Changing music styles in Zimbabwe

Changing music styles in Zimbabwe Oliver Mtukudzi in the 1970s
Oliver Mtukudzi in the 1970s

Oliver Mtukudzi in the 1970s

Fred Zindi Music
In the 1960s Rhodesia, during the heart of rock music, Beatlemania, bell bottoms, flower power, hippies and soul music, we were subjected to all these crazes and anyone who did not aspire to these was regarded as “not cool”.

The reason was simple. The country was controlled by white Rhodesians and their culture is what everyone was exposed to. Music coming out of Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation was mainly from Great Britain and America. We listened to the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple , Grand Funk, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Otis Redding and James Brown to mention only a few.

Local musicians such as Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Zexie Manatsa and The Green Arrows, Manu Kambani, The Delphans, The Harare Mambo Band, The Four Aces, Eye of Liberty, Wells Fargo, Baked Beans, The Whitstones, Otis Waygood and many others, not to be left out, started emulating the music of these British and American idols in the 1970s.

As there were no recording facilities in Zimbabwe at the time, African musicians could only expose their music through live performances. Those who were adventurous enough, such as Robert Muzengeri, would go to South Africa to record.

There is evidence of Zimbabwean popular music between the 1930s and the 1950s when peripatetic zitherists played music which was based on religion and folklore. (A zither is like a harp. It is a simple flat stringed instrument which is placed horizontally and played with fingers). Names of famous zitherists during this period included Simon Chamatembo, Naison Sinakoma, NhauNzvenga, Robert Muzengeri and Midas Ngoroma.

Before Independence in 1980 Zimbabwe’s popular music was restricted to the townships and African compounds (makomboni). Very few African musicians performed in the so called European areas or in towns.

As expected most of the early musicians in Zimbabwe lived in the capital where there were large fee-paying audiences. Because of the system of racial segregation that existed at that time, most African popular musicians performed in the all African township areas. In Harare, Mai Musodzi Hall (known at the time simply as the Recreation Hall) was the venue for the most popular musicians and names such as Thompson Gara, Augustine Musarurwa (of the Skokiaan fame), Mura Nyaruka, Riya and the Mususas (of the “Hotera YaGwaku” and “Ndiye Gwaku Akatangisa Matapi” fame), Isaac Musekiwa, Edward Khanda and Elijah Muzanya made regular appearances at this venue.

A company called Commercial Radio and Television (CRT) saw the need to have recording equipment in the country and soon it acquired the country’s first disc-cutting machine. This gave them the impetus to start recording local pop bands. However, noticing the lack of recording facilities in Zimbabwe, Gallo in South Africa decided to extend their recording facility to Bulawayo, first by providing a cheap studio which would only record demo tapes which would later be completed and mixed in South Africa.

During this period, well-known bands and musicians like Dorothy Masuku, The Umtali Jazz Revellers, the De Black Evening Follies, Golden Rhythm Crooners, Marshall Brothers, The City Slickers, The City Quads, The Capital City Dixies, Faith Dauti, Susan Chenjerai, The Cool Four, Mable Pindurayi, Ernest Kachingwe, SafirioMadzikatire, John White (an albino musician who used to play for passengers on the train) and The Broadway Quartet were ready to record

Around the same time, Teal Record Company a subsidiary label of EMI Records was also established in Harare.

It was not until the 1970s that African bands started recording their music which was pressed on vinyl records and audio cassettes. Most of the recording was done in Harare. This trend continued until the late 1990s and it was dominated by three record companies, Gramma Records, Zimbabwe Music Corporation and Records and Tape Promotions.

With the emergence of recording facilities in the country, several musicians decided to stop doing copyright music and began composing their own material. Among these were Augustine Musarurwa who formed the Cold Storage Sweet Rhythm Band and recorded through Gallo Records, the world famous tune, “Skokiaan”.

The Cool Crooners who were based in Bulawayo came out of two groups, The Golden Rhythm Crooners and The Cool Four. They recorded a classic album with such hits as “Ibhulugwe Lami Lilezigamba” and “UmaDlamini”.

In Harare, the Pied Pipers also went into the studio and recorded several singles with Teal Record Company. Gideon Neganje who was busy churning out hits such as “Country Boy”, “Fatherland”, “Freedom Train”, “Reggae Sounds of Africa”, “Lightning”, “Jimmy Boy” and “You Can’t Stop The Revolution” brought the band to popularity..

