They came from beginnings so humble all they could afford to push their dream further were hand-made guitars. From those, they perfected their art and when the opportune time came, they moved up to the next level.
By Jairos Saunyama
These are yesteryear sungura musicians, among them Alick Macheso, Nicholas Zakaria, John Chibadura and many others, who conquered the music world after rising from their modest farm and mining communities.
Sungura music is undoubtedly the most popular genre in Zimbabwe and a number of artists who revolutionised it launched their careers from the farms and mines where they started off as banjo players before becoming celebrities.
The farms had compounds — often overcrowded — with talented artists capitalising on the set up to perform before their own communities.
The other farm labourers became “judges” and their judgements after the shows were enough to motivate the musicians, who would later tour nearby farms or mines where they would earn a few dollars. It was during these tours that the lucky ones would come across music enthusiasts who would lure them to the city.
It was in the city that their careers were defined, and this is the path most great sungura artists walked to stardom.
However, the land reform programme that was introduced just before the dawn of the new millennium could have dealt a major blow to the beautiful genre as the current crop of artists have become more of copycats.
The farms were the hunting grounds for many musicians who would hop from one farm to another performing.
The current crop of sungura artists lacks creativity, with the majority imitating established musicians, claiming that they get inspiration from them.
Or could it be the flawed indegenisation programme, or rather, the economic meltdown that has seen a number of mines becoming white elephants? Or is it modernity and globalisation that has crept into the minds of many, seeing the advent of Zimdancehall — a new genre that is currently on top of the game?
However, according to music analyst Chamunorwa Mashoko, sungura musicians need to move with the times.
“Land reform has absolutely nothing to do with the slow growth of sungura, in my view. Sungura artists are not evolving; these days music is about fusion, sungura does not incorporate other key elements such as keys and percussion. Music has become explicit to a larger extent and sungura is following the moral path and has remained loyal to clean lyrics,” he said.
“Another factor is that sungura has not attracted young artists, hence it is to a larger extent viewed as ancient in my view by the bulk of young listeners.”
He, however, dismissed the notion that the genre was sinking into oblivion.
“Sungura is not dead because very soon listeners will be tired of cheap music and will go back to authentic music.
Sungura artists like Macheso have the ability and capacity to collaborate with young musicians and producers like Ammara Brown or Oskid,” he said.
“The number one song on Radio Zimbabwe was Madam Boss by Leornard Zhakata — this is a clear indication that as long as a song is trending, whether sungura or Chimurenga, listeners can identify with it. Land reform empowered most farm labourers to be able to buy smartphones, satellite dishes and solar panels, hence increased music consumption.
Sungura did not capitalise on that and its place was taken by Zimdancehall.”
Moreover, the land reform eroded income for the sungura fan base, resulting in their failure to either attend shows or purchase the music. This was because most farm workers were left jobless as the newly resettled farmers could not employ workers. Before, the compounds were infested with workers who would budget money every month, reserving it to attend a show.
Others who would make it to the nearest urban centre would also buy cassettes of their favourite musicians.
Music critic Fred Zindi believes that the land reform programme had a negative impact on sungura.
“Thomas Mapfumo rose from Mhangura Mine where he played music which identified with the mine workers, most of whom hailed from neighbouring countries such as Malawi. Songs such as Murembo were popular there,” Zindi said.
“Jonah Moyo rose from Mashava, where his music resonated with the people from the asbestos mining community and surrounding areas. The same can be said of Zvishavane Sounds.
“However, Zanu PF’s populist policies led to the demise of the mining and farming communities that resulted in many people migrating to other parts of the country, mainly to cities. Examples are John Chibadura who went to Chitungwiza and adjusted his music accordingly. That killed Sungura.”
Below are some of the country’s great musicians who started off in mines and farms.
Though he began his music career in the 1970s in Mbizo, Kwekwe, Moyo’s career flourished at Mashava Mine where he formed Deverangwena Jazz Band to supplement his income as a mine clerk. He recorded his first single, Devera Ngwena Zhimozhi, which went platinum in just a month after its release. Moyo is famed for the hit song Solo na Mutsai. Deverangwena music became popular beyond Zimbabwean borders and realised money from sales in Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi.
Fronted by the late Daiton and Josphat Somanje, Pengaudzoke is undoubtedly one of the best sungura groups ever to exist in the country. They were founded in 1985 at a farm in the Beatrice area, Mashonaland East Province.
Pengaudzoke released its debut single titled Chinhu Chevaridzi in 1988 and the flip side had Vanhu Vandawile, which were both written by Daiton. In 1989, the group released another single Tezvara Revai Pfuma.
In 1990, Pengaudzoke made a major breakthrough, releasing their debut album Kwatakabva Kure Nenhamo, which featured hit-tracks such as Munonditaura and Famba Mwana.
Pengaudzoke is known for the songs Seiko Kuonda, Zvibate Pamhaka and Tsaona, among others.
Ngwenya Brothers had a humble beginning. It was made up of three Matsito brothers — Jabulani, Mike and Tedious — who were born in Nyamaropa, Nyanga but later relocated to Mazowe. With home-made guitars, the brothers toured surrounding farms entertaining farm workers.
Tedious left the farms to search for employment in Harare after realising that he was earning little from music.
He got a job as a gardener in Malbereign and soon Jabulani followed him to the city. At that time, Mike was at school but after completing his studies, he joined his brothers in Harare. They revived their music career with the help of Shephered Chinyani, who helped them release the hit album Nyaradzo. Ngwenya brothers later released hits like Manyemwe Emhuru, Nyaradzo, Gede, Chinhoyi and Pachikomana Ndiyoyo, among others.
Alick Macheso was born in 1968 in Shamva, a farming and mining area outside Harare. Before rising to stardom and becoming the king of sungura, Macheso started off with makeshift guitars. It is reported that he was taught to play the guitar by his uncles. He left Shamva at a young age for Harare at the invitation of a relative, who had been inspired by Macheso’s guitar-playing prowess at the farm compounds. He later met Nicholas Zakaria, who was part of the Khiama Boys. In 1997 he left Khiama Boys to front Ochestra Mberikwazvo. He has released hits such as Sarah, Mundikumbuke, Charakupa, Monalisa and Tafadzwa, among many others.
Fondly known as The Senior Lecturer, Zakaria grew up in Mazowe. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of sungura music as he led the great Khiama Boys ensemble.
Popularly known as Mr Chitungwiza, Chibadura’s real name was John Nyamukokoko who hailed from Darwendale where he was a herdboy at a farm. He later became a tractor driver before graduating into a lorry driver. He managed to purchase an electric guitar which he played at the farm, earning him the nickname Chibadura. In 1980, he met Tinei Chikupo and Shephered Chinyani and moved to Chitungwiza. He is famed for hit songs such as Rairai Vana, Mukadzi Wamakandiroorera and Mudiwa Janet, among many others.