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Tribute to Zimbabwe’s greatest jazz artistes

Three of Zimbabwe’s greatest jazz artistes who found mainstream success over the years are to be honoured next month at the Victoria Falls International Jazz Festival (VFIJF) which will be held between September 7-9.

In the groove by Fred Zindi

Dorothy Masuka aka Auntie Dot

The festival will kick off with a jazz tribute dinner in honour of Dorothy Masuka, the late Green Jangano (Harare Mambos) and the late August Musarurwa. South African songbird Yvonne Chaka Chaka will be the guest of honour.

Out of the three, singer/songwriter Masuka, popularly known as “Auntie Dot”, now aged 83, is the only one who is still alive.

Masuka was born in Bulawayo on September 3, 1935. Her father was originally from Zambia and he worked as a chef at a hotel in Bulawayo. Her mother was Zulu. Dorothy is the fourth of seven children.

At the age of 12, she and her family moved to South Africa where she attended a Catholic school in Johannesburg. At one time when Masuka was only 16, she ran away from her boarding school to join Philemon Magotsi’s band called African Ink Spots. Her school and her parents were upset by this move as they wanted her to continue with school, but she went back for a short while and then left again for Bulawayo where she pursued her career as a singer. It was on her way back to Johannesburg that she penned the hit song Hamba Notsokolo.

At the age of 19 she was invited to audition for Troubador Record Company in South Africa and she was successful. That became the first rung on her ladder to fame as she was soon to join another popular female singer known as Dolly Rathebe.

At the age of 20, she joined a black musical revue in South Africa, which included the famous Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. They called themselves African Jazz and Variety. This is the period when Masuka wrote many hit songs such as Pata Pata Kulala, Khauleza, Khuteni Zulu and Ndizulu Zule Goli and Makeba is known to have used some of these hits in her later recordings and performances.

Masuka’s music became very popular in South Africa throughout the 1950s, but when the songs became more serious, the South African apartheid government began to question her. Her song, Dr Malan, was banned by the authorities. It was this song which forced her into exile when the Special Branch in Bulawayo advised her not to return to Southern Rhodesia. Dorothy fled to Malawi and then to Tanzania between 1961 and 1965. In 1965, she went back to Bulawayo, but had to flee again, this time into Zambia where she met fellow Zimbabweans Simangaliso Tutani, Chris Chabuka and Andrew Chakanyuka, who had formed the Broadway Quartet band. She stayed in Zambia until Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. In 1982 she went back to Johannesburg where she released the album MaGumede. She returned to Zimbabwe and did some more recordings of songs such as Nhingirikiri and Gona raMachingura in the late 1980s.

In 2002 when she toured England, she had audiences sweating and panting at the jam-packed venues in cities such as London, Manchester, Coventry, Bristol and Birmingham. She appeared on English radio and television programmes such as Big World Café, Global Beat Box, Charlie Gillet’s Capital Radio Show, Women’s Hour, BBC Radio 4, Jazz F.M., BBC African Service, Andy Kershaw’s BBC Radio 1 Show, Jo Shinner’s show on Greater London Radio and many other shows.

When she toured Europe the same year, audiences were treated to nights to remember by this charismatic female African artiste. One promoter who had hired her to perform at the Milkweg in Amsterdam and at the Nijmegen Music Centre confessed that at first he was scared of bringing Miss Masuka to these venues which are often frequented by youngsters aged between 18 and 30. He said he thought he was taking a big risk by presenting this rather oldish African singer to hip-hop fans in the Netherlands, but he was wrong. The kids loved it. The promoter then took her to Switzerland where she performed at the Dolce Vita where he was also scared that the teenage Swiss audience would walk out. No! They loved it. Although she is a jazz musician, she studies her audiences well. At one of the concerts, she sang Elvis Presley’s rock’n’roll song, You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog, Barking All The Time and crossed over in a medley to Que Sera Sera. The young audience just loved it. They did not expect that to come from an African female singer who had been advertised as a jazz artiste.

In Africa, she is claimed by many nations. The South Africans think that Dorothy is theirs because she went to school there from the age of 12 and she speaks Zulu. The Zambians also want to own her because, although born in Zimbabwe, her father was Zambian and she later spent a great part of her life in Zambia where she practiced the Bemba she learned from her father. However, Dorothy will tell you that it is Zimbabwe, the country of her birth, where she has her deepest roots. This explains why she kept running back to Bulawayo even during her school days. Her Shona and Ndebele songs such as Nhingirikiri and Khauleza are there to prove it. But who knows? With a Zambian father and a Zulu mother, she could be torn between African nations. The important thing, however is the fact that she continues to thrill a lot of us, be it Zimbabweans, Zambians or South Africans. All these nations will be represented at the VFIJF this September.

The second artiste who will be honoured posthumously is August Musarurwa. Musarurwa was born in Zvimba in 1920. After attending school he decided to join the police band where he learned to play the saxophone. He later formed the Cold Storage Sweet Rhythm Band and recorded through Gallo Records, the world-famous tune, Skokiaan.

When Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, the acclaimed jazz trumpeter, visited Zimbabwe in December 1960, he was surprised to see similarities between kwela and jazz and asked Musarurwa and his backing band to be the supporting musicians on some of his tunes. He fell in love with Skokiaan and later, after returning to the United States, recorded Skokiaan in 1961. In the late 1960s Cliff Richard’s backing band, The Shadows, also recorded Skokiaan and it became a hit all over the world. To this day, Skokiaan is played all over the world.

The third honour will go to the late Greenford Jangano.

Jangano was born on January 13, 1935 at Old Umtali Mission in Manicaland where his parents worked. Green attended primary school at Old Umtali Mission where he was taught to drive by his cousin, Kawadza. He used his driving skills to gain employment at a white man’s farm in Chipinge, but left when the white farmer also asked him to look after his pigs. He then moved to Harare in pursuit of employment and temporarily worked for Glens Transport before moving to Lusaka, Zambia. With help from his father, he bought a truck in Zambia. He moved back to Zimbabwe where he met his first wife at Nyadire Mission where his father was now working as a United Methodist Church minister. He became self-employed as he used his truck to ferry goods for people for a fee.

Jangano started off as a lead guitarist in 1958, then a bass guitarist in the 1960s and finally as a keyboards player in the 1970s. Green, as he was affectionately known by fellow musicians, met West Nkosi, a South African music producer, at Cyril Jennings Hall, Highfield, in 1959 where Nkosi was scouting for musicians to record. There was stiff competition, but Green’s band won the contest and thus became known as the Harare Mambo Band. The song Zvanhasi Ngezveduwo came immediately after. He then joined British American Tobacco (BAT) to advertise their cigarettes and later Lever Brothers where he took the band around the whole country to advertise Sunlight Soap from a mobile van.
Green was at one time in the early 1980s also the president of the Zimbabwe Musicians’ Union where he showed good governance and administration skills. He was a highly intelligent man who demanded strict discipline from his band members in the way they behaved in public and in the way they dressed. His survival as a musician who managed well mainly on music alone over the years is proof of his shrewdness as a music businessman.

Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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