‘Bob Marley: One Love’ biopic evokes a jumble of memories of Zim’s independence The late Bob Marley with John ‘The Boss’ Matinde in Harare in 1980

Sifelani Tsiko Senior Writer

The release of “Bob Marley: One Love” biopic in February this year stirred up powerful emotions and memories of the reggae superstar’s concert in Zimbabwe in April 1980 and the profound impact of Marley’s music in the 16-year protracted armed struggle to oust the Ian Smith white minority Rhodesian government.

Bob Marley popularised reggae globally with his catchy tunes, spiritual and socially conscious lyrics.

The release of the film revived and transported many people back to 1980, when Zimbabwe gained its independence from colonial Britain.

Bob Marley’s music was the soundtrack of Zimbabwe’s armed struggle. His “Survival” album released by Island Records in late 1979 with tracks such as “Africa Unite” and “Zimbabwe” identified the liberation movements in Southern Africa which were fighting against colonialism.

And soon after the launch of the film, Ziggy Marley, the eldest son of reggae music icon Bob Marley and his wife Rita, recalled how their visit to Zimbabwe in 1980 had a very special place in his heart.

“All of my memories are special moments (but) one of the most memorable things we did is we took trips with him. We went to Zimbabwe, him and my brother Stephen to celebrate their independence from British rule,” Ziggy told American cable channel CNN speaking about his father’s music, life and lessons during the promotion of the “Bob Marley: One Love” biopic.

“It was our first time in Africa. When we were in the hotel the guys that were fighting for freedom came to visit him and they brought him guns and grenades and were telling him how his music motivated them to fight the colonial power.

“As a kid that made an impression on me as to how music could be so powerful.”

It took a nationalist, fearless freedom fighter and Zanu PF secretary-general instrumental in organising Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations, two businessmen, a barman and a radio deejay to chart the path for the invitation of Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley — a visionary Pan Africanist and reggae icon to come for the historic celebrations that marked the birth of Zimbabwe in 1980.

Veteran nationalist Cde Edgar Zivanai “Two-Boy” Tekere, who was Zanu PF Secretary-General and a senior Cabinet minister in then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s first Government in 1980, was largely credited with extending the invitation to Marley to perform at Rufaro Stadium during the historic celebrations.

Cde Tekere, one of the guerrilla leaders of the struggle and many of the freedom fighters were inspired by Marley’s music in the 16-year protracted armed struggle to oust the Ian Smith white minority Rhodesian government.

Reports abound that during the Second Chimurenga War of liberation, Marley’s music was adopted by the guerrilla forces of the Patriotic Front — Zanu and Zapu — with freedom fighters playing Marley cassettes in the bush.

Because of the influential role of Marley’s music, Cde Tekere felt strongly that inviting him for the memorable celebrations of 1980 would be a befitting honour that would rally together Pan African movements fighting against colonialism and imperialism across the world.

The problem was how Cde Tekere would go about inviting Bob Marley in faraway Jamaica in the Caribbean islands, at a time when he was just coming out of the bush with little or no connections to music greats such as Marley.

“Former guerrillas and most black people used to meet at Job’s Nite Spot and Playboy in Harare, night clubs owned by popular businessman Job Kadengu.

Racism was still there and these were some of the spots where blacks would meet for a drink,” veteran broadcaster and reggae lover, Mike Mhundwa told our Harare Bureau in an interview.

“Cde Edgar Tekere, came to the Playboy night club along Union Avenue (Now Kwame Nkrumah Avenue) one day and had a drink with Job Kadengu, owner of the club and Gordon Muchanyuka another Harare businessman. At that time Cde Tekere was in the organising committee for the independence celebrations.

“While they were having a drink, Cde Tekere then told Kadengu that he wanted to invite Marley for the independence celebrations but he did not know how to get hold of him. Cde Tekere was so keen to have Marley in the country for the historic celebrations.

“He spoke highly of Bob Marley and how his music inspired guerrillas in the 16-year Rhodesia bush war. While they were talking, Thompson Kachingwe, a bar manager at Playboy Nightclub told Kadengu and Cde Tekere that there was a DJ who played reggae on Radio 3 every Thursday that could assist them. He told them to talk to Mike Mhundwa.”

Kachingwe told them that Mhundwa frequented the Federal Hotel in downtown Harare, where he used to go for a drink.

The fiery Cde Tekere is said to have ordered Kachingwe to go and look for Mhundwa at the hotel on that night, early in April 1980.

Kachingwe found Mhundwa and asked him to come with him to Playboy Nightclub where Cde Tekere wanted to see him.

“When I got there, I met Cde Tekere, Job Kadengu and Gordon Muchanyuka. I was introduced to Cde Tekere by Kadengu. This was my first time to meet the man. He immediately asked me how he could get hold of Marley,” Mhundwa said.

He then replied: “I do not have Marley’s contacts but I can get in touch with Island Records in London where I buy records to play on air. Island Records are the producers of Bob Marley’s music in London.”

On the next day, Mhundwa then called a friend in London to get the Island Record number. He later called and sent a telex to the Island Records office in London.

Officials at the London office then gave him the Island Records Jamaica office contact numbers.

“All this happened about two weeks before the main independence celebrations. I got the Island Records Jamaica numbers and I called the office.

I got in touch with a guy called Neville Garrick, a manager at Marley’s Tuff Gong Records in Kingston. I told him that we wanted to invite Marley to Zimbabwe and he said I should call after three hours.

“He said he wanted to tell Marley about it before he could revert back to me. Every evening we would meet with Cde Tekere, Kadengu and Muchanyuka to discuss the invitation of Bob Marley.

