By Blessing Masakadza
They call him ‘Mafia’, a name derived from an organised body of criminals operating originally in Sicily and now especially in Italy and the United States.But one is left wondering why veteran ‘sungura’ musician Somandla Ndebele ended up with such a nickname after getting to know him better.
Soma, as some among his legion of fans would also prefer calling him, is not moved by it.
If anything, he is quite forthcoming to share his story.
He says after he was born without his other arm, some among his childhood friends wanted to take advantage of his disability by bullying him.
As a coping mechanism, he found ways of changing the narrative and it did the trick.
Whenever it got physical, he would overpower his opponents resulting in him earning the nickname Mafia.
“I just had this strength and I thank God for that, even up to now I just have the power,” he said.
Born in 1970 in Kwekwe, Soma went to school in Dzivaresekwa and Zhombe.
He began music when he was in the school choir.
Soma released his first single in 1988 and his first album came in 1992 titled ‘Ndingazviita Sei’, along with his first video.
To date, he has 22 albums, three 7 singles and two DVDs as well as several single videos.
Born with one arm, Soma grew up in rural Zhombe doing all chores just like any other boy of his age, thus defying his disability.
“All that I have acquired today is a result of my hard work. I do not go around begging for hand-outs, I work for myself to provide for my family,” he said.
He says his disability was not a result of an accident, neither was he amputated or anything like that.
Notwithstanding, not having his other arm does not impede him from achieving anything in any way.
“I grew up in rural areas doing all the work, pushing a wheelbarrow, tilling the fields using an ox-drawn plough, and bird hunting using catapults — I can do all those things,” said the singer.
Soma does not only sing as he is also a certified drummer, who plays drums at his shows.
This fascinates some of his fans.
The ‘Wakandidadira’ singer fronts Denda Brothers and started music in 1988, announcing his presence with a single ‘Chido Changu’.
Denda is a shona word that refers to a disease.
Soma believes he has the talent to spread the musical disease.
He, however, believes that his musical history will be incomplete without mentioning the late ‘sungura’ giant Tongai Moyo aka Igwe.
The two met at Gramma Records in 1995 and went on to become a powerful combination, recording the album ‘Moyo Wekurera’ comprising the hit ‘Masimba aMwari’.
The friendship grew up to the time of Igwe’s death.
“Ours was more than a friendship, we were now family,” he said.
The two musicians would stage shows together at venues such as the Aquatic Complex in Chitungwiza and Harare Gardens.
“We all had separate bands. Promoters would engage us separately at a time and in some cases they would engage either of us leading to speculation that there was growing tension amongst us, which was not true.
“At times, Tongai would call me just to attend his shows and to feature on our collaborative songs,” he said.
Soma said he does not remember having any squabbles with Tongai and those who knew them know about their comics.
“Up to his death, we never had any fights. He even mentioned my name in his last album and I would sing about him. That’s how close we were even when we went to record people would be in stitches because of the jokes we made about each other,” he said.
The musician revisited an incident when they were nearly barred from recording with the producers failing to differentiate their voices.
Having been in the game for two decades, Soma has noted several vices which he said are a threat to the music industry.
“It is sad to see someone getting drunk on stage, it’s very unprofessional and this scourge is killing the industry. You will see an artiste begging patrons or the fans for beer. How can you get drunk while still at work? Is it not that even the beer bottles are inscribed with a warning that operation of machinery while drunk is prohibited? So how does one gets on stage and play guitars while drunk? Respect your work!
“If you have a band, one drunkard would ruin everything for you, even travelling plans are ruined by one person. You agree to meet at 9am and they show up at 4pm just because they would be drunk,” he said.
Soma has a good sense of dressing and he says it one thing that makes one portray a professional image.
“You can’t meet promoters or corporates while shabbily dressed. How can you be taken seriously if you’re dirty? You don’t need to have expensive clothes, just wash those that you have and be hygienic and it’s sorted. I’m 48-years-old and I know the importance of looking sharp in this business,” he said.
Soma is also thinking about his legacy.
His eldest son Xola is already into music, pursuing Zimdancehall.
“I want the legacy to continue, but I want my children to get educated and even if they have other jobs it’s still fine. Education is the best. And if they can have their jobs and also play music that would be great. Because education helps, you need it to make better decisions with your money, even if you get into music,” he said.
“I have five children and I now have two grandsons, I am actually a grandfather as you see me here. My youngest son is seven years. I sometimes play for my grandkids and they even see me on television and know it’s their grandfather.
“My son Xola is into music, he is known as Mega Locks, pursuing Zimdancehall but I want to help him also do ‘sungura’. We have recorded some tracks so we want to push and finish that album,” he said.
He says these days piracy has taken its toll on musicians, reducing them to paupers while fattening the pockets of pirates.
He appealed to the authorities to review the copyright laws.
“We have had ministers attend our album launches and they all promise that they would push our war on piracy. They promise a review of laws but nothing materialises. Right now the piracy guys make a lot of money than us musicians.
“Musicians have been reduced to beggars while their music is being played in cars, clubs and town. There should be laws to criminalise piracy, hefty fines which will go to musicians,” he said.
“You will find that a musician will get $12 dollars in royalties for the whole year all because of piracy,” he said.
He said the new crop of musicians has not yet enjoyed the fruits of the music industry. He has had an album selling over 200 000 copies and attaining a platinum disc which the new breed will not attain.
“Back then sales mattered and they were highly rewarding, there was no piracy,” he said.
He also noted the scourge of dirty lyrics in local music which he blamed on the sprouting of backyard studios.
“Back then there was proper screening of musicians. Studios such as Gramma Records would not let anything just pass. They would do proper screening of artistes and their music before recording but these backyard studios anything can be recorded and circulated which is a threat to our morals and the industry,” he said. Daily News.