Ex-vocalists, dancers assume the reigns Baba Harare

Trust Khosa Lifestyle Correspondent

IN the music industry, most band leaders take all the glory when they hit fame and fortune.

The sacrifice of dancers, backing vocalists and instrumentalists, is usually overlooked and often goes unrewarded.

It’s usually the band leader who claims all the credit when success comes.

On the stage, some band leaders will be “dressed to kill” with the rest of the crew donning cheap costumes or modest uniforms, if there are any.

We only hear of dancers, instrumentalists and backing vocalists’ input when they die as dishonest band leaders grab the opportunity to mislead mourners with their “touching” eulogies.

As sad as it may sound, dancers and backing vocalists hardly get their fair share of the cake when musical groups strike gold.

The trend has been going on for years in every music genre, including gospel where we expect band leaders to be God-fearing and love each other as they preach.

However, winds of change are cleansing the showbiz landscape with risk-takers making it to the top.

Red hot diva Feli Nandi instantly comes into mind.

To think she used to be a mere backing vocalist for Afro-fusion sensation Ashton “Mbeu” Nyahora four years ago, reads like an April Fools’ Day prank.

She is no longer the “Feli Nandi” who used to share the same changing room with Mbeu’s male band members during tours.

Minister Mahendere

The sought-after entertainer has also graduated from that skinny backing vocalist who used to travel for shows crammed in the same car with members of the Mhodzi Tribe, imbibing tots of brandy.

Nowadays you hardly miss her name at big events like the Doek & Slay sessions and other corporate gigs.

Hers is a natural talent that will leave many green with envy.

“I came to a point where I realised I was ready to start something of my own and it worked,” reminisces Feli Nandi.

“It was not an easy decision, but I got the backing of Comic Pastor who gave me a shoulder to lean on.

“Comic Pastor was heaven-sent as he financed my studio sessions when I had nothing. I can’t thank him enough because he bailed me out when I needed him the most.

“As a mother of two, it was a risk that I took but I had faith my time had come and I followed my heart.”

Her former manager at Mhodzi Tribe, Eugine Museredza, believes the songbird was always destined for stars.

“She learnt from the best since I was close to her and I was not surprised when she made it as a solo act,” says Museredza who is now running Sarungano’s affairs.

Besides Feli Nandi’s fairytale to acclaim, we have other creatives who walked the same road. Jiti exponent, Baba Harare, took the same route in 2017.

He caught many by surprise when he left Jah Prayzah at his peak to form the City Vibration Band. Doubting Thomases were convinced he was destined for the music cemetery.

He launched his debut album titled “Chikwama Changu” at Eastpoint (formerly Jazz 105) where he attracted a full house. Baba Harare had a rude awakening as the sound system of the day was horrible, leaving many of his sympathisers disappointed.

He, however, turned the corner and made it with time. In urban grooves, many would be shocked that flamboyant rapper Desmond “Stunner” Chideme used to be one of Ngoni Kambarami’s dancers. Determined to try his luck as a singer behind the studio booth, a new Stunner was born.

Feli Nandi

He is now regarded as the godfather of Zim hip hop when he used to be a mere choreographer and dancer.

Whatever made Stunner realise his potential is a story for another day.

History will also remember living legend Madzibaba Nicholas Zakaria as a nursery for music talent. He transformed the late System Tazvida from being a doorman to a celebrated musician.

Madzibaba, who has been in the game for over 40 years, reflects with pride when he mentions some of his products.

“I worked with several guys who were talented in my entire life ranging from Amon Mvula to Cephas Karushanga, System Tazvida, Aaron Chinamira and Simon Mutambi.

“It’s quite unfortunate that some of them died but history will always remember me as a hero. I knew that I would never keep such a star-studded group of young and talented lads together because of the levels of talent they possessed.

“I am proud when I hear their music being played because it means I was a good teacher,” says Madzibaba Zakaria. Unlike other artistes who become jealous when deserted by their products, Madzibaba remains grounded.

“I have always blessed anyone who wants to leave Khiama Boys to start something of their own, which is a good thing in life. After all, there was no way I was going to keep all these bulls under one kraal.

