Sungura musicians need new strategies. . . as Zimdancehall movement continues to grow Alick Macheso
Alick Macheso

Alick Macheso

Godwin Muzari Arts Editor
Over the past decades, sungura has been the backbone of the local music industry and a number of legendary musicians came from this genre. Leonard Dembo, who is regarded as the greatest musician to emerge on the scene, led a train of other big names on the sungura railway.

Names like Simon Chimbetu, Leonard Zhakata, System Tazvida, Pengaudzoke, Nicholas Zakaria, Jonah Moyo, Four Brothers, Tongai Moyo and Alick Macheso, among others, also fall in this bracket.

The genre has been passed through generations, but it seems time is catching up with sungura.

It has become common for people to refer to yesteryear greats when talking about the genre because talent is getting depleted among upcoming sungura musicians.

The rise of Zimdancehall has worsened the situation. This movement of young ghetto chanters has taken the industry by storm and it seems to be here to stay.

Soul Jah Love

Soul Jah Love

A recent example would be popularity of Soul Jah Love’s song “Pamamonya Ipapo”. It has become an anthem.

Yes, there are people that will always maintain that Zimdancehall will not last the distance and will not outdo sungura. But sungura musicians have to do something if they are to save their genre.

It reminds me of my interview with South Africa’s yesteryear hitmaker Freddy Gwala when he visited the country a couple of years ago. I asked him about how their generation lost out to a new crop of DJs and computer beat-makers.

Suluman Chimbetu

Suluman Chimbetu

“My brother, we were reluctant. We never thought they would overtake us. We actually looked down upon them and always criticised their music. Then they came slowly, gained momentum and zoomed past us,” that was Gwala’s response.

Today the SA music sector is dominated by a young generation with different styles.

There is nothing bad about music evolution, but Gwala’s confession should be a warning to sungura musicians. They need new strategies and they might actually have to utilise some tricks that are pushing Zimdancehall. They should not resist change.

Singles and regular releases

The common trend among sungura musicians is to release an album each year while others can go for as long as three or more years without unveiling new projects.

On the other hand, Zimdancehall musicians do not stop releasing new songs. In most cases they drop singles whenever they get a chance and then compile an album later.

Winky D

Winky D

It means there will always be something new from the Zimdancehall movement while sungura musicians wait for many months to give the market fresh songs.

It is unfortunate that most of the songs being released by sungura musicians are not taking the “hit” tag and spacing new songs by more than 12 months only worsens the situation.

For instance, people have heard Alick Macheso’s “Baba” since March last year and it has been played at shows over and over again.

During the same period, Soul Jah Love has done many singles and people are now enjoying “Zvinhu” that he did recently.

It is time for sungura musicians to keep feeding the market. Things have changed and releasing singles is a way of keeping a strong presence in the industry.

Jah Prayzah is always on the limelight because of the singles that he continues to drop with other musicians.

Suluman Chimbetu tried it with his release of “Just Singles” that had three songs in 2015. He seemed to have noticed the trick, but was apparently discouraged by lukewarm response to his singles.

Instead of getting discouraged, Sulu should have worked hard on that lane to keep his music going to his fans.

Yes, the trick of doing one album per year worked in yesteryear terrain, but with the stiff contest sungura now faces from Zimdancehall, there is need for a shift.

Take advantage of technology

Piracy is a cancer that has affected the arts industry in a big way. Most people sympathise with musicians and the arts sector at large because of piracy.

However, efforts to fight piracy have been futile and it is well-known that the fight is hard to win. Even Sony Music’s recent revelation that they would be going back to vinyl records might not do much to fight piracy.

In such a scenario, it does not help for musicians to keep crying about a problem whose end is not in sight. Sungura musicians make a lot of noise about piracy, yet Zimdancehall musicians actually seem to be enjoying the reach that piracy has conversely given them.

The new trend is that musicians make more money at live shows than through music sales, which is why big record labels are now on their knees.

Instead of making noise about piracy, Zimdancehall musicians use social media platforms and other means of distribution to send their songs out as soon as they have new releases.

The idea is to get the music to as many people as possible in order to lure audiences to shows. Some Zimdancehall tracks have gone viral and made instant hitmakers.

A good example would be “Amai Makanaka” (Munodonhedza Musika) that popularised Boom Berto within a short time. His music circulated via social media.

Sungura musicians might argue that there are production costs to be met hence the need to consider sales. They have devised a way of selling CDs at cheap prizes on day of album release to maximize returns, but still the trick cannot beat piracy.

It is high time that sungura musicians realise that music is no longer about CDs and that fans in the country have not yet embraced online music shop. The best way is to spread the music to as many people as possible through available new channels, which can then translate into high attendance at shows.

Collaborations and fusions

Suluman Chimbetu and Soul Jah Love’s song “Nyuchi” managed to win the former some fans within Zimdancehall circles and it also exhibited versatility between the two musicians.

Then there was talk of a collaboration between Alick Macheso and Soul Jah Love that failed to materialise.

Such collaborations could help sungura musicians keep their names on popular playlists. Of course, new genres should not pollute sungura, but the current situation calls for innovation.

It is not the first time that sungura has been shaken by other genres and history shows that collaborations and fusions have been used to spice up sungura.

When reggae took the music industry by storm, John Chibadura did a number of hits fusing sungura with reggae. Even Khiama Boys had a number of songs that were linked to reggae.

Chibadura’s songs like “Zuva Rekufa Kwangu”, “Mudiwa Janet” and “Unondivengera Simba Rangu” are still hits although they were reggae fusions.

Tongai Moyo won many people’s hearts by fusing rhumba with sungura and he went to the extent of hiring Shiga Shiga, a rhumba chanter to bring a different feel.

Macheso got the services of Jonasi Kasamba from a rhumba group and some of his early hits had rhumba fusions because the genre from Congo had stolen the hearts of music followers.

Such fusions worked well to keep sungura appealing to other followers without losing its track. Current sungura musicians should consider this as a strategy to counter the massive attack coming from Zimdancehall.

The beauty of collaborations is that they do not have genre boundaries, which is why Winky D successfully did the single “Panorwadza Moyo” with Oliver Mtukudzi.

Stage innovation to avoid monotony

One weakness of current sungura musicians is that their stage acts are now predictable and the shows no longer have the “pull” factor. A person who attends three consecutive shows by a sungura musician can predict an all-night act at the fourth show.

The advantage that Zimdancehall musicians have is that they usually stage their shows in numbers. A dancehall show can have about 10 musicians and the numbers break monotony.

Unfortunately, sungura musicians usually do solo shows or will just have one or two supporting acts. So, if a fan has to watch one musician throughout the night, choreography has to be dynamic.

Utakataka Express is one group that has been outstanding with stage work from Tongai’s days up to now under the leadership of Peter Moyo.

Besides their usual rhumba-related paces, the dancers always have a few new acts to excite fans. Unfortunately, Peter still has his challenges and has not been able to capitalise on the group’s versatility.

At Macheso’s camp, Kasamba used to come up with new dance routines to spice up the act. With his front team, they did dances like “Zora Butter” and “Chikopokopo” that made things different. It seems he has run out of steam and such innovation has eluded Orchestra Mberikwazvo.

Sungura still has the potential of keeping its huge popularity, but the Zimdancehall movement is also growing strong daily. Unless sungura musicians start being innovative, they will find the going getting harder.

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