As the nation was celebrating 33 years of independence last Thursday and Friday, my mind flashed back to where it all began, on April 18 1980.
On the eve of independence 1980, Jamaican superstar Bob Nester Marley graced the occasion. He churned out songs from his “Survival” album, one of the tracks being
“Zimbabwe” where he sang “Everyman has got a right to decide his own destination . . . Natty dread inna Zimbabwe” and the whole nation went ecstatic.
In 1980, the local bands which were in existence included The Marxist Brothers made up of Simon and Naison Chimbetu, Safirio “Mukadota” Madzikatire, Comrade Chinx, Kassongo Band, Maungwe Brothers, Paul Mpofu, Lovemore Majaivana, Tineyi Chikupo, Rusike Brothers, The Harare Mambo Band, The OK Success, Devera Ngwena Jazz Band, James Chimombe and The Ocean City Band, The Ngwenya Brothers, Paul Matavire and the Jairos Jiri Band, Solomon Skuza, Leonard Dembo, Zimbabwe Cha Cha Cha Kings, New Black Montana, The Harmony Sounds, Nyami Nyami Sounds, Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi, to mention only a few.
In 1980, they were all excited to see the birth of a new nation and their compositions during the first five years of independence related to the coming of the new Zimbabwe. It is sad to note that the majority of these musicians are now late. I will only mention here a few of these musicians as I do not have sufficient space in this column to write about all of them.
The Four Brothers released the hit single, “Makorokoto”, in 1980 which went platinum within three weeks of release. This was a song in which they congratulated all Zimbabweans on achieving independence. I wonder if they would have sung the same song this year, 33 years later, if they were still alive.
The Four Brothers were not literally brothers and at times they were more than four members when the likes of Patrick Mukwamba joined the band. They played fast-paced guitar-based sungura.
Founded in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in 1977 by Marshall Munhumumwe and Never Mutare with Edward Zulu and Aleck Chipaika, the band gained international recognition in the late 1980s as they toured the UK every year with UK BBC Radio 1 DJ the late John Peel being their most well known advocate.
Marshall Munhumumwe was the nephew of Zimbabwean star Dr Thomas Mapfumo.
At the time the Four Brothers were formed, bands in Rhodesia were not keen on playing traditional African music. The Four Brothers therefore played rock and roll cover versions of well-known international artistes such as the Beatles. They took up a residency position at the Saratoga Night Club in Highfield, Salisbury (now Harare).
After the Chimurenga war of liberation in Zimbabwe, everyone was on cloud nine and it became easier to play traditional music which had been popularised by Thomas Mapfumo and others at the time. Marshall Munhumumwe wrote most of the band’s songs and music as well as unusually being both the lead singer and drummer.
Their first big hit in Zimbabwe, “Makorokoto”, celebrated Zimbabwean independence. After signing a deal with British record label Cooking Vinyl the band toured the UK and Canada. This apparently brought the band a greater degree of musical freedom enabling them to buy new instruments and to record more music.
BBC’s Radio 1 DJ John Peel, who claimed that the Four Brothers were ‘‘the world’s number one band’’ championed The Four Brothers in the UK. They recorded four radio sessions for his show between 1988 and 2000. The band played at Peel’s surprise 50th birthday party at his home and he selected “Pasi Pano Pane Zviyedzo” as one of his favourite records of all time on his radio show.
In 1997 founder member Marshall Munhumumwe suffered a stroke, following a car crash. He was unable to continue to perform with the band and was replaced by Albert Ruwizhi. Munhumumwe died in 2001 at the age of 49 and the following year bass guitarist Never Mutare, also died. A year later Alick Chipaika died too. Finally, the last surviving member, Frank Sibanda died peacefully in December 2010.
Another band which did well by singing praises to Zimbabwe’s independence was the Harare Mambo Band. The song “Tora Gidi Uzvitonge” rocked the nation as they sang “Mbuya Nehanda Kufa Vachishereketa.” That made Harare Mambo, led by Greenford Jangano and William Kashiri, a household name.
The history of Thomas Mapfumo and his contribution in song towards the liberation struggle and later towards independence is well documented.
Songs such as “Hokoyo”, “Pidigori Waenda”, “Ndangariro,” “Mabasa”, “Chiruzevha Chauya” and “Gwindingwi Rine Shumba” were directly linked to the political situation in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s.
Oliver Mtukudzi, on the other hand, played it cool by not delving too much into the Zimbabwe’s politics in the 1980s. He recorded songs such as “Amai Ndiri Bofu”, “Ndipeiwo Zano”, “Muroyi Ndiani”, “Nzara” and “Hwema Handirase” which had very few political innuendos but touched on people’s emotions. He has remained the same over the years as he continues to endear himself with the people of Zimbabwe
Another music icon of the 1980s, Leonard Dembo, also addressed social ills of his times in his music, especially the suffering of the orphans and young children. Although Dembo lived through the tumultuous years of Zimbabwean liberation struggle, he never seemed to be very much interested in the political affairs of his day.
However, he sang a few tunes such as “Kana Ndorangarira” found on his 1987 album, “Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa”, which immediately found itself a hit on all the radio stations in the country. He alluded to the struggle in such songs as “Matsotsi” (when he said that now that people were free, those who used to thrive on pick-pocketing were to be punished).
Leonard Dembo was born on February 6 1959 in Chivi, Masvingo province of Zimbabwe. His real name was Kwangwari Gwaindepi. His songwriting reflected the hardships he experienced as a child, particularly in such songs as “Nhamo Moto” and “Nhamo Iya Ndakura Nayo”. He attended primary school initially in Buhera, and later in Bulawayo, and finally at Chembira School, in Harare. He did not attend secondary school. Upon completing primary school he returned to Bulawayo to look for work.
Dembo was more interested in songs of love rather than politics. In fact, most of his songs are particularly loved by youth, they find them relevant to their situations. He was known as the King of Sungura music, due to the skills he had as lead guitarist from the melodies he created which matched his silky voice.
The great mastery which he used to construct his music, and the level of album production he worked with, inspired the nickname “Musoro Wenyoka”, which refers to the slyness, willy attitude and intelligence of a snake, which the musician demonstrated. The poetic lyrics of his songs are cleverly crafted and full of deep-rooted meanings.
Dembo is still a legend in Zimbabwe. His songs still continue to sell widely and budding musicians find inspiration from his hits. By 2008, despite other great hits on the market, no song had surpassed the popularity of “Chitekete” released in 1991. Although he passed away on April 9, 1996, on Wednesday 10 April, 2013, celebrations by his two sons, Tendai and Morgan, and a host of other musicians about his life took place at Jazz 105 in Harare.
There were several other groups who celebrated independence in 1980 and wrote songs about it. For instance, the Nyami Nyami Sounds, who like today’s Mokoomba hail from northern Zimbabwe. Formed in the 1980s, the Kariba band began as a youth band. Under the name “Angoni Family” when they played local and reggae cover songs.
The band eventually progressed to playing their own music. Led by their late lead singer Richard Mapfuvamhandu, they renamed themselves Nyami Nyami Sounds and achieved considerable domestic success. Melding local influences of northern Zimbabwe into their music, the band had hits such as “Fundo Inokosha”, “Perekedza Muchato”, and “Bhora Rangu”.
The first hit, “Fundo Inokosha”, reflected on the new Zimbabwe’s policy towards education where entry into the primary school was now universal and free for all.
Members of Nyami Nyami Sounds included Mussa Makasu (vocals), Richard Mapfuwa Mhandu (drums), Wadi Ngongo (saxophone), Sam Mukwesha on bass, De Sunday on rhythm guitar and Moses Zhakata on drums.