Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

The AY Band Saga, a lesson for musicians

By Blessing Vava

It’s been twelve months since the tragic death of talented saxophonist, musician Samson Mtukudzi who is a son to legendary superstar Oliver Mtukudzi. I first met Sam Mtukudzi in Gweru in 1997 while having dinner at the Fair Mile Motel.

Selmor, Brooklyn, Oliver, Sam Mtukudzi, and a friend at Oliver's 60th birthday party, September, 2008
Selmor, Brooklyn, Oliver, Sam Mtukudzi, and a friend at Oliver's 60th birthday party, September, 2008

Sam had played at the ‘Rock da Vote Concert’, a musical show that we had organized to mobilize Zimbabweans to vote in the upcoming elections in 2008.  I deliberately joined him at the table where he was seated and had one or two words with the young man.

We discussed a wide range of issues including his band (AY) and I remember him telling me that his vision was to see his band grow and become successful just like what his father had done with the Black Spirits.

I was humbled by the young man’s down to earth demeanour. He was such a humble young man whom one would never have thought was son to a legendary musician in the mould of Oliver Mtukudzi.

His group the AY Band which he founded whilst he was still  a teenager  at Prince Edward High School in Harare had become very popular, getting contracts to play at some popular events including the annual  Winter Jazz Festival.

It was through sheer hard work by the young man and his band as he managed to stand on his own, weaning himself and refusing to be an appendage of his father’s band, the Black Spirits. To sum it all the AY Band became a brand and household name on its own.

To the extent that even after the death of their leader the AY Band with the help of Tuku continued holding shows countrywide and most Zimbabweans saluted the youngsters for continuing were Sam had left from. Such a scenario is very odd in Zimbabwe and the world over that a band can continue surviving after the death of the leading band member.

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Now we are reading disturbing stories from the media about the disintegration of the AY Band, a band which had managed to pull through despite the death of Sam. Zimbabwe’s musical history is awash with many examples of bands that failed to survive and became history after the death of the leader.

Typical examples include the Ocean City Band fronted by the late James Chimombe, Biggie Tembo’s Bhundu Boys, Mkoma Ketai’s Huchi Band, Pio Farai Macheka’s Black Ites, Mr Bulk and the Bulk Spirits, Chamunorwa Nebeta’s Glare Express, Paul Matavire’s Hitmachine, Kenneth Chigodora’s Sweet Melodies, Lucky Dube’s Slave band and Thomas Makion’s Maungwe brothers.

All these bands collapsed after the death of their leaders and this has become a norm in Zimbabwe’s musical scene. The collapse of most of these groups were mainly attributed to struggles over financial resources and an unclear succession plan in the event that the leader departs or dies.

Musical groups in the country should be able to live beyond individuals who are the founders in most cases. There is a need to have a clear plan that in the event that the leader dies the band should still continue existing to avoid what we have been noticing in recent years.

We have seen many once successful bands with members falling into difficult times after the death of their leaders and what this means is that their families would be thrown into abject poverty because the source of income would have suddenly collapsed.

One good lesson to be learnt by established musicians is that every member of the band should have an appreciation and ownership of the brand of the band and its music and still manage to continue playing even after the death or departure of the leader. The band should be bigger than individuals and it should continue existing whether the leader is there or not.

The other problem affecting our music industry is that our musicians have personalised their bands to the extent that the bands have become personal properties of individuals and when the boss is not there the band ceases to exist. There is need to professionalize the way and the manner in which musical groups are run in the country to avoid the risk of splits, collapse of bands after the leader dies or departs.

Music is a profession and quite a big business and as such musicians should ensure that their bands are run on professional lines and desist from the ‘tuck-shop mentality’ where the there is no distinguishing between profit and float, where either of the two can be directly channelled into the mouth, without giving proper or due consideration to the future of the enterprise. Music bands just like any profit-making enterprises can and should be self-sustaining.

As for the AY Band the youngsters need to be united and rise above their personal differences if any and see to it that they continue from where Sam left. I also hope that Superstar Oliver Mtukudzi will sit down with these youngsters and try to resolve whatever challenges that are affecting the group.

The old man should know that the failures of his son’s band would be regarded as his own as he promised to guide the youngsters after the death of his son Sam. Watching them play you can see the potential and the zeal in the youngsters that they have a brighter future ahead of them and I hope and pray that a solution is found quickly to sort out the mess.

He still wants to see the band play using the name Sam left them. It was Sam’s dream to see his band grow and be an established musical outfit like the Black Spirits that is headed by his father.

Blessing Vava cannot be contacted on [email protected], he writes from Chipinge.