Wednesday 1 August 2012

I caused Friday Mbirimi's joblessness

Friday Mbirimi

I feel guilty whenever I think about jazz musician and former teacher Friday Mbirimi. Although he cannot say he is unemployed, I cost him his job at the College of Music when I wrote a story about how the institution had been run-down by the Fred Zindi-led board. After the story, the same board asked Mbirimi to leave. He was not angry with me when he told me about the development.
But even though they sacked him, they can’t take away Friday’s rich history as one of the pioneers of Zimbabwean jazz. Below is the interview I had with Friday, his friend William Kashiri and brother Clancy about the legendary Harare Mambos band in 2007.
The Mambos of Zimbabwean jazz
Although the Harare Mambos, one of Zimbabwe’s oldest groups, is now defunct, its history is a shining example of how professionalism and discipline pays in the end.
Formed in the early 60s the band has one studio album Ngatigarei Tose recorded after independence, years after the group had been on the music scene for decades.
‘We were never meant to be a recording group,’ Clancy Mbirimi one of the members said. ‘We enjoyed entertaining people in the pubs.’
His brother Friday, said, ‘The Harare mambos had a very busy schedule. They had no time to record.’
Another member, William Kashiri said, ‘Contracts paid more than recoding. In any case, we were assured of a salary because of the contracts.’
In spite of this, its members are not doing very badly either in terms of their lives. Friday, who once headed the college of music, and William play for Mbare Trio while Clancy who produced Bob Nyabinde is with Metro Studios. Clancy is a member of the Detema Jazz Band and he sessions for Rusike Brothers.
The group founded by Greenford Jangano earned its money by playing in upmarket hotels and pubs. Some of the upmarket hotels where the group played are the Crowne Plaza in Harare and the Elephant Hotel in Vic Falls.
As fate would have it, the group disbanded when the Elephant Hotel was burnt down but Greenford stayed behind.
Its trademark music is still alive when one listens to some of the people that played with the group. There is Newman Chipeni, the late James Chimombe and Tanga Wekwa Sando.
But for those who stuck with the Mambos, it was quite some experience.
‘Music is a job. I managed to raise my family from playing music. We were focused and disciplined. We wanted to be an example to many people who thought that only good for nothing people played music,’ said William.
William joined the group in 1965 when he left his job with Anglo American group to focus on music. Greenford, a pastor’s son who grew up in Mutare and then moved to Harare had just formed the group after learning how to play some instruments in church.
‘We were lucky Greenford is a man of integrity. He taught us how to be professionals,’ William said.
Friday said the group came together when a Frenchman called Frank McKewan, who headed the National Art Gallery asked Greenford to provide an all black band that played jazz music to perform at the gallery.
Greenford who played a one-note keyboard ran around and picked Friday, the late Simangaliso Tutani and Andrew Chakanyuka.
These people Greenford picked belonged to either the Broadway Quartet or the Capital City Dixies.
Friday who was in form two at the time was a drummer with the Capital City Dixies while Tutani played bass for the Broadway Quartet.
After the National Art Gallery gig where they played before an all-white audience, Friday left for school but the group held strong when it secured contracts with Highfield night clubs where it played covers songs done by Duke Arlington, Chubby Checker, Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley and the Everley Brothers.
In the mid 60s, the group played at the Castle Bar (later Copa Cabana) in down-town Harare. When its contract expired, the group was engaged to promote Players’ Gold Leaf cigarette brand. It became to be known as the Harare Mambos Players’ Leaf Jazz Band.
Later the group was also hired to promote Ambi lightening cream and it was time to move to Highfield where they were based at Ma-Stones, then Katanga Bar as well as the Main Bar.
Because of the huge demand, Greenford groomed a second group to stand in for the seniors.
In fact, three such groups were formed. The senior group had Elisha Josamu, William, Greenford, Jimi Chavanga, mike Josamu and Zexie Banda while the juniors groups boasted of Clancy, Tony Gumbo, Dave Ndoro and James Chimombe.
The senior group later relocated to the city centre playing at both Elizabeth Hotel and the Federal that was owned by Badolia Family. There were also times when they played at Archipelago that was known during those days as the Civil Servants Club.
The two groups merged in the late 70s and moved to the Monomotapa Hotel as the resident band. The merged group stayed at the hotel for the next 13 years. During which time Newman joined the group.
When the group relocated to Vic Falls, Newman and Clancy stayed behind leaving Greenford, Virginia Sillah Jangano, Paul Sillah, the late Newton Kanengoni, William and Charles Jangano going on.
Newton who later joined the Vic Falls based group, Mandebvu, committed suicide by jumping into the Zambezi River and his body has never been found.
When the Elephant Hills Hotel was burnt down, the group stopped playing and most of the members left. Charles went to Dallas, Texas. William returned to Harare and Virginia flew to the UK.
When Clancy opted to stay behind at the Monos, the late Fortune Mparutsa who had just left the RUNN family, Ray Mashava and Filbert Marowa as well as Isadora Ferao joined him. Later drummer Sam Mataure also came in.
Performing at the 12,000 Horsemen Pub at Monos, the group called itself Blaze, a name brought by Fortune and Ray. Later Fortune left and a dispute over the name ensued resulting in the remaining members to pick on the name Riders since they played in the 12000 Horsemen.
The Riders eventually became the backing group for the jazz festival organised by the late Tutani. Mataure took over the ideas and changed the name to Winter Jazz Festival which was later to be taken over by Josh Hozheri of Jazz 105.