Wednesday 1 August 2012

Without Simon’s songs, Suluman is nothing

Suluman Chimbetu

The last time I ran into Suluman Chimbetu was in December 2010 at Avondale Shopping Centre when he gave me his CD, Non Stop.
It was around 10 in the morning. We had met before after his father’s death but not such that we had time to discuss.
The other time I was supposed to meet him was when he had walked out on Alan. His father, Simon's friend known as Fungulani had asked to see me so that I could give the other side of the Chimbetu story from the late Dendera king's wife, Angela and Suluman. But Suluman did not turn up. I later learnt that he was not happy with Alan's version of the story I had written.
That suspicion characterised our relationship. His manager thouhg, Chiweshe made it possible for me and Suluman to talk again. 
Of course, I, just like everyone else had watched Suluman emerging from the backstage especially during his father’s last days and early days of his illness.
One such event was the Beit Bridge gala which was Simon Chimbetu’s one of the last gigs. During then, Simon was visibly ill and his suits could no longer sit on him properly.
Suluman together with his uncle, Alan took over.
At the time, Alan was the apparent sole heir to the Dendera beat. After all he had been there with his brother Simon and together with the late Briam, they had kept the band going when Simon was in jail.
That was everybody’s mistake number one.
After Simon’s death, I interviewed Alan who assured the nation that all was well. Alan inherited everything except Simon’s wife, Angela and the children. Unlike Simon who looked after the whole family, Alan did not. This left Suluman with the burden of being a father to his more than 10 siblings.
At the time, Suluman had left his job with the Air Force of Zimbabwe to take up a permanent position on the stage.
According to Simon’s wife, Angela, the family fell on hard times and Suluman had to be a man and save them.
Suluman did when he split from Alan thereby angering the whole Chimbetu family. The Chimbetu sisters who yield too much power over family matters ganged up against Suluman when he staged shows during Alan’s absence and then gave part of the proceeds to his step-mother. He also shared out the rest with the band members.
Briam was still on his death-bed when Suluman broke away from Alan. I called him soon after I had spoken to Alan. Briam told me that although he said Suluman’s action was wrong, he believed the young man can go it alone.
‘Suluman has decided to break away from the family tradition by fighting his uncles. I hope he will come to his senses and retract his footsteps,’ Briam said.
But he admitted, however, that Suluman can go it alone. He cited one example long ago in Chegutu when he formed a band with friends but was stopped by his father.
Briam was right. Suluman has not looked back since and has to date released three albums, Ndomusiya Nani (1997), Reverse Deal (2009) and Non Stop (2010).
Older musicians have fallen over themselves to feature on some of his songs.
He has become one of the most sought after artists riding on his father’s fame bagging the 2008 Nama outstanding album award with Ndomusiya and with Reverse Deal in 2011. To date, Suluman is one of the very few sungura musicians to perform at the prestigious elitist Hifa.
He has so far performed in Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa
It’s not clear though how far Suluman will go riding on Simon’s fame. So far, my personal opinion is that Suluman has been carried by his father’s sympathetic fans. In the absence of Simon, the people still want to see and hear his songs performed live. Alan cannot and Suluman can because his band still has some of the original musicians such as Knowledge Nkomo and Moffat Nyamupindu.
I believe this because so far most of his songs are nowhere near his father’s. They don’t have staying power. Dendera music has not been and is not about love or any such light issues but about stuff that impact on people’s lives. It’s for this reason that Suluman and any other Chimbetu musician still performs Simon’s songs.
So Suluman’s power is in his father’s songs. Once he stops performing them, his future is uncertain. It’s also for that reason he sought to bar others from performing the songs.
Suluman was born in Chegutu on 27 May 1982. He attended Nyahuni Mission, Ellis Robbins and studied then CCOSA College from 1999 to 2001.
In 2003 until 2006, Suluman was in the Air force of Zimbabwe. He left to join the Orchestra Dendera Kings in 2004 and worked alongside his father until the latter's death in August 2005.


Benjamin said...

Well researched but I think you are out of touch with reality. Suluman can even play his own songs to a strong crowd. He is a talent.

Benjamin Nyamasvisva

wonder said...

Thanks Benj.I am in touch with home. music is my trade and cant afford to stay out of touch. my angle is about the future. i listen to music and talk to people. of course, suluman has the pulling power. but do you think his songs alone can pull people? i have attended his shows and heard people asking him to play his father's songs.there is a legacy which he has access to. there is nothing wrong but my opinion is that without his father's songs, he would be this big

Unknown said...

I also share the same sentiments. I have listened to both Sulu and Alan and cannot relate their music to the Dendera that I know. Dendera music is sad, its narrated from the perspective of the underdog and are never celebratory. So when Alan sings about owning a firm, he sings from the perspective of the boss and i am afraid I cannot relate to that. songs like kwedu and dzamutsana are neutral and cold and don't have a strong theme. The real Dendera is poetry in song and these new guys cannot compose the poetry that we love about Dendera

There was a certain melancholy in the voices of the original Chimbetu brothers. it is the sadness that personifies Dendera and I am afraid Sulu cannot capture that sadness. However, I like Tryson he manages to capture the Dendera melancholy. Dendera is not about many words but its about how they are delivered.