By Arts Correspondent
Ever wondered what Cold Play would sound like if Chris Martin grew up in Bulawayo, hooked up with a rock guitarist with an intuitive ear for the rhythms of his African heritage, and together formed a band with two British boys and a Russian drummer?
Meet Farai & The Forest Dawn, the exciting new quintet whose heady brew of multiple musical strains, finished with a dash of Africa, is fast winning converts on London’s live music circuit.
Comprising the Zimbabwe-born pair of lead singer Farai Muvuti and guitarist Nathan Majongwe, keyboardist Jonathan Morris, bass guitarist Jobey Bell and drummer Kirill Khassine, the band is now set to perform at their grandest venue yet.
On the 10th of May, they make their way to the luxurious five-star Royal Garden Hotel in London’s affluent Kensington district to jam at the annual Zimbabwe Achievers Awards (ZAA). This year’s awards are sponsored by new money transfer company, ZimPay.
With spectacular views of Kensington Palace and the magnificent Kensington Gardens, the hotel provides a fitting aura of splendour to what is set to be a night of memorable celebration.
It is fitting that the ZAA has invited Farai & The Forest Dawn to come and entertain guests and award recipients on the night. The band has just emerged from a remarkable triumph of its own. Over the course of 15 weeks, from 2nd November 2013 to 8th February 2014, they battled 80 bands from across the UK at the Boisdale Jukebox in Canary Wharf, and emerged as winners of the Battle of the Bands 2014.
It was a remarkable feat that announced their arrival on the scene as a serious creative force. They stormed to victory largely on their own compositions, having initially introduced themselves to music fans through a handful of Youtube cover versions of Motown classics such as Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’.
Muvuti explained this strategic approach: “When you look at the history of bands, including our very own Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi, they started by covering popular genres to build a following before introducing their own material.
We started with what was closer to home in terms of the sound we wanted to put out, which was Motown. But we came with a different twist to it – basically we wanted to converge the sounds you know from Motown and from current pop rhythms, and infuse them with a touch of Africa just to show our appreciation of where we come from and who we are.”
But with members of the group hailing from diverse musical and cultural backgrounds whose broad sweep covers everything from Afropop, Soul, Folk, Rock and R&B, it was inevitable that the group would soon set aside the cover versions and to step out in their own skin.
“We decided that we’ve got lots of songs to do, we’ve got lots of material that we need to work on,” guitarist Majongwe said, explaining the band’s decision to end the cover versions and start playing their own music.
Their material covers the full gamut of life, from love and relationships to work and social issues, and is set to an eclectic mix of melodies and rhythms that reflect the band’s multicultural heritage.
But in a music industry that invests in tried and tested formulas and shuns unfamiliar sounds that may present a marketing risk, which established act would the band be happy to be likened to?
“Our music is in the same style as Bruno Mars, with just a touch of Cold Play and Kings of Leon,” Muvuti said, “Our lyrics exude a universal simplicity and our choruses are short and specific and easy to sing along to.”
The ZAA celebrates the achievements of the Zimbabwean community in the UK and promotes corporate social responsibility through supporting charitable causes.
ZAA executive director Brian Nyabunze expressed satisfaction with the progress of preparations for this year’s show.
“We’re just making the final tweaks to our preparations to ensure our guests enjoy a memorable experience of exquisite quality. Tickets are moving fast and table bookings are working efficiently, thanks to the world class ticketing system we’ve put in place,” Nyabunze said.