Tribute to Transit Crew’s Munya

The late Munya Nyemba (right) and fellow band members

The late Munya Nyemba (right) and fellow band members

Fred Zindi Music
Each time I think of the late Munya Nyemba, there is one incident that immediately comes to mind. One Sunday afternoon in 2007, after Transit Crew had finished rehearsal at my house, I offered to transport the band members to town.

In the car was Munya Nyemba, Nicholas Samaita Zindi, Costa and Dennis Teguru. They were all spotting dreadlocks. As we went down Samora Machel Avenue near East 24, I was suddenly stopped at a road block which was manned by six policemen. One of them screamed at his colleagues; “Hey come and witness this! The car is full of Rastas! Now we have found mbanje.” They all surrounded my car and ordered all five of us to step outside. We obliged. They started frisking us, obviously searching for ganja. They were frustrated when they could not find anything on each person. Then they moved to the car, went into the glove compartment, found nothing.

They then pulled out the carpets on the floor, found nothing and eventually opened the trunk but still found nothing. Then one of them pulled me to one side and retorted; “You have no dreadlocks, why do you move around with these mbanje smokers?” I replied: “ Officer, you and your team frisked everyone and even went further to search my car. You did not find any mbanje. Why do you call my friends mbanje smokers when you do not have the evidence? I move around with them because they are human beings like you. Are they not people?”

“Haaaa you probably threw the stubs away when you saw us!” the officer responded.

I remember Munya getting really agitated and wanted to beat up the young officer, but I restrained him. He asked me to take the officer’s number because he wanted to sue him for false accusation. “That will make the police realise that not everyone with dreadlocks smokes mbanje,” he said.

I soon learned that Munya was a very intense and impulsive character. It took a lot of persuasion on my part to influence him not to make anything out of this incident.

My relationship with Munya Nyemba goes back to 1987 when his namesake,Munya ‘Joe’ Brown, a Jamaican living in Zimbabwe at the time, had asked me to find suitable musicians to form a band after he had left Ilanga. (Munya Joe Brown had initially come to Zimbabwe in 1981 with the band Misty-In-Roots when he met Anna and decided to return to the country afterwards to marry her.)

After searching far and wide, I found Munya Nyemba who played the bass, Nicholas Samaita Zindi who played the lead guitar, Anthony Liba on keyboards, Tendai Gamure (later known as Culture T) and Emmanuel Frank who were both on vocals, then Temba Jacobs, another guitarist. Together they formed Transit Crew. Munya Brown played the drums. I became their manager.

This union resulted in the production of three albums, namely, ‘Sounds Playing’, ‘The Message’ and ‘Money’. The albums were well received nationally and internationally and helped to establish Transit Crew as a formidable reggae outfit in Zimbabwe. A successful tour of Tokyo, Japan followed in 1990. On return to Zimbabwe, Munya Brown was involved in a car accident and decided to return to England for medical attention. However, the band continued now with Munya Nyemba in charge. I left the country for a while and Taonga Mafundikwa a.k.a. TK together with Chamunorwa Mashoko assisted Munya in running the affairs of the band.

It was on my return that I got to know Munya well as I became the band’s manager again.

Born and raised in Gutu, Masvingo, Munya developed an interest in music as a child, eventually studying the bass guitar before embarking on a professional career as a musician in 1988 when he joined Transit Crew, which won him widespread popularity. He listened to Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, Aswad, Misty In Roots, Dennis Brown and several other conscious reggae artistes before he decided that was the style he wanted to embark on. He stuck with that style until the end.

Munya was a figure in conscious roots reggae music for over three decades. During this period, he together with Samaita and Liba, was instrumental in grooming several young artistes who include MicInity, Solomon ‘Rootsman Spice’ Tokwe, J. Farai, Rungano Chaza, Cello Culture Gamure and Mannex Motsi. He was considered by critics and musicians as an innovator, particularly for his straight bass riffs.. His career was marked by reinvention and visual presentation, where he was known to close his eyes during performance as if in meditation while swinging his hips slowly to the reggae rhythms. His music and stagecraft significantly impacted popular music, not only in Zimbabwe but the world over. For five years during his lifetime, he, together with Transit Crew played at Red Fox Hotel, run by Robert Zhuwao in Greendale every Friday night and also at the late Paul Brickhill joint, Book Café, in Fife Avenue, Harare every Saturday night.

In the early 1990’s Transit Crew played alongside or acted as support act for Jamaican artistes who visited Zimbabwe, such as Culture, Dennis Brown, Ijahman Levi, Eric Donaldson and Shabba Ranks. They were the backing band for British-based reggae artist Benjamin Zephania in 1998. They also shared the same stage with South African Reggae icon, Lucky Dube, at the Macufe Festival in Bloemfontein before Lucky was brutally murdered in Johannesburg in 2008.

In 2008, Transit Crew were also the backing band for a visiting Jamaican singer, Luciano in Zimbabwe. On the 18th April, 2010, Transit Crew also backed dancehall singer, Sizzla Kalonje from Jamaica during Independence Celebrations in Zimbabwe. Transit Crew backed another Jamaican artiste, Yasus Afari on the 1st and 2nd of May during the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).

The last international act backed by Transit Crew was King Sounds who remarked about Munya’s prowess on the bass as, “Him a wicked on the bass! He should go to Jamaica. He will never be short of work!”

Since 1988, Transit Crew were playing mainly copyright music. However Munya Nyemba decided to turn the tide by seriously considering writing their own compositions. He wrote ‘Rosie (Usatambe Nerudo)’ and ‘Used To Be’ which became hits on their 2009 album ‘Unity’.

This eleven track album is solidly deep roots rock reggae with one instrumental track,‘Used to be’, which features guitarist, Mono Mukundu.

I went to visit Munya at Parirenyatwa Hospital in September, last year when he had suffered a mild heart attack. I advised him after he was discharged to try and take it easy as he was recovering, but it seems that advice fell on deaf ears as he was back on stage soon after. He even jokingly said to me, “You are beginning to sound like my doctor who told me that if the heart attack comes back, you are gone. So let me carry on in the hope that it won’t come back.” That is the kind of passion and commitment Munya had for reggae music and Transit Crew.

On Friday, the 11th March, while working in his garden around 10am, he felt tired and hot and went back to the house to lie down. He was rushed to hospital and was pronounced dead on arrival. That was the end of Zimbabwe’s reggae icon.

The devastating news of his death reached me an hour later and up to now I am still in shock. The only comfort I have is in knowing that Munya is now at peace.

Munya was buried near Bhasera in Gutu on Sunday March 13, 2016. He is survived by his wife Abigail and two children, Sipho and Tererai.

He will be sadly missed by all his reggae fans, family and friends. I will miss his thunderous bass whose sound would stop an elephant dead in its tracks. May his dear soul rest in peace.

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