The magic behind Ilanga

27 Feb, 2012 - 22:02 0 Views

The Herald

musicians of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Secondly, they were all part of the now defunct Ilanga band. My Ndebele is so poor but I am told “ILANGA”’ is a Ndebele word, which means “The Sun”
I believe it as no one has taken offence when I mention it in public. In the past I was taught a Ndebele word which starts with the letter “I” by Joseph Nhara a.k.a. ManSouljah. This word meant something completely different from what I had asked for. I only realised how offensive this word was when I repeated it in public. I was embarrassed but I consoled myself with the thought that a swear word in a different language is practically inoffensive except to the person who has learnt it early in life and knows its social limits.
Ilanga was formed in 1986 by musicians who had grouped together after leaving their various groups. Munya Brown, who had initially come to Zimbabwe from London with Misty in Roots in 1982, met a beautiful Zimbabwean girl called Anna and was enticed back to the country by her.
She later became Mrs Anna Brown. It was during the period of their romance that Munya decided to play drums for Ilanga.
Munya did not like the non-reggae direction Ilanga was taking and soon left to form his own band, Transit Crew.
Another Ilanga musician, Andy Brown, born on March 15 1962, who hailed from Mberengwa  and attended secondary education at Founders High School in Bulawayo, played the lead guitar.
Andy first made his banjo at the age of six. He used to dodge school to play the banjo in the bush. Later he began to teach himself how to play the guitar. Andy left Ilanga after a misunderstanding with Don Gumbo and formed his own band, The Storm.
Don Gumbo, who came from Bulawayo, played the bass guitar. He also supplied most of Ilanga’s vocals and many of the band’s hits are attributed to him.
He was an incredible and unusual performer who could easily be equated to the likes of Sir Paul McCartney of The Beatles fame. Singing and at the same time playing the bass guitar, which supplies most of the band’s rhythm is not an easy feat given the amount of bass-playing dexterity and intricacies involved. Gumbo passed on in the late 1990s.
Charles Mangena and the late Adam Chisvo were Ilanga’s percussionists. They gave the band the extra sound that made it possible for the public to easily identify the band Ilanga.
Keith Farquharson, born on December 8 1973 in Harare, to a German mother played the keyboards for the band for a period of three years. It was through Keith that the image of the band added extra attraction.
The youths in the townships such as Highfield, Mabvuku and Mufakose where Ilanga performed regularly were fascinated to see a white man playing in a band in their neighbourhoods.
Keith left Ilanga in 1990 and is currently working with Freshly Ground based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Another part-time member of Ilanga who would occasionally front the band was Comrade Chinx. Chinx is a short name for Chingaira, Comrade Chinx’s real name. He was born in Rusape, on September 27 1955. His interest in music began when his primary school headmaster, Mr Martin Dhlamini, encouraged him to sing and to join the school choir.
On completion of secondary school, Cde Chinx got a place to study medicine overseas but he failed to get travel documents and the whole plan failed to materialise.
In 1974, after a hard search, he managed to secure a job at an engineering plant in Msasa, in Harare where he was very unhappy due to ill- treatment by his white South African superior.
Towards the end of 1975, Cde Chinx joined the guerrillas in Mozambique with the sole aim of liberating Zimbabwe. However, while in Mozambique, he found himself leader of the People’s Choir, which acted as a morale booster for the fighting cadres.
Chinx proved to be a gallant fighter in his own right but his love for music made him a full-time organiser of the Zanu-PF People’s Choir.
His musical skills were later realised at Independence in 1980 when he returned to Zimbabwe. He soon teamed up with Bennie Miller and Keith Farquharson to record his early chimurenga hits “Ngorimba”, “Zvikomborero” and “Nerudo”. The band soon developed to include Don Gumbo of Ilanga and more hits were recorded between 1982 and 1987.
After a short stint with Ilanga he moved on to team up with Mazana Movement Band and then later with Mazana Black Spirits. His most outstanding hit, “Roger Confirm”, stayed on the then Radio 3’s Hitpick charts for 25 weeks in 1989 and early 1990.
