By Takemore Mazuruse
While there is no easy way to the top, life has taught us that at some point or another we all hit the jackpot, but what really defines success is the impact that one achieves in their interest area and the invaluable ability to stay successful and relevant.
Many have achieved success, but very few have been blessed enough to maintain and retain the success levels that made them an envy of many. Failure to reinvent and adapt became their deathbed and all that is left are fond memories of accolades attained and a fame long gone.
However, sungura kingpin Alick Macheso has been around for close to four decades, right from his Khiama Boys entry level to the current Orchestra Mberikwazvo era and while many of his peers and age mates have either departed to the life hereafter or have become victims of the changes in the music industry, he remains a force to reckon with and filling venues to the rafters.
Speaking to Standard Style in an exclusive interview, Macheso, who turns 51 next month, revealed that beyond his God-given music artistry, it is the ability to gel with his fan base and the greater populace that has made him a darling of many.
“Yes, I do live, eat and sleep music, but being Macheso and remaining the people’s favourite has called for a lot more than just exquisite guitar-strumming skills, vocal ability and some fancy footwork on stage. I respect the value addition that comes from music lovers in general and my fans in particular,” Macheso said.
“Tiri band revanhu [We are a people’s band] and the masses identify with who we are. Without their support, we are just an ordinary music outfit and we always make an effort to make them know and feel how special they are to our cause.”
Like Chinua Achebe’s proverbial “Man of the People”, Macheso is a crowd favourite firstly because of his otherworldly music gift coupled with unmistakable humility and, secondly, because of the inherent ability to identify with people’s everyday challenges.
“Life was not easy for me growing up and the challenges that I had to circumvent on my way to the top defined the person that I became. I know what it means to lack and again God blessed me enough to experience abundance,” he said.
“When people talk of challenges and when disasters befall others, I don’t force myself to assist and neither do I do it for show. I do it because it’s in me and having grown in abject poverty, I know the value of whatever help comes your way when in need. Just a simple ‘I am sorry’ means a lot to a person in need.”
It is that humane side of Macheso that saw him appointed local chapter humanitarian ambassador of the global Red Cross movement present in 191 countries and he has not shied away from the responsibilities that come with this position since February 2013 when he was given that honour.
While at some point in his career Macheso was labelled a spent force especially with the emergence of what has become known as Zimdancehall and some unforeseen industry dynamics, it is Macheso’s humility and ability to listen that has helped him weather the storm.
“There came a time in my career when I had to play around with the sound to do away with monotony, but it’s not every experiment that works,” he said.
“When the bosses [our fans] said the new sound was a no, we had to go back to the drawing board and true to their demands, we delivered what became a massive propeller in our work and as things stand Orchestra Mberikwazvo is on a roll.”
Macheso’s ship has not been immune to some industry waves and storms. Desertions by band members have not spared him, starting with the UK desertion by Thomas Chauke, Rodgers Fatiya and Samuel Mugege at the turn of the century, followed by similar desertion by current band members who joined Suluman Chimbetu’s Orchestra Dendera Kings before forming Extra Kwazvose and again making a welcome return home.
The sungura maestro believes all those hiccups are part of the game and have contributed to the empire that his music outfit has become.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. At some point I felt I was under siege and though I could see beyond the obvious, I kept my calm and soldiered on regardless. At some point we were deserted right on the day of our Friday show at what was known as New Life Night Club in Budiriro, but somehow we managed to stage a massive show cheered by our support structure, the fans,” Macheso said.
Blessed with a big heart, Macheso continues to take in some of his errant band members in most cases moved by the challenges that befall them after they jump ship.
“We have become one big family. Yes, some have left at one point or another looking for greener pastures, but like we have always said Mberikwazvo is their home and they are always welcome to come back,” he said.
“The only challenge is that with growth you attract many and sometimes competition can shut you out once you leave of your own volition.”
While some artistes take their art as a pastime and hardly spend time in the studio for rehearsals or mock recordings, Macheso believes it is practice that makes one perfect and there is no short cut to the top because the more time you give to any interest area, the more the returns.
“There is no magic or miracles to it. I have heard so many theories regarding my guitarplaying skills, but the truth is it’s all practice. Even when I am not holding the guitar I am always creating new melodies which I then give life once I reach the studio,” he said.
“I am happy to say some of my guitarists have mastered the art of spending more time rehearsing and the results are there for all.
“What you feed grows and some of my guitarists like Mike ‘Maikoro’ Asbion and Divine ‘Wezhira’ Muzenda have all matured in the game because of practice.”
Macheso also revealed that he would be making a return to the school that taught him the basics in rural Shamva, his home area, for some generous donations and to inspire hope to the marginalised young.
“I did my primary education at Enterprise Primary School and though I didn’t manage to go far, I was very brainy and I guess that translates into my rich catalogue to date,” he said.
“As I celebrate my birthday this June, I will be making a return to the school and giving out various donations so that we make learning easier and exciting for the disadvantaged children.”
While some have argued that Macheso has not done much to go international and take his sound to non-Zimbabwean music lovers, he said there was a strategy to his art and he was hoping that new strategies in his camp would help him break that perceived barrier.
“I guess one needs to break down the meaning of international influence because as Orchestra Mberikwazvo, we have fans dotted across the globe and if the truth be told, not every one of them is of Zimbabwean origin,” he said.
“We have done well to maintain relations with our local fans and the numbers at our shows week in week out are telling even in these difficult times.
“We are, however, exploring other avenues of taking our art global making good use of the digital divide and we are happy with the response on our various platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
“We are at decision level to that desired ideal and I guess that alone means a lot, we are sure that we will attain that which our well-wishers desire for us in terms of global acclaim.”
As Macheso’s star continues to shine, even amidst the challenging economic environment, it is hoped that the new generation learns a thing or two from this pacesetter, who has remained human even when fame and fortune knocked on his doors.