By Prince Mushawevato
WHEREVER you were, whatever the venue – huge or small – you were guaranteed to be blown away, and come the following day, you had something to talk about.
Zimbabwe’s music landscape, past and present, is a tale of great music bands, outfits that not just conquered in the record studio through albums and singles, but dished out top-shelf live performances as well.
Even outside this country’s borders, the artistes are known. Talk of the mighty Bhundu Boys opening for international superstar, Madonna, at Wembley Stadium in 1987, or Winky D going toe-to-toe with international stars in the 21st century.
New releases would guarantee queues at giant record bars Gramma, ZMC, Record and Tape Promotions, Metro Studios and Ngaavongwe Records, among others.
Some of the bands still play under their founders while others now have different leaders. Below we highlight some of the country’s greatest bands and their successes.
Biggie Tembo and Bhundu Boys
Credited for popularising Zimbabwean music across borders in the early ’80s, the Bhundu Boys widely toured Europe, America and Asia when it was still alien to most local groups. The Bhundu Boys left an indelible mark with their hard-hitting jit sound.
So exquisite was the group’s recorded music and live work that a few years after their debut European show at Glasgow in 1983, international music icon, Madonna, personally requested the band to support her at Wembley Stadium. For three consecutive days, the band played for hundreds of thousands of people at the same venue.
Furthermore, they made history by signing a two-album deal with Warner Brothers and recorded an EP in the United Kingdom in 1985. Notable hits from the ensemble include “Hatisi Tose”, “Simbimbino”, “Babamunini Franscis”, “Jekesa”, “Kuroja Chete” and “Chitima Kwe”.
Dr Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited
Touted as one of the godfathers of modern African music, Dr Mapfumo’s Chimurenga music has remained strong for over 40 years.
After the Bhundu Boys, Mukanya is arguably the next musician to have made significant impact on the international scene ahead of all his counterparts, Leonard Dembo and Dr Oliver Mtukudzi included.
In 1980 during Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations, Mapfumo was one of the top acts sharing the stage with the late international reggae icon Bob Marley and The Wailers at Rufaro Stadium in Harare. In 1999, Mukanya was honoured with a Master’s Degree in Music from the University of Zimbabwe.
Two years later, he received a Doctorate from Ohio State University (USA) for his outstanding contribution to the music industry. He boasts numerous music awards, among them Artiste of the Year from the American World Music Awards (1999), Zimbabwe’s Person of the Century in the Arts Award (2000) and AFIM’s Best World Contemporary CD Award for ‘Chimurenga Explosion’ (2000).
Dr Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi and Black Spirits
The late singer’s achievements in music would certainly require acres of space to be fully exhausted in one publication. Dr Mtukudzi has over 35 awards from across the globe.
Highlights of his achievements include the fact that the “Tuku Music” album spent more than 10 weeks at the top of the CMJ New Music charts. His rich music catalogue never gets old and royalties from all over the world remain unmatched to date.
In 2016, the Southern African Music Rights Association (SAMRO) honoured Dr Mtukudzi with the “Breaking Through the Borders Award” in recognition of the singer’s music impact across the globe.
He is one of the few artistes from Zimbabwe to have been recognised by foreign governments through awards — Cavaliere of the Order of Merit Award (Italy), Outstanding Life Long Contribution to the South African Music Industry (South Africa) and a Life Time achievement Award by NTM Global Promotions (Canada).
He was a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and scooped the KORA Best Male African Artiste as well as the Life Time Achievement awards. In 2014, Tuku was doubly honoured with two Honorary Doctorates (PHD) by the International Institute of Philanthropy and the Great Zimbabwe University. Above all, he is the only local artiste to have been conferred a national hero status.
Leonard “Musorowenyoka” Dembo and Barura Express
Arguably the best music talent to have emerged from this country, Dembo was as enigmatic as they come but still managed to charm music fans.
The guitarist and composer par excellence was a “music god”. He could release multiple hits on different occasions in a single year. Think of “Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa” (1987), “Sharai” (1987), “Mazano” (1993), “Kutinya Marimba” (1993), “Shiri Yakangwara” (1996), “Babamunini” (1996), “Ndirimudiki” (1996) and so on.
