Mugona’s thumping bass shaped careers of legends
Mono Mukundu Correspondent
On Tuesday 15 March 2022, one of the most accomplished bass players Zimbabwe had seen, who had been part and parcel of the music industry for the past four decades breathed his last breath and passed on.
Nicholas Mugona was one of the many contributors to the music industry who preferred to work behind the scenes, so, to those not enthusiastic about the music industry, the name might not ring a bell.
But obviously, his work was very known, especially the work that he contributed to James Chimombe, Safirio Madzikatire, 2+2, Jairos Jiri Band, Oliver Mtukudzi and of late Jabavu Drive Band, to mention a few.
Mugona was born on 14 October 1954, and grew up in Lusaka in the old suburb of Highfield.
He had an in-born passion for music from an early age.
By age 15, he was already an accomplished guitarist, but he was too young to be allowed into clubs to play.
One of his closest friends for years, saxophonist Philip Svosve, recalls seeing a young Mugona smuggling himself into clubs to watch bands play by wearing an oversized overcoat to make himself look older.
At times he succeeded in fooling the bouncers, at times he did not, but he never gave up. As soon as he was old enough to be allowed in clubs, Mugona started working with bands. In 1979, Philip Svosve, who was the Ocean City Band (OCB) bass player that time, was fired by Safirio Madzikatire on the spot over an undisclosed misunderstanding.
That is when Mugona was recommended, and hired to join OCB.
After being fired, Svosve went on to learn the Saxophone and was rehired by Madzikatire. This is when Svosve and Mugona became friends for life.
In 1981, after a remuneration dispute between the Ocean City Band and Safirio Madzikatire, the OCB members left Madzikatire and started holding shows on their own.
They recorded a number of singles, with Philip Svosve on the lead vocals, including the hit song “Karingahore”.
In 1983, they started backing Oliver Mtukudzi after he separated from his band, The Black Spirits.
They backed Mtukudzi on the album “Please Ndapota”, but it is reported that they had a huge fallout over remuneration with Mtukudzi.
Mugona, being a short tempered guy, is said to have been restrained by Jack Sadza as he was about to physically attack Mtukudzi. That ended the OCB’s relationship with Mtukudzi.
After leaving Mtukudzi, they had a show at Club Hide Out 99.
According to Mugona, the owner of the club was so impressed that he fired the resident OK Success Band, but the band’s lead vocalist, James Chimombe, approached Mugona with a request to join the Ocean City Band.
Mugona took him to Svosve, who says he agreed that Chimombe join the band because he loved how he sang.
That started a very fruitful relationship that produced a couple of classic albums.
With Mogona’s bass and Svosve’s brass section, Chimombe’s sound was transformed into a jazzy influenced Jiti sound.
Musicians of Mugona’s time were regarded as vagabonds who led an unstable life. To prove this notion wrong, Mugona married the love of his life, Elizabeth, in 1972, and as the wedding vows say, they were only separated by death.
They had five children, and by the time of his passing away they had 19 grandchildren. Just like his fellow Ocean City Band members, Philip Svosve and Chibhodhoro, Mugona acquired a residential stand in Budiriro and started building his own house.
He moved to Budiriro in 1989 and was known for boasting that he built his house because of his bass playing skills.
Obviously, it was a statement to refute claims that musicians never amount to anything. As he grew older, Mugona’s house became an unofficial kindergarten as kids from the neighbourhood loved to come spend time with him, because he was known to love children.
In the year 2006, Mugona became a born again Christian and started offering his services for free at AFM Zimbabwe Church’s Budiriro branch.
He would play every Sunday in church before going to play with his band, Jabavu Drive.
Besides playing in church, Mugona also offered free music lessons at the church, and many aspiring musicians benefited from his wealth of knowledge and experience.
In September 2021, Mugona suffered a mild stroke that paralysed his right side.
He was getting treatment, but just when he was showing signs of recovering, he passed away peacefully on 15 March, 2022.
This marked the end of a four-decades long career.