Thomas Mapfumo’s early hits such as “Pfumvu Paruzevha”, “Hokoyo”, “Gwindingwi Rine Shumba”, “Pamuromo Chete”, “Nyoka Musango”, “Butsu Mutandarika”, “Corruption”, “Pidigori Waenda” and “Zimbabwe YeVatema” which have a historical connection with the Zimbabwean politics of the pre-independence and post-independence era also made him famous.

Many other musicians and groups such as the Harare Mambo Band, Bhundu Boys, Nyami Nyami Sounds, The Four Brothers, Frontline Kids, TangaWekwaSando, Pengaudzoke, Leonard Dembo, Devera Ngwena, Oliver Mtukudzi, John Chibadura, Simon Chimbetu, Lovemore Majaivana, James Chimombe, AlickMacheso became the face of modern day Zimbabwean music in the 1980s and 1990s.

The music genres coming from these musicians were either chimurenga, museve, sungura or jiti. These musicians all performed or still perform with live bands thus giving employment opportunities to other musicians who played instruments.

Now enter Zimdancehall.

With it came the use of computers as music went digital. Laptops, Compacts Discs(Cds) and Digital Versatile Discs (DVDs), due to advancement in technology, became the order of the day. The vinyl disc was buried for good in Zimbabwe. There were digital recording studios all over the place which made it easy to produce CDs and of course piracy became rife. Dozens of Zimdancehall artistes such as Winky D, Ricky Fire, Seh Calaz, Tally B, Soul Jah Love, Jah Signal, Shinsoman, Jiggaz, Qounfused, Platinum Prince, Killer T, Ras Pompey, Spider, Bounty Lisa and Lady Squanda created the Zimdancehall scene.

Most of Zimdancehall concerts are one-man shows using pre-recorded backtracks which are basically made on the same rhythm. There is not much creativity such as the improvisation and syncopation found in Jazz. It is easy for an artiste to walk into a studio and lay down some voices on already established tracks and come out ten minutes later with a CD. Exceptions are found among the top artistes such as Winky D and Tocky Vibes who use live bands.

Zimdancehall is created by the youth and has the greatest following amongst the youth and young adults. It is mass produced without the musical and instrumental precision that characterizes the music of Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Jah Prayzah and Alick Macheso, for example. Both genres of music can super rely on digital sources of instrumental architecture without the strumming of a single guitar chord.

Zimdancehall articulates the ghetto gospel of pain, suffering, appreciation for family and things that affect the ghetto youth the most. Things that they are intimate about and things that they are angry about – a reflection of Zimbabwe society today.

Tally B, for example, who calls himself the Lyrical Lieutenant has his song “Shaiswa Mukana” or better known as “Hapana Hapana”. In it he bemoans the fact that the youth have skills and gifts and are well educated in the ghetto, but they are jobless.

In a tone a hare’s breath short of crying, he relates how they wake up every day from the ghetto seeking work only to be told “hapana, hapana-dzokaimangwana” – ( there is no work, try tomorrow!) The song, which is more of a dirgeen capsulates the youth’s disgruntlement with a government that has been quick and expert at giving promises of jobs but has delivered nothing but further job cuts.

And as the ghetto youths listen to this sort of message and almost all of them relate to it as they sit on the bridges and kerbs of Mbare, Mufakose, Mabvuku and Kuwadzana roads, the despondency it brings can make them believe nothing will ever be done.

Seh Calaz, (Check Check) Tocky Vibes and even Soul Jah Love (Chibaba-baba) himself all have tracks that talk about the need to persevere in the face of doom and gloom in the country. They speak to their peers and encourage them to keep working hard in spite of the challenges they are all facing.

Winky D is more optimistic when he sings “Maproblems Ese Disappear”.

Winky D, Seh Calaz, Tocky Vibes, Tally B, Soul Jah Love, Shinsoman, Ras Pompy, Killer T and Ricky Fire, have become the real prophets of the people. Their word is now more powerful than that of any politician; at least to the ghetto youths. Their word is sacred. Today, they are preaching a gospel of disapproval of the way they are being treated. Policy makers need to peer into the real life of the ghetto youth by analysing their problems courtesy of the Zimdancehall lyrics. Oh, what along road Zimbabwe’s music has travelled!

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