His song “Chitekete” was made the signature track at the 1996 Miss World Pageant in Namibia and “Venenzia” is one of his outstanding hits.
Dembo was a consistent winner of gold and platinum sales awards. He was among the first black people to buy a house in the Indian dominated Belvedere suburb. Dembo died at the age of 37. Last year, Masvingo Music Awards posthumously honoured him with a “Life Time Achievement Award”.
Lovemore “Majee” Majaivana
Majee, real name Lovemore Tshuma’s golden voice was complemented by his silky dance moves on stage. He is probably the best success story to have ever come from Matabeleland in as far as music is concerned.
It is now close to two decades since the “Angilamali” hit-maker went into self-imposed exile in the United States of America but he still has a huge following and is an inspiration to many in the region. Majaivana also performed alongside Bob Marley at the 1980 independence celebrations.
Paul “Dr Love” Matavire and Jairosi Jiri Band
Dr Love, the composer and singer, charmed many with his synchronised use of Shona and Ndebele lyrics. Matavire’s most prodigious attribute was his ability to tackle sensitive societal issues, be it religious or marital, in a comical way.
This was in addition to his good grasp of the love theme as exuded in “Tanga Wandida”, “Love Without Romance” and “Dhiyabhurosi Nyoka”. He defied odds by not letting disability (blindness) or his 13 months incarceration derail his passion for music. Matavire, just like Fanyana Dube, remains an inspiration to many disabled people.
Solomon “Jah Solo” Skuza and Kwenjani Band
Skuza introduced and popularised a unique flair in music. His songs were mostly in Kalanga before he started singing in English in the early ’90s.
“Banolila” (1980), which sold over 75 000 copies, was the group’s breakthrough hit. But the group’s high came in 1990 when they released “Love and Scandals”, which tackled corruption — the Willowgate Scandal in particular. This was considered a taboo back then.
Simon “Chopper” Chimbetu and Orchestra Dendera Kings
Simon carved his name during his stint with cousin Naison Chimbetu at Marxist Brothers.
The “master of song” is rated among the best composers in the country. He introduced a unique sound called Dendera — which is derived from the horn-bill bellow and is centred on the bass guitar. Upcoming artistes from within and outside the Chimbetu dynasty now feed from this creation.
Chopper had moving choreography. His solid work grabbed spark from the then high-flying Jonah Moyo and Devera Ngwena Jazz Band and Pengaudzoke. Just like Matavire, Chopper once went to jail for years but still returned to conquer.
Alick “Baba Sharo” Macheso and Orchestra Mberikwazvo
Since 1998, Baba Sharo has revolutionised sungura music. This was after breaking away from Khiama Boys. His group literally dethroned Simon Chimbetu’s Orchestra Dendera Kings at the turn of the new millennium. Even the then on fire Chopper, who was still armed with the red-hot albums “2000 Blend” and “Hoko”, acknowledged that Baba Sharo was unstoppable.
At his peak, Baba Sharo could hold shows in any province and fill stadiums. He has set the bar so high that most sungura upstarts strive to sound like him, mainly through his signature staggered and sometimes prolonged bass guitar riffs. He has numerous awards under his belt. Baba Sharo pioneered the “Borrowdale dance”, which imitates horse trots.
Leonard “Baba Chamu” Zhakata and Zim All Stars
In 1994 at the age of 26, Zhakata became the youngest Zimbabwean musician to sell more than 100 000 copies of an album when “Maruva Enyika” sold 120 000 copies. For five years stretching from 1994, he was a nightmare to his rivals.
Albums like “Maruva Enyika”, “Nhamo Dzenyika”, “Mandishorei”, “Nzombe Huru”, “Vagoni Vebasa”, “Ndingaite Sei” and “Pakuyambuka” produced hits that dominated airwaves.
So powerful was Zhakata’s work that included hits “Mugove” and “Hupenyu Mutoro” that it was always on the summit of music charts in a market that had competition in the form of Dembo, John Chibadura, Pengaudzoke, Mapfumo, Mtukudzi, Marshall Munhumumwe and Ngwenya Brothers.
