Leonard Karikoga Gumiremisewe Zhakata was invited by professor Fainos Mangena from the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy at the University of Zimbabwe, in collaboration with the World Council of Churches on May 9 2014 to give a talk on the topic: Music, Meaning and Society.
in the groove with Fred Zindi
His delivery was impressive and it stunned a lot of academics present.
Since 2014, I have been asking the seminar series co-ordinator for a copy of his address as I did not take down any notes during his delivery (stupid me), but he keeps telling me that he has misplaced it. It looks like I have to hear it once more from the horse’s mouth, but he is a very busy man. Briefly, from what I can recall, he spoke about his journey through music, the challenges he has faced and the generic shift from Zora music to gospel music.
According to my book, Music Rocking Zimbabwe, which has information from an early interview, Zhakata was born on February 10 1968 in a rural village near Rusape. During his talk, he said he was born on June 25 1968. I asked him about that confusion and he insisted that the June 25 was the correct record of his date of birth.
Zhakata is the only boy in a family of seven. He did his primary education at Shiri Yedenga School in Glen Norah, Harare. His interest in music began at primary school when he used to sneak from home and play music with his primary school mates. At the age of 13, he had his first music composition Baba VaSamson. Pursuing school and later serving for an apprenticeship, Zhakata qualified as a fitter and turner.
With his cousin, the late Thomas Makion, they formed the Maungwe Brothers Band which performed sungura, later branded as Zora music. However, it took Zhakata sometime before he could record. After the frustration of being turned down by recording companies, Zhakata had his lucky break and recorded his first 12-inch single titled Moyo Muti in 1989, which was followed by an album Yarira Mhere a year later.
Zhakata’s songwriting skills continued to rise with the releases of chart busting songs such as Tungidza Gwenya and Shungu Dzemwoyo. It was not until the release of his mega chart-busting album Maruva Enyika which featured the hit song Mugove in 1994 that Zimbabwe began to take notice. Backed by a very tight musical outfit, The Zimbabwean All Stars Band, and a well-choreographed dance display which was shown on national TV, this album set Zimbabwe on fire during the festive season of the same year. In the video, just like on the stage, Zhakata and his crew were adorned in glittering outfits. Their costume was reminiscent of the old rock and roll singers such as Gary Glitter and Elton John. Mugove propelled Zhakata to dizzy heights and national stardom. No party in Zimbabwe was complete without Mugove being played.
The album Maruva Enyika is said to have earned him $50 000, money which at the time could buy him a modest house.
In 1994 at the age of 26, Zhakata became the youngest Zimbabwean musician to sell more than 120 000 copies of an album when Maruva Enyika did that. Those who had doubted his music mastery had to think again. All albums that followed thereafter — Nzombe Huru, Vagoni Vebasa, and three others — established Zhakata as a household name within the Zimbabwean music scene. He was further popularised by hits Hupenyu Mutoro, Batai Mazwi and Gomba Remarara in the early 1990s.
In November 1995, Zhakata and his band, The Famous Seven, were invited to perform in London, United Kingdom, but due to amateurish promotion, the shows were attended by only a handful of rhumba/sungura fans.
In 2006, Zhakata, perhaps on realising that he was not getting sufficient airplay, asked for the radio waves to be freed to allow more Zimbabweans to operate radio stations, but he was unsuccessful in his bid.
After shaking the showbiz in the 1990s with all-time hits like Mugove and Nhamo Dzenyika among others, the veteran musician watched helplessly as he fell deep into obscurity in the early 2000s.
This was after he released tracks that were deemed politically-sensitive at a time when there was rising dissent against the ruling Zanu PF government.
With songs like Sakunatsa, Warrior, Ngoma Yenharo (struggle) and Mirira Nguva, among others that have deep lyrics and are thought-provoking, the king of Zora music found himself a target of mainly state-sponsored propaganda messages. He was banned from airplay by the only broadcaster of the time, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings.
In his own words, Zhakata had this to say:
“I would like to reiterate that I am not a politically-oriented musician. I do not support any political party and as such, I do not sing for any politician. My music is about Zimbabweans and for them.
“I was surprised the first time that I heard that certain of my songs had been banned from the airwaves because they were perceived to be politically incorrect.
“I did not waste any time when I learnt about this. I went to the ZBH [Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings] to enquire about this new development. At ZBH, I held a meeting with the then CEO, Munyaradzi Hwengwere who professed ignorance at the said ban. Hwengwere told me that disc jockeys at radio stations had the liberty to play whatever songs they preferred and that it was not ZBH’s policy to blacklist particular songs. It was disheartening to learn that the highest authority at ZBH could not help me, and that the banning of my particular songs were to the discretion of presenters. But I had doubts over Hwengwere’s explanation.
“If I sing about holding on to power, people think I am singing about the current president. But there are many people holding on to power — in companies etc. If I sing about change, people think I want the ruling party to be replaced.”
Zhakata has, however, kept his musical momentum going and of late has turned to gospel music.
Urged on by a clique of his loyal fans, and with apparent inspiration from his new-found religious sanctuary, the United Families International Church, under the leadership of Emmanuel Makandiwa, Zhakata released yet another album, Zvangu Zvaita in 2013.
In a big surprise, however, on New Year’s Eve Zhakata’s fame came back after three of his songs Madam Boss, Zvine Mwaka and Moyo Wekutenda off the album Mutungadzose which was launched in June 2016 won the first three spots on the annual Radio Zimbabwe Coca-Cola 2016 Top 50 competition by a wide margin, getting a record 255 981 votes.
This was despite the year’s playlists in beerhalls, public spaces, cars, homes and local radio stations having been dominated by other musicians like Jah Prayzah’s Mdhara Vachauya, Alick Macheso’s Gungwa and several songs from dancehall artists.
Not bitter anymore, a happy Zhakata attributed his victory to the close interactions he has with fans.