business anyway.
But of course you cannot rule out that there is another segment of women in the arts sector, who use sex symbols to attract men, by either using lurid language or going on stage semi-naked. In all fairness, you can still have a good show, even when you are fully clothed on stage. I am calling out on women to preserve our dignity as female artists.
RB: Do you feel as female artists you need some form of assistance, either from the Government or from other stakeholders?RM: Government should set up a cultural fund that should not only benefit women in the arts sector, but everyone who wants to kick-start his or her project in the arts.
RB: At one time you were touted as the next Miriam Makeba, but your fans have noticed that you have not been consistent in music. What has been keeping you busy?RM: I just felt that I needed a bit of sprucing up. I needed to edify myself and to improve my brand as Rute Mbangwa. So I went back to school and joined the Zimbabwe College of Music, where I was studying Ethnomusicology for two years.
I have also been taking private voice lessons to improve on my brand. I noticed that when I got into music, I didn't brand myself properly and I needed to do that. I just wanted to tell my fans that when I got into jazz, it wasn't my choice, but I guess my fans took me there, because they constantly referred to me as a jazz musician.
RB: Now that you are back, whither my sista?RM: I am working on my third album to be released soon. I will also be holding shows not only in Harare but also throughout the country.
RB: What has been some of the highlights of your career?TM: I had an opportunity to attend the Grahamston Festival a few years ago, and I also managed to represent the country in Algeria at the Pan African Festival, courtesy of the Ministry of Education. Namibia is one of the places that I have carried forward in my artworks.
RB: You are a cousin of Roki; does his controversial life bother you?RM: That is the way he is. People are different.
RB: Are you in a relationship?RM: Yes I am. Very much attached. We are still getting to know each other, and we have big plans.

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