“Kadengu later called Neville, who agreed to tell Marley about it. He asked us to call the next day. We later called around 11pm the following day and my God! He told us that Marley had agreed to come for the celebration.

“We were so excited about the news. However, the Marley office team in Kingston was so concerned about security as the country was just coming out of the war. They worried a lot about security issues and they also wanted an official invite from the Government.

“Kadengu and myself told the office that we will discuss the matter with Cde Tekere to address their concerns.

The office wanted this in writing and they also wanted officials to come and hand over the invite physically,” the veteran broadcaster said.

Chris Blackwell, who was Marley’s producer at the Island Records was said to be against the tour citing the politically volatile situation at the time in Zimbabwe.

Mhundwa, Kadengu, Kachingwe and Muchanyuka later briefed Cde Tekere about Marley’s acceptance.

“Cde Tekere was over the moon. He was so ecstatic about the news. Kadengu, Muchanyuka, Kachingwe and myself were the main runners for Cde Tekere when efforts were being made to invite Marley,” Mhundwa said.

Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley — a visionary Pan Africanist and reggae icon to come for the historic celebrations that marked the birth of Zimbabwe in 1980.

“Kadengu and Muchanyukwa are all late. It is only myself and Kachingwe who now lives in the US, that are still alive.

“So after briefing Cde Tekere, he immediately agreed to write the official invitation letter for Bob Marley.

“He said the Government would guarantee the security of Marley and his band during their stay in Zimbabwe. Marley also wanted his security team to be allowed to bring their guns. They were granted permission and when they came, they brought in their own weapons.”

Cde Tekere immediately organised a trip for Kadengu and Muchanyuka to fly to Kingston to hand over the official invite to Marley.

“Marley was my guest. I was responsible for looking after him, I invited him for the celebrations,” Tekere was quoted saying in a report in 2007.

“I sent out two people to Jamaica, Job Kadengu and Gordon Muchanyuka. Each one of us who was in Government at that time had an opportunity to invite two guests paid for by the state.”

Mhundwa had no passport, was on duty and could not fly with the two.

“Cde Tekere was so excited about Bob Marley’s acceptance. All this came a year after Bob Marley had released his Survival album which carried the popular Zimbabwe and Africa Unite tracks. Reggae was gaining traction and popularity steadily.”

Bob Marley was said to have been following events in Zimbabwe keenly. Despite the volatile political environment at the time, he agreed to come for the celebrations.

“It was the three of us that were supposed to fly to Kingston. This was on a Government ticket arranged by Cde Tekere,” he said.

Marley never hesitated to visit Zimbabwe and was over the moon when he visited Zimbabwe.

He remarked that Zimbabwe was like Jamaica to him. He said: “Its like Jamaica and it’s not different. When I tell people Jamaica is like Africa, they laugh at me.”

Marley and his band, The Wailers, harmony group The I-Three and his sons Ziggy and Stephen came on their historic visit to Zimbabwe in April 1980.

“We were so excited about this. I fully credit Cde Tekere for inviting Bob Marley. He was so committed and supported us fully as we got in touch with the musician. Thompson Kachingwe, was the real link man to all this,” Mhundwa said.

“We became part of the organising team for Marley’s coming. We had to assist in the ferrying of the equipment from the airport to the venue. Marley was so emotional about Pan African liberation and he single-handedly footed the expenses for equipment and the travelling expenses.

“No one in the history of this country had done this before. He chartered a cargo plane to bring the equipment.”

The 21 — tonne equipment with a full 35 000 watts’ public address system plus backline equipment was chartered by a Boeing 707 from London to then Salisbury, now Harare.

Bob Marley forked out £100 000 to hire a plane from London to transport his musical equipment.

Commentators at the time said it was “one of the most extraordinary logistics operations.”

“When he came, I went to pick him up and his entourage. Kadengu sent a Merc sports car for him but Marley preferred to sit in my Alfa Romeo Giulia car (a popular Italian model at the time). The I-Threes boarded the Merc and the rest of the team boarded a coach,” Mhundwa said.

“In my car, I had Bob, Neville and Tyronne Downie. Marley was so excited to be in Zimbabwe. He said this place was like Jamaica to him. He said: “Its like Jamaica and it’s not different. When I tell people Jamaica is like Africa, they laugh at me.”

At the time, Mhudwa was a DJ at ZBC Radio 3 where he worked from 1979 to 1986. His compatriots included Wellington Mbofana, Josh Makawa, Patrick Bhajila, John Matinde, Ray Chirisa and James Makamba among others.

“Bob Marley’s show was quite massive and memorable. The mood was electric and the scenes were wild.

The jubilation was out of this world. He did a show on the official programme on the eve of independence and another on April 18. His show attracted a massive crowd,” he said.

“His performance opened the floodgates for reggae music in Africa. It was a memorable and historic show.”

No doubt, Bob Marley’s biopic and music is shared by everyone and his timeless music has transported people back to that particular moment – Zimbabwe independence day.

With his music, you can feel everything as if you were actually there during his performance at Rufaro Stadium.

Bob Marley held two concerts at Rufaro Stadium, at the first independence celebration which saw Prince Charles hoisting Zimbabwe’s flag to mark the country’s birth.

He sang before 100 000 people belting out tunes that included the anthem Zimbabwe, which had inspired black guerrillas in their fight against Ian Smith’s white minority Rhodesian government.

The relationship between music and memory is powerful. Marley’s music even up to now is helping bring back some of those special moments of Zimbabwe’s independence days.

It can never be forgotten.

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