Jonah Moyo, the founding member of Devera Ngwena Jazz Band, is one of Zimbabwe’s revered sons of sungura music with more than 38 albums under his belt. He rose to stardom in the early 1980s with hits such as Solo naMutsai, Wangu P, Gremmer Wepamoyo and Barbra, which topped the charts. The Standard Style’s Moses Mugugunyeki (MM) caught up with Moyo (JM), who has found a new home in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. He said he was not a spent force and hinted at a comeback on the local music scene. Below are excerpts of the interview.
MM: Where and when did you start your music career?
JM: I started at M’sopero Hotel in Kwekwe in 1977.
MM: How did you get to Mashava and become a member of Devera Ngwena Jazz Band?
JM: It’s quite a long story. One day a friend brought to me a newspaper with an advert from Gaths Mine in Mashava which was looking for four musicians to join the company’s music group.
I applied for the job and I was invited for an interview. When I arrived at the company office, a white welfare officer took me to a room where he showed me musical instruments, before he asked me to connect them.
I successfully did that, but I told him that I was a lead guitarist. However, he told me that they already had one, Innocent Bitu and he insisted that I try the rhythm guitar, which I played to his satisfaction. I was given the job and after two weeks, two more new members — a bass guitarist and drummer — joined us.
During our practice sessions we agreed that I would play the lead guitar while Innocent would play the rhythm and so it was myself on the lead guitar, Davy on the bass guitar, Moses on the drums while Innocent played the rhythm guitar.
MM: Can you shed light on your contract with Shabanie Mashava Mines who were your employers?
JM: The deal was that we would work at Gaths Mine Stadium for five hours during the day and in the evening, we would perform for three hours. Unfortunately, the instruments constantly broke down, which prompted the mine management to reassign us to underground jobs where we worked for eight hours a day.
However, two band members left because they could not handle it and we replaced them with two new faces, who included Jonisai Machinya. We realised that Jonisai had an amazing voice, so we made him one of our vocalists and I also roped in Robson Banda.
MM: When did you start recording your music?
JM: In September 1979, I took a three-week break from work and visited a brother — Joshua — who was staying in Chitungwiza. My brother was a lead guitarist at Thomas Mapfumo’s band, so he took me to Teal Record Company, now Gramma Records, where he introduced me to AK Mapfumo who was the producer.
Mapfumo asked me the number of songs that I had composed and were ready for production, to which I said 20. Honestly, I did not have a song that was ready for recording and our band did not even have a name.
People only referred to us as Welfare Band, so when he asked me about the name of the group, I quickly remembered a friend who used to follow our live shows back at the mine.
We used to call him Zidevera Ngwena (follow crocodile), so I told Mapfumo that our group was called Devera Ngwena Jazz Band, and the rest is history.
We were asked to come for recording at Teal Record Company after two weeks, so I had to cut short my vacation and went back to Mashava to compose new songs and practise.
While in Harare, I met Patrick Kabanda who was playing drums for a band that was based in Mhangura and I convinced him to join us for recording.
MM: Which members of your group did you record with your first project?
JM: It was myself on the lead guitar and vocals, Jonisai on the backing vocals, Patrick on the drums, Innocent on the rhythm guitar and Robson Banda on the bass. These are the original members of Devera Ngwena Jazz Band. Our first recorded single was Devera Ngwena Zhimozhi which was a hit
MM: Was Robson Banda part of the Devera Ngwena Jazz Band’s success story of the 1980s?
JM: No, Robson left to form his own group, the New Black Eagles and we brought in Hilliot Vhiyazhi to play the rhythm guitar. Innocent switched to the bass guitar. When we got our royalties Hilliot went AWOL and never came back so we replaced him with Jabulani who was Innocent’s young brother. By then the band was very popular.
MM: How many albums and singles did you record during your stay in Mashava?
JM: We recorded eight albums, two maxi-singles and I can’t recall the number of singles we recorded during that time.
MM: Why did you end your marriage with Shabanie Mashava Mines and moved to Masvingo?
JM: I left Mashava after we had any accident while on duty on our way from a gig in Zvishavane.
The mine management refused to compensate us after members sustained injuries, which did not go down well with us.
I decided to leave the mine and moved to Masvingo where I had bought a house. However, some members remained at the mine and I took Patrick with me and we incorporated new members into the newlook Devera Ngwena Jazz Band. The guys who were left at the mine chose to call themselves Zhimozhi Jazz Band.
MM: What was your performance like in the absence of Jonisai, Innocent and Jabulani?
JM: We did very well and made some recordings, although we did not match the feat that we reached during our time in Mashava. However, our live shows were well-attended.
MM: Do you sometimes meet with your “old” colleagues?
JM: Jonisai and Innocent will be part of my forthcoming project. In fact, we have agreed to do these reunions frequently. For your own information, we have done projects like Volume 25, Volume 31 and Volume 35 together, years after I had left Mashava. There is no bad blood between us and I love these guys from the bottom of my heart as they made me who I am today.
MM: Where are you based these days?
JM: I am a full-time musician based in Thohoyandou Venda in South Africa’s Limpopo Province.
MM: Are you doing live performances?
JM: Oh, yes, I am still releasing new projects and doing live shows in South Africa. At the moment, I am working on my forthcoming album, Volume 39, which will be released soon. Jonisai and Innocent will be part of this new project.
MM: What is your message to your Zimbabwean fans?
JM: I am still into music, and very soon I will be coming home to market my new songs.