“Music is all about growth and evolution as an artist,” he adds.

Then we have Somandla “Mafia” Ndebele whose chemistry with the late John Chibadura shocked many. Soma started as a fan of Chibadura before he became part of the family.

“I was close to Chibadura who used to train me how to sing and musical arrangement. I would join him on stage here and there before I assembled my group Denda Brothers years later.

“It was Chibadura who ushered me into the music industry from being one of his fringe band members to becoming my own man. He gave me my first guitar, the red one which he loved, and a keyboard to record my first album,” says Soma.

The late John Chibadura (left) with Somandla Ndebele

As a reciprocal gesture, Soma says he has also groomed several backing vocalists who are now dotted around the country.

“With my 37 years in the industry, I can tell you I once employed several dancers, backing vocalists, and instrumentalists who are now working for other bands. I stayed with fiery guitarist Spencer Khumulani in DZ before he left for Alick Macheso and later Tongai Moyo.

“I was the one who took him to Harare and I was happy when he left. The same applies to guitarists like Willard Lot, Baba Gari (Evidence Tarabuku), Kezias Chikandiwa, Gideon Wonder who is now working at Trutone Studios and Last Kazonde with Mark Ngwazi.

“Macheso’s band member Barnabas Mandipota was also my drummer for years as well as the dancer of the moment, Kariba,” he says.

The Denda Brothers frontman says he feels proud when top musicians are signing his band members.

“It’s a triumph for me because the teacher who taught a minister or president will always have good references in life. I would never block anyone who wants to leave because it’s part of the game.”

This topic would mean nothing without mentioning the mighty Ilanga who had individual talents like Andy Brown, Chinx Chingaira, Adam Chisvo, Don Gumbo, Busi Ncube, and Keith Farquason among others. It was just a collection of stars and keeping such talent together was never easy.

Although some critics say egos killed the Ilanga project, it should be mentioned that the split was a blessing in disguise.

Several groups emerged after the split of Ilanga which is also commendable. The Marxist Brothers is another group where talent was aplenty although the group split.

Some of the band members to leave were Solo Makore who formed Fogo Fire while Naison Chimbetu did the same. Simon remained and assembled Orchestra Dendera Kings.

The Sungura Boys outfit spawned many music starts like John Chibadura, Simon and Naison Chimbetu, Ephraim Joe and many others.

Kasongo Band gave birth to Mukoma Ketai Muchawaya, Marko Sibanda and Knowledge Kunenyati.

In gospel circles, we had the mighty Mahendere Brothers who were dominated by talented siblings  — Akim, Amos, Misheck, and Michael. The group ruled the roost at the turn of the new century, but they went separate ways. Misheck is now working in South Africa as a producer while Amos is still around mentoring students as well as experimenting with new sounds like amapiano.

Without bias, Michael — better known as Minister Mahendere — has set the bar sky high. To say he is in demand is an understatement. Maybe, magical is the word as the entertainer is now spending much of his time overseas performing for multi-racial crowds after going solo.

In 2005, the shattering split of Mbira Dzenharira will always remain in the memory of followers of this group.

Nhovapasi (bass) mbira player Tichaona “Nyamasvisvisva” MaAfrica left the group in a huff to form Maungira eNharira, deserting Tendayi “Samaita” Gahamadze who had to recruit new members.

The split left fans with an option, but at one point, both camps — Maungira eNharira and Mbira Dzenharira — fell on hard times.

Up to now, something is still missing when you attend their separate shows. Only time will tell whether the two camps will rekindle the old memories.

There are, however, some artistes who are stuttering after leaving their paymasters to form their groups. Former Jah Prayzah backing vocalist, Pamela “Gonyeti” Zulu has ‘gone with the wind’ after going solo. Orchestra Mberikwazvo star dancer Francis “Slomo” Dhaka should be regretting as the lad is wallowing in poverty. He has been failing to pay rent, a lesson to other risk-takers who don’t have talent.

It has been noted that greed and power struggles are behind these splits but the lucky ones like Macheso have made it after leaving their former paymasters.

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