Godwin Muzari Arts Editor
Over the last few years, sungura music has been losing ground to emerging genres and this trend is mainly a result of lack of competition in the genre that brought out most yesteryear music legends.
Some critics have argued that the death of Tongai “Dhewa” Moyo’s in 2011 robbed sungura of the spark that made the sector exciting. Before Dhewa’s death exciting times engulfed the genre as the Kwekwe-based musician fiercely competed with Alick Macheso, the established king of sungura.
The days of Dhewa-Macheso competition make one of the fascinating eras of sungura in the country and it seems no one has been able to pile pressure on the king of sungura since then. A new crop of sungura musicians fell in a trap of trying to sound like Macheso and, despite the talent that some of them have, most of these youngsters confined themselves to the king’s shadow.
Among promising youngsters in this genre is Romeo Gasa who has been in the industry for more than a decade. Winning Chibuku Road to Fame in 2007 exposed Gasa to the mainstream music industry and his debut album “Sungura Kompressor” was a clear announcement of the musician’s intention to cause waves in the genre.
However, as his successive albums tended to be inclined to Macheso’s style, Gasa appeared to be losing the plot. Now the young musician seems to have learnt his lessons and heading towards the right direction. He has embarked on a rebranding exercise that is bringing many changes in the way he operates and does his music.
One of the major moves in his rebranding was the launch of “Executive Sungura Nights”. In this concept Gasa holds shows at upmarket joint Time and Jazz Café (adjacent to Cresta Hotel) every Thursday. He targets top class sungura followers and ladies are automatically getting attracted to the concept.
This was one of the tricks that Dhewa used to turn the heat on Macheso. He did not directly attack the king’s territory but came up with a brand that would win him corporate deals. He targeted the upper class of sungura and he became known as a ladies’ man because women flocked to his shows.
The ripple effect of trend was that even men that religiously followed Macheso ended up finding attractions at Dhewa’s shows. The other move that Gasa has adapted is that of making sure his band is in trendy outfits on stage. Even Gasa himself now dons designer labels and the stage appearance itself is a strong statement. It was another trick that Dhewa successfully employed to win hearts to his type of sungura. In fact, Dhewa proudly called his group ‘vakomana vemucheno’.
But Gasa is not only borrowing tricks from Dhewa’s notes – he has broadened his net to include female backing vocalists. His current album “Bho Zvekuti” has female voices and he has recruited the sweet backing vocalists for his live shows. The phenomenon of female backing vocalists is not common in sungura. A few musicians – like Paul Matavire who had many female backing vocalists and Khiama Boys that recruited Margaret Gweshe in their early days – employed women in their bands.
Female backing vocalists are common in other genres, but Gasa has been bold to try the style in sungura and it is likely to work for him because he is no longer confined to Macheso’s shadow. Remember how Safiriro “Mukadota” Madzikatire made a few hits with Sea Cottage Sisters.
Another strategy in Gasa’s new brand is hinged on videos. Through support from automobile spare parts company, Vatican Tide Express, Gasa is lining up exceptional videos to back his songs. Videos are another great way to market music and Gasa says the support he is getting from Vatican will allow him to shoot classic videos.
If the young musician manages to employ these strategies and remains consistent until people notice the difference that the new brand will bring, Gasa will be the next big thing in sungura. Many people have been asking: ‘who will make sungura exciting besides Macheso?’ and Gasa could be the answer.
Besides the rebranding venture, he continues to hold shows in many parts of the country where sungura is popular and he continues to build his base where common traits of the genre apply. Despite many similarities in their music, Gasa might take advantage of his new brand to encroach into Macheso’s territory from a different direction. However, Gasa needs to add some styles to his beat to make a distinct sound that will convincingly differentiate him from Macheso.
He can turn up the heat in sungura and bring back exciting times in the genre. Time and Jazz Café proprietor Josh Hozheri has vowed to support Gasa to push his brand through “Executive Sungura Nights” until the young musician completes his winning formula.