Zimdancehall Kings……Before they were Kings
By Andrew Moyo
HARARE – Scores of people claim to be pioneers of the wildly popular genre known as Zim dancehall. Countless producers, artistes, promoters and wannabe promoters have been profiled as some of the “fathers” of the genre.
However, The Sunday Mail Leisure last week visited the breeding ground of Zim dancehall, Matapi Flats in the old suburb of Mbare. While there are more popular studios in Mbare like Chill Spot Records, Gunhill Studios, Givenchy Records and Killer T’s newly opened Hot Property Studios, we chose, a quieter, older record label manned by Boshmaster, a singer, songwriter and producer.
The name Boshmaster might not register to most music fans, but this particular individual played a big role in uplifting most Zim dancehall talent from Mbare.
Born Tatenda Saranewako, Boshmaster grew up in Mbare and being one of the first individuals to establish a recording studio in the Matapi area, he has been in the thick of things from the beginning of the dancehall movement.
A gifted chanter himself, luck has not smiled on him, with the ladder towards fame proving too steep a climb.
It is hard to believe that many of the dancehall artistes who have risen to the pinnacle of the entertainment scene started off writing and rehearsing songs in his dilapidated “one room”, which also serves as Nayalinga Studios and would spend hours at a time just hanging out at the place.
Boshmaster claims that at one point he took in top chanter, Soul Jah Love, real name Soul Musaka, and stayed with him for five months in 2013.
However, after having used Nayalinga Studios both as a hangout spot and also as a rehearsal space, the rise in popularity for most of these artistes has robbed them of their memory and they seem to have forgotten about the man who helped shape their talents.
“I have been in the music industry for a while and I have seen the Zim dancehall genre through all the ups and downs,” said Boshmaster, who holds no grudges against the now popular singers, but in fact, wishes them well.
“I remember that when we started we had to beg DJs at parties and other gigs to give us a chance behind the microphone, but these days, promoters are actually paying dancehall artistes huge monies to perform at big shows.”
Growing up in Matapi flats, he connected and became friends with people who later on became household names in the music industry.
“I went to primary school with DJ Fantan and he stays just two blocks away from here so when I opened a studio he would also come and hang out with us before he even became a producer.
“Fantan used to help his mom out with her vending stall, which was in front of their flat and many youths liked hanging out there so it became known as the chillspot and when he opened his studio he called it Chill Spot Records.”
Boshmaster used to be close friends with Kinnah (Maliakini Saizi) as well as Killer T (Kelvin Kusikwenyu) who were his neighbours and both artistes used to visit every day.
“Many artistes like Kinnah, Killer T, T Makwikwi, Seh Calaz, Power Rasta and Soul Jah Love, came here frequently but these days most of them are now busy with shows and other projects.
“Killer T would come here every morning before he went to the rank where he was loading buses as a rank marshal and we would chill and smoke.”
The incident in which soldiers beat up touts at bus ranks after one of their own had also been beaten up inspired the song, which catapulted Killer T to stardom.
“Killer T stopped music for a while because he was making a bit of money at the rank but after the incident with soldiers he took a break from loading buses for about two weeks and he went on to record a song about what had transpired.”
The song “Makarova Gunners” went on to become an instant hit and music fans started paying attention to Killer T’s music. The revered dancehall lyricist, Killer T, has had his ups and downs in the music industry, but has been consistent and is currently the most sought-after chanter in the country.
The “Itai Ndione” hit-singer knows Boshmaster as one of the “friendliest” people he has ever known who makes friends easily.
“He is one of those guys who accommodate everyone, which is why it is easy for him to befriend people. We have been friends for a long time and I used to go and hang out at his place, but these days work has become too hectic.
“He did not set up his place as a proper recording studio so we just used it for rehearsals and Boshmaster treated everyone like family,” said Killer T.
Despite having been left behind by his more illustrious colleagues, Boshmaster is not a lonely man.
“There is a lot of talent here in the ghetto, future superstars hungry for an opportunity shine. Most of these established studios are expensive for the poverty stricken youths who want to record, so they come here and the process continues,” explained Boshmaster.
