Zim’s unsung heroes

27 Aug, 2013 - 00:08 0 Views

The Herald

Fred Zindi Music
Most of Zimbabwe’s prominent musicians who have made an impact by showing the world what our music is all about have passed on. The likes of The Bhundu Boys, Simon Chimbetu, Leonard Dembo, Tinei Chikupo, Susan Mapfumo, Safirio Madzikatire, James Chimombe, John Chibadura, Paul Matavire, The Four Brothers, Robson Banda, Ephat Mujuru, Ilanga, Solomon Skuza, Pio

Farai Macheka, System Tazvida, Beaulah Dyoko, Prince Tendai Mupfurutsa, Andy Brown and Chiwoniso Maraire, to mention only a few, have
shown the world that our music has a place on the world map.

It is, however, one thing to celebrate the achievements of yesteryear’s musicians who are now dead, but it is another to ignore the achievements of yesteryear’s musicians who are still alive today.

In this article, I would like to feature some of the unsung music heroes who are still alive to this day.
A good example is the Harare Mambo Band. Most of its original members are still alive. Greenford Jangano, who hails from Manicaland, is now based in Victoria Falls, while William Kashiri is back in Harare and has joined the Mbare Trio as a vocalist.

Friday and Clancy Mbirimi are also in Harare. Friday is a member of Mbare Trio and Clancy is a producer at Metro Studios. Together, they made the Harare Mambo Band which gave all of us musical pleasure during the eighties and nineties. These people should not be forgotten as they have done a lot to shape Zimbabwe’s music.

Another music great whom a lot of today’s youngsters seem to forget is none other than Zexie Manatsa, a founder member of the Green Arrows Band. Originally, the Green Arrows were formed in 1968. At the age of 17, in 1959, Zexie Manatsa launched his musical career in Mhangura when he joined the Green Arrows.

In 1972, the Green Arrows began to write their own songs to mass appeal. South African saxophonist West Nkosi, who was also a consultant for Gallo Records which later changed its name to Zimbabwe Music Corporation, discovered the band and became their producer in 1977.

The resulting album “Chipo Chiroorwa” sold so well that the band re-formed as the new Green Arrows and moved from Mhangura to Harare. Their success continued in the 1980s as they continued to produce well-received tours and hit records. Some of their most memorable songs include their protest tunes “Nyoka Yendara” and “Tsuro”. Their 1981 album “Mudzimu Wuyayi” was also produced by West Nkosi.

The Green Arrows were fronted by the Manatsa brothers. Zexie’s low, raspy lead vocals and bass playing defined the group’s sound, while his brother Stanley played lead guitar.

The Green Arrows are best known for their hits “Chipo Chiroorwa” and “Dzvinyu”. Their track “Musango Mune Hangaiwa” stayed at number one in Zimbabwe’s pop charts for a staggering 17 weeks. At the peak of his career, Zexie inspired and was hero-worshipped by many known musicians who include Oliver Mtukudzi, James Chimombe, Lovemore Majaivana, Tinei Chikupo, Leonard Dembo, Thomas Mapfumo and Simon Chimbetu.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Zexie Manatsa released many tracks which have proved to be all-time hits such as “Chipo Chiroorwa”, “Bambo Mwakwatila”, “Tea Hobvu”, “Vaparidzi Vawanda”, “Mwana Waenda”, “Chechule Anavala Bottom” and “Chimwamuna Chamimba”. (I guess the use of ChiChewa in some of their compositions was to please the Malawians who in those days filled up the migrant labour force in Mhangura).

Zexie Manatsa made history in the late 1970s when he decided to get married to his long-time partner, Stella. His musical promoter, Jack Sadza, had a brilliant idea. He exploited Manatsa’s popularity and decided to make capital out of it.

He called it the “Wedding of the Year” where he chose Rufaro Stadium as the venue for the wedding, and fans would pay US$2 each to witness the ceremony. On August 29, 1979, Rufaro Stadium was filled to the brim with excited fans who had come to witness this amazing event.

Brian Rusike is yet another unsung hero who is still alive. He lives in Gunhill, one of Harare’s posh suburbs.
I first met Brian in Mutare in the late 1970s when he was a bass player in a band called Stardust with the late David Matondo on guitar and the late William Mhlanga on drums.

I met him again several years later when he had learnt to play keyboards and had become a member of the Pied Pipers.
When Brian joined the Pied Pipers, he co-authored the song “African Woman” with Gideon Neganje. An album called “People of the World Unite” came soon afterwards.

But just when things were going on well, Gideon, the soul of the Pied Pipers, was involved in a near fatal accident in 1981 when the group was on its way to a concert in Kwekwe where they were billed to play at the Golden Mile Hotel.

Brian later wrote the song “Ruva Rangu’” which to this day has been copied and seen many versions from different artistes.
During Brian’s time with the band, the album “Pied Pipers” was released in the mid-80s.  In 1985, the Pied Pipers had problems with their recording company, Gramma who had released their album overseas without authority from the band, and Brian asked the band to cut ties with the record company.

The next unsung hero who is still doing rather well today, is Isaac Chirwa. The last song I heard from him was “Fancy Lady” which to my mind is a great hit.

Born and raised in Mbare, Harare, Isaac Chirwa is one of Zimbabwe’s well-known musicians. His first musical group was Go For Star 22 which he joined in the 1970s. He stayed with the band for a while but later teamed up with John and Bernard Indi.

In 1979 they recorded two pop singles; “Everybody Has Got To Know I Love You” and “Listen”. These records were recorded at Robinson House Studio. However, the sales of these records failed to impress. With time Chirwa’s group showed brilliance and began to scare well-known established bands.

It was then that Chirwa was approached by Sam Salis, the manager of the best known and most respectable band called Darma.
They wanted him to join them. By then Chirwa was 19 and quite nervous. He finally joined the group with the persuasion of John Indi.

In 1979 Darma merged with another big group called Movement. Chirwa was among the best players chosen from both groups. After playing for a few months Chirwa joined yet another group, Heart Mind and Creation band in 1980.

In 1981 they released a reggae single, “Jah Music”. This is at a time when Lucky Dube was beginning to get popular in South Africa and Isaac could have easily become Zimbabwe’s answer to Lucky Dube as he was equally good, if not better in that genre of music.

Between 1982 and 1984 he went out of the music business but later returned to team up with David Chadoka and they released the song “Uyai”.
The turning point of Chirwa’s musical career came when he joined the Mazana Movement and together they did songs like “Roger Confirm” and “Love, Time and Money”. In 1990 he produced his first solo effort, a single called “On The Radio”.

This was followed by an album in 1991 entitled “United States of Africa”. In later years Chirwa joined Machanic Manyeruke’s band where he played bass to gospel music.

After the stint with Manyeruke, he joined Jonathan Moyo’s Pax Afro and continued with this outfit until two years ago. Today Isaac Chirwa is still going strong. He has got his own recording studio and last month he launched his latest album.

Indeed, these guys deserve a better place on the Zimbabwean music map and until we give them that recognition, they remain Zimbabwe’s musical unsung heroes.

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