Every year since the 1980s during the Heroes Day, Independence Day celebrations and Africa Day holidays, all radio stations in Zimbabwe have continued to play Comrade Chinx’s liberation songs.
Busi Ncube, who, like Gumbo, also hailed from Bulawayo, joined Ilanga in 1987 after she went to Harare to visit her sister, Doreen, who was singing with The Pied Pipers Band. Busi came from a family with a strong musical background.
Her father, Sunday Ncube, played double bass and provided the vocals in township jazz band in Bulawayo in the early 60s. When Busi was 12, she and seven of her (Ncube) sisters sang as a choir, both in choral church music and for traditional and other ceremonies.
From a very young age, Busi was playing percussion and ngoma. She later went on to perform with her twin sister Pathie (Sipathisiwe) and their older sister Doreen in the group Ebony Sheik. On leaving Ilanga she formed her own band, Rain, which lasted a good 12 years.
I am not sure why all three past Ilanga members chose to name their bands after something to do with the weather as in The Sun (Ilanga), The Storm and Rain. Busi has been living in Oslo, Norway, for the past two years after deciding she was not earning enough money in Zimbabwe.
She is currently working at the Oslo Music Academy in the Pedagogisk Department. Her latest album, “Salundela”, is getting rave reviews in Europe. The CD was released under the Ethnikk Music Club label and is distributed by Norway Plateompaniet.no. The national newspaper Aftenposten.no has placed this album as the best  CD coming out of Africa.
This calibre of musicianship goes to show how intricate the band Ilanga was as it accommodated skilled artistes from all walks of life.
With Gumbo, Keith, Adam, Munya, Charles and Busi, Ilanga went to record their first single “Thandiwe” which was produced and released on One World Label by Ben Miller, a veteran rock musician who owned a 16-track recording studio.
Although this record was popular with local disc jockeys, it did not make a great deal of impact on the sales market. Undaunted, however, Ilanga continued to record “Song of Africa” and a few months later, “Botha”. The latter tune was taken by the Zimbabwe Music Corporation and promoted heavily, resulting in a slightly more improved market success.
In 1987, the album “Visions Foretold” was recorded and its releases put Ilanga on the music map and one track “Shosholoza” became everyone’s party song. In the same year, Munya left Ilanga after some disagreement on the direction of the music to form his own band, Transit Crew.
For the record, Munya did not record with the band. Ilanga had to use a drum machine to record “Visions Foretold”.
I asked Don why he thought “Shosholoza” had done so well in Zimbabwe and this is what he had to say: “In fact, it was a blessing in disguise that Munya had left the band because we programmed the drum machine to do the drums. It played 120 beats to a minute and that was the magic formula as I understand this is what makes dancing easy.”
Ilanga was later joined by a new drummer, Gibson Nyoni. Their next massive release, “True Love”, came with the melodious voice of Busi on lead vocals. This was followed by the recording of their next album “Silver and Gold”, which saw the decline of Ilanga as it failed to capture the same magic waves and impact the first album had.
It was immediately after the release of “Silver and Gold” that Andy decided to leave Ilanga after a dispute with Don Gumbo. It is said that he literally walked off stage during a performance. This dramatic departure was regrettable, for Ilanga seemed to have lost its course forever after this.
The band was later joined by a second keyboard player, Vigilio. Later releases include “Ilanga Road” which had some good tunes but failed to make an impact on the market. Keith also left the group straight after recording this album and by 1991 only Don Gumbo remained as the original member of Ilanga.
For a short period, Andy went to base himself in South Africa but soon returned to Zimbabwe after recording the hit album, “Gondwanaland”, which rocked the Zimbabwean charts for almost six months with hits such as “Tichangoshaina” and “Zindoga”.
That was the end of Ilanga but Comrade Chinx, Andy and Busi have remained resilient. The show goes on!

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