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1 Will Red Fox ever rise again? - The Standard

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Will Red Fox ever rise again?

in the groove with Fred Zindi

The Red Fox Hotel, situated at Number 19 Greendale Avenue, opposite Food Lovers’ Market in the suburb of Greendale, was at one time described as “Pa MaRasta, the nicest booting place in Harare” by many reggae lovers and those punters who liked to spend time outside the hustle and bustle of the city.

It was so named because it played host to many reggae artistes from within the country and from Jamaica. One notable local reggae group which featured at the Red Fox every Friday between 2009 and 2012 was Transit Crew, comprised of the late Munyaradzi Nyemba, who played the bass guitar, the late Samaita Zindi, who was on lead guitar, and Anthony “Liba” Amon on keyboards. Managed by Robert Zhuwao and his team, the Red Fox had become a hive of activity for reggae and dancehall music lovers in Harare.

Between 2015 and 2018, the Red Fox Hotel had gone quiet. The ladies of the night who used to mill around the venue had disappeared as they no longer found
viable business there.

On hearing that the business at the Red Fox had recently been resuscitated, I decided, to pay it a visit in order to reminisce about the past.

The building had been renovated. The rusty steel stands of bygone days had been re-painted. (In 2010, the building had become unsightly due to neglect,
disrepair, defacement or damage, particularly compared to its surroundings).

The front of the room is one large area stretching the width of the building where low pallets are laid to form a stage. I had not been to the venue to since
my band, Transit Crew, which used to perform there every Friday night, left after a