In December 1988, a youthful outfit with an average age of 16 years was formed and went by the name Frontline Kids. They shook the music scene, sharing the stage with the world’s crème de la crème, including the late Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and the Soul Brothers from South Africa as well as reggae icon Dennis Brown, among others. They toured across the breadth and length of the world. Within two years, the group had recorded three “hot” albums — Children of the Frontline, African Jive and Hupenyu. Frontline Kids was made up of Primrose Sithole, Noel Zembe, Jevas Dzotizei, Bob Manwere, Emmanuel Thomas, Filbert Marova and Wellington Masvosva.
the style interview with Moses Mugugunyeki
However, in 1992 they parted ways by mutual consent after most of the band members had reached the age of 20. The Standard Style’s Moses Mugugunyeki (MM) tracked one of the “kids”, Filbert Marova (FM), who left the group to join the Rusike Brothers. Marova, who has turned out to be one of the most sought-after instrumentalists in the country, spoke of the meandering path he has followed for his passion — jazz music. Below are excerpts from the interview:
MM: What does jazz mean to you?
FM: Jazz music means a lot to me. I’m like in paradise, in heaven when I improvise a solo over a jazz progression or play some unexpected extended voicing over a familiar or simple melody. Nothing beats that for me.
MM: How did you get into jazz music?
FM: During my student days at the Zinbabwe College of Music, studying for an Ethnomusicology diploma soon after my Frontline Kids stint, a fellow student, Celso Paco from Mozambique, introduced me to a popular jazz standard The girl from Ipanema by one of the greatest Latin jazz composers Antonio Carlos Jobim . I tried it on the piano and immediately fell in love with it. Thereafter, every morning before lessons, Celso and I would do a drum and piano 30-minute session and added one new jazz standard a day until we had a full repertoire. The more jazz standards I could play, the more I fell in love with jazz music.
MM: Who was your inspiration?
FM: A number of names come to mind. Pianists Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Dave Grusing and other instrumentalists such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and George Benson, among others.
MM: What is the biggest challenge of jazz music in Zimbabwe?
FM: The greatest challenge is that people have different ideas of what jazz music is and because of these varied interpretations, jazz is one of the most misrepresented genres of music in Zimbabwe, including by some musicians who claim to play jazz music. It’s sad because I’ve heard some people say jazz is boring and yet it’s one of the sweetest types of music ever to emerge which is why The Zimbabwe Jazz Community Trust was established to assist in the development and preservation of jazz music in Zimbabwe.
MM: How far true is the assertion that jazz music is for the affluent?
FM: There is a general perception that jazz music is for the affluent and I think it’s because most of the early local jazz musicians played jazz covers that were sung mainly in English and yet at independence, most Zimbabweans wanted to identify more and more with their African roots and they listened to mbira, sungura or mbaqanga. Those who considered themselves classier remained following jazz and some of them are affluent and some are not. I guess it all depends on what one is exposed to.
MM: Who do you rate as the greatest jazz artiste internationally?
FM: I can say Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong both for his vocal prowess and trumpet improvisations, but I’m tempted to go with Miles Davis for being the best selling jazz artiste after selling more than four million copies of his Kind of Blue album.
MM: Take us through your music journey.
FM: I am a multi-instrumentalist who is known for piano-playing and composing having discovered my talent at the tender age of 11 years where I had my first musical fling performing music with the school marimba band. This passion for music evolved into a love affair with the guitar and ultimately keyboards which I played at Frontline Kids, one of Zimbabwe’s highly-acclaimed music acts which dominated the Zimbabwe music scene from 1987 to 1991.
As a founding member of Jazz Invitation, I wrote and produced the hit single BP Yangu Yakwira, sung by Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana off the album Rehearsal Room, which was released in 2004.
With fadZ and frenZ, I released my debut album, Kariba Bream, which brought together a number of different artistes from various music backgrounds to ultimately earn me the Zima Best Jazz Artiste in 2006. I composed, produced and arranged all the songs on this album.
Over the years, I have had successful music projects with groups such as Jacaranda Muse, BlaQberry Jazz and Africherry Music, to mention just a few.
Besides having a career in composing and performing, I am full-time classroom music teacher and I enjoy sharing my music knowledge and experience with hundreds of music pupils who pass through my hands
I have acquired a Bachelor of Music (Jazz) from Africa University in conjunction with the Zimbabwe College of Music besides a Diploma in Ethnomusicology with Indiana University in conjunction with the Zimbabwe College of Music and I’m still open to learning new things every day.
MM: What are your words of encouragement to other young musicians, particularly those playing jazz?
FM: Talent without nurturing is nothing. Make it a habit to practise something new as often as you can. It’s better to spend five to 15 minutes on your instrument, including vocals, every day than to spend three hours after every two, three or four days.
Listen to as much jazz music as you can in addition to all types of music that you can get your hands on.
Perform, improvise and if you are a composer or singer, try to be as lyrical as how dancehall or sungura artistes have become.
MM: Which international or regional artistes have you worked with?
FM: I have worked with a few such as Canadian bassist Dave Young, Swedish Hammond organ player Paul Wagenberg, South Africa-based Zimbabwean Dorothy Masuka, American musician Chris Berry and Panjea, Australian trumpeter Peter Hunt, Julio Sigauke of Freshlyground (South Africa) and Moreira Chonguiça from Mozambique.
MM: You have a latest project, what is it all about?
FM: The album titled Zimbabwe Jazz Chapter 1 is a collaboration project, which comprises six stand-alone singles featuring some of the best jazz singers and instrumentalists in the country as well as upcoming musicians. One of the tracks, Jazzilicious Vibes, is an instrumental collaboration with Australian trumpeter Peter Hunt.
The album is the first in a series branded Zimbabwe Jazz, which is an initiative to promote Zimbabwean jazz. Some of the artistes featured include Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana, BlaQberry Jazz, Raven Duchess, Hope Masike, Nyasha Shereni, Nonhlanhla Muhoni, John Pfumojena, Tinashe and Sunny Mukarati, among others
MM: What role are you playing as jazz artistes to keep the genre alive?
FM: I cannot speak for all artistes, but I know that Sam Mataure has been at the forefront of promoting jazz music by bringing in regional jazz artistes to perform in Zimbabwe. There is also The Zimbabwe Jazz Community Trust, a not-for-profit organisation established to support jazz music and musicians in Zimbabwe by providing a platform for musicians to showcase different styles of jazz every week.
MM: Do local radio and television give ample airtime specifically to jazz just like what they do with other genres?
FM: Local radio and television stations give more airtime to dancehall, sungura and house music than to jazz music, but they should not be blamed. I think we jazz musicians should shoulder part of the blame because we are not consistently recording enough good quality material that is capable of attracting the attention of the stations. In most cases, the radio stations give the listeners what they think the listeners want. We have to fight on until we get recognition.
MM: You have travelled a long journey in the music industry, what have you achieved?
FM: My livelihood is dependent on music and I’m satisfied that over the years that I have been involved in the education sector, I have imparted my music knowledge to children and youths, some of whom have gone on to become successful musicians living their music dreams.
The other achievement was being voted Best Jazz Artiste at Zima 2006.
Successfully running live jazz music shows under the Back2Jazzics brand on a voluntary basis for the past two and a half years is also another milestone.
MM: Do you have any regrets?
FM: Absolutely none. I’m satisfied with my choice and I would choose music over anything else any time, any day.