Tichaona Mharadze, the managing director of Coloursel Furniture and part of 2 Kings Promotions, is a very courageous man. Two attempts to bring Morgan Heritage to Zimbabwe had been made before by two prominent promoters, but due to financial difficulties, the efforts proved to be in vain, until Mharadze decided to throw the hat into the ring. (Don’t ask me if I think he made money on this seemingly successful show). I am not privy to the information and logistics of how the finances played out, but what I know is that even though the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) was filled to the brim, my calculations tell me that 2 Kings did not make a profit from the concert.
in the groove with Fred Zindi
Prior to the concert, almost everyone in the streets of Harare was asking, “Do you know Morgan Heritage will play at the HICC tonight?” as if to confirm that the concert was indeed real.
Before their appearance, earth-shaking performances were given by Winky D and Oliver Mtukudzi — who are both riding on a wave of their new hit albums — Gafa Futi Chi Extraterrestrial and Eheka! Nhai Yahwe respectively.
After Tuku, Morgan Heritage came live and direct.
Morgan Heritage is a reggae band formed in 1994 by five children of reggae artist Denroy Morgan, namely Peter “Peetah” , Una, Roy “Gramps”, Nakhamyah “Lukes” and Memmalatel “Mr Mojo”.
Unfortunately, Una did not appear at the HICC concert. According to Gramps, she was in hospital after suffering a heart attack. Instead, Gramps brought his son, Jemere who introduced the show with three songs before the appearance of Morgan Heritage.
Backed by a seven-piece band with Gramps on keyboards, Morgan Heritage kicked off the night with the staple tune, Strictly Roots, which was also the theme of their tour. The crowd — many of them flying Zimbabwean flags, with a few Jamaican ones also making appearances — gave loud screams and an appreciative Peeter and his brother Mr Mojo, both donned in Gideon boots, greeted them with Rasta cliches to roars from the crowd.
After the crisp take on Strictly Roots, they went straight into You Don’t Haffi Dread To Be Rasta. I thought to myself, that tune should be the climax to the show and I began to wonder if the promoters had advised Morgan Heritage on which of their songs were popular in Zimbabwe. After this they rolled into lesser known songs which drove half the audience to sleep. These songs included A Man Is Still A Man, Can’t Get We Out, Jah Works, What We Need Is Love, Inna Dem Ting Deh and Hail Rastafari. After this one, the crowd woke up to Liberation and Talk Dem Ah Talk, Wanna Be Loved and Looking For The Roots before they belted Peter Tosh’s No Matter Where You Come From, As Long As You’re A Black Man and You Are An African. I said to Keen Mushapaidze, Jah Prayzah’s manager who was standing beside me, “That is an old Peter Tosh hit of the 1970’s!” He was surprised. All he could say was that he had never heard it before. I realised that Mushapaidze was not even born when this song was a big hit. He was not the only one in the audience who did not know most of the songs these guys performed. It was not long before percussionist Mr Mojo took over on vocals for Down By The River and Reggae Bring Back Love before going into some dancehall rhythms. I thought that the band was now going off course after declaring itself a strictly roots outfit.
Relishing the moment with the spellbound crowd, Mr Mojo, who looked slightly on the heavy side and would often sit down during the performance, suddenly got up to skank. The lead guitarist who exchanged fiery licks with Mr Palmer, the saxophonist, did an incredible solo using his guitar wah wah pedals and other gadgets. Without concession stands, the usual HICC beer-run-shuffle was noticeably absent, but the captured audience wasn’t going anywhere anyway.
A dozen songs in and Morgan Heritage cranked up the energy with an impassioned Reggae Bring Back Love. In the absence of sister Una, Peeter’s vocals carried the night in many places, but at no point was he in better form than when he traded lines with singer Gramps. After an hour into the show it was clear that the band had run out of reggae tunes as they delved into some classical ballads and R&B songs such as Perfect Love Song, Tell Me How Come, She’s Still Loving Me and Best Friend, tunes the crowd were not familiar with. Then Psalm 23, Light It Up and Love You Right followed in short order.
Morgan Heritage closed the show with Drop Leaf, a familiar tune which saw the fans thronging around the stage — skanking to roots rock reggae in a manner more associated with Zimdancehall and sungura than reggae. With this tune, the crowd nearly beat Morgan Heritage to the refrain when they sang along to every lyric of the song. This suggests that the pirated music community has been thriving during the past five years in Zimbabwe. The stage lights dimmed at 3:30am — after two and half hours’ performance. One would think that the crowd would break into a chant of “more” to pull Morgan Heritage back on stage for an encore but they were tired.
Morgan Heritage took their final bow, accompanied by Jah Prayzah who made an appearance with them and the audience took a deep breath. This was no ordinary concert. People hugged and shared looks of disbelief. Coming at the end of a run of shows in Africa marked at least a temporary pause for the legendary group, but it had all the markings of a new chapter for reggae music in Zimbabwe which also sees Jah Cure coming again on December 16 as 2 Kings promotions have promised.