This was a star-studded ensemble that captured the imagination of the entire populace for three good years with sing-along tracks like “True Love” and “Shosholoza”.
Formed in 1986, Ilanga consisted of the late Cde Chinx Chingaira, Andy Brown, Busi Ncube, Keith Farquharson, Don Gumbo, Adam Chisvo, Munya Brown and Gibson Batishta. Ilanga’s big-name composition puts it at the same level with Sungura Boys whose band members included Ephraim Joe, John Chibadura, Simon and Naison Chimbetu, the Rusike Brothers, or the original Khiama Bhoys — which at some point had the likes of Macheso, Cephas Karushanga, System Tazvida, Nicholas Zacharia and Tinei Chikupo as one team.
In 1988, Ilanga shared the stage with international superstars like Tracy Chapman, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour and the Bhundu Boys.
Tongai “Dhewa” Moyo and Utakataka Express
Inspired by the late Dembo, the late Dhewa spent much of his early career days fighting the “Dembo copycat” tag. But things changed after the release of “Samanyemba” (2002), which carried the hit song “Murozvi Mukuru”.
Tongai introduced a new vibe on the live show front. His band delivered pulsating acts and the group also fostered a sense of smartness within sungura, including creating stylish videos.
His skilful blend of sungura and rhumba also restyled sungura.
John “Mr Chitungwiza” Chibadura and Tembo Brothers
Chibadura released 25 gold albums during the course of his career. His reggae album “Zuva Rekufa Kwangu” fostered a new wave.
Chibadura’s sungura beats were well received in Zimbabwe and across the region. He toured the UK but was seriously adored in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana. In Mozambique, he was popular to the extent that they considered him “son in the diaspora”.
Chibadura even had the privilege of regularly meeting the then president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano. And often he would be accorded police escort, reserved for Presidents, each time he went for gigs that were often in stadiums with crowds of not less than 40 000 people.
James “Mr Bindura” Chimombe and Ocean City Band
Mr Bindura is also another top selling artiste of note. Just like Chibadura, Tazvida and the Chazezesa Challengers, he was also popular in Mozambique.
System Tazvida and the Chazezesa Challengers
Tazvida introduced a unique brand of sungura that many have struggled to emulate to date. His sungura sound appealed across the generational divide.
He was popular for hit tracks that included “Mushandi Ndimambo” and “Anodyiwa Haataure”.
Safirio “Mukadota” Madzikatire and Sea Cottage Sisters
Inimitable! Zimbabwe is still to find his replacement two decades after his death. The charismatic comedian, composer and guitarist pioneered and popularised the music and drama blend path that Kireni Zulu, Freddy “Kapfupi” Manjalima and partly Baba Harare are presently traversing.
His blend with female artistes, talk of the vivacious dancer-cum-actor Elizabeth “Katarina” Taderera and Susan “Amai Rwizi” Chenjerai, endorsed women’s participation in the arts sector.
Stella Chiweshe and Chivanhu
Mbuya Chiweshe defied the odds and tradition when she became one of the few, if not the only women playing mbira then. Back then, women were culturally forbidden from playing the instrument.
She was the first woman to sign a deal with Teal Record Company (Now Gramma Records) after her debut album “Kasahwa” went gold. She by-and-large inspired Chiwoniso “Sista Chi” Maraire and her Vibe Culture ensemble.
Baba naMai Charamba and The Fishers of Men
The couple breathed life into gospel music at the turn of the millennium. Their music, especially at live shows, cut across religious beliefs. Equally, they successfully competed for top record sales, accolades and honours.
Jah “JP” Prayzah and Third Generation/Winky D and Vigilance Crew
A new generation of artistes is currently in the process of campaigning for vacancies within the greatest bands list. However, they are yet to fully make the grade.
JP and Winky D, arguably the best among their peers, have made statements of intent through extraordinary achievements like breaking YouTube records and performing before bumper crowds.
JP is one of the few, if not the first Zimbabwean, to win an MTV African Music Award. Winky D on the other hand has topped charts on BBC Radio 1 Extra Destination Africa Top Five (5). The Sunday Mail