Boshmaster remembers all his boys, including Soul Jah Love, whom most people believe was a street kid.
“Many people are of the notion that Soul Jah Love was a street kid before the fame, no. They say so simply because of the way he would shift from one household to the next.
“I stayed with him here for about five months in 2013 and during those days he was not even popular but many people knew that he was talented because he used to sing for people in the streets.”
Soul Jah Love found a breakthrough with “John Terry”, a song that went on to become an anthem on the dancehall scene. He would then later on link up with Changara and that is when his career, long nurtured by people like Roki, Boshmaster and Gaza Commander, finally took off. Today, Seh Calaz is regarded as one of the most talented vocalists on the Zim dancehall scene but his appearance among top chanters seems to have surprised Boshmaster.
“When Calaz was growing up we had no idea that he was actually talented so when he came on the scene it came as a surprise to me. I knew him by his other nickname, ‘Smash’, so when people were telling me that there was a talented young man named Seh Calaz in Magaba I had no idea that the person being referred to was actually my friend Tawanda.” Boshmaster’s lack of experience in music production and distribution was the major drawback since it meant that the talent that frequented Nayalinga Studios could not be fully utilised, limiting the facility to a rehearsal space.
“I was the first person to open a studio in Matapi flats but I had no idea how a song was produced, so many artistes would come here to practice and they would go for recording at other studios after perfecting their songs.
“The first producer to make an impact in Mbare was Iton and many people would go and record at his studio but sometimes he came to use mine when there was no electricity at his place,” said Boshmaster.
During the rise of the genre, artistes from Mbare had to go as far as Chitungwiza to seek the services of the likes of Kutso and Critical. The establishment of Chill Spot Records brought with it a new era when they released their hit riddim “Zimbo Flavour”. It was the “Zimbo Flavour” riddim, which catapulted Zim dancehall bad boy, Soul Jah Love, to superstardom with the song “Ndongosimudza Musoro”. Other record labels like Gunhill Records and Bodyslam then followed and went on to make their own contribution to the industry. Boshmaster also acknowledges the introduction of Passa Passas (free street bashes) as a major contributor to the rise in popularity of Zim dancehall in Mbare.
“Passa passas that were organised by the likes of Changara and Gaza Commander gave youths the platform to showcase their talent. Radio stations then introduced Zim dancehall slots and the music started getting a lot of airplay, which went on to widen its reach.”
Boshmaster is currently working on an album, which he plans to release before the end of the year.
Diva Musoja aka Gaza Commander, has respect for Boshmaster whom he described as an elder in the industry. “Boshmaster is an elder in Zim dancehall because I believe he has contributed a lot. Many artistes from Mbare developed their talents in his house, but when they became popular he was left behind,” said Gaza
Added Gaza: “He could have given up but he has kept on going and the music he is singing these days contains constructive messages. He is someone who wants to see the ghetto youths defeat poverty and help uplift not only their communities but the whole nation through music. He is our own version of King Shango, a real fireman who is all about upliftment of the youths.”
Efforts to speak to Soul Jah Love were fruitless as both his phone and that of his wife Bounty Lisa were unreachable. Kinnah was also unreachable and efforts to contact him through his manager were futile as the manager indicated that it was a personal issue which needed a comment from Kinnah himself.
Seh Calaz left for the United Kingdom on Wednesday while his manager was not forthcoming. However, all the aforementioned artistes had photographs taken at Boshmaster’s house-cum studio when their careers were still in their formative years. However, the Zim dancehall story is never complete without mentioning elders like Major E, Booker T, Malvin S and Potato who with help of many MCs and selectors like Etherton Beenie, and the late Jah B, helped popularise the Zimbabwean version of dancehall.
In that same vein, it would not be proper to exclude Sniper Storm aka The General, Winky D, Badman, Guspy Warrior, King Shaddy and Freeman, to name just a few, voices and faces that really helped put Zim dancehall on the map. The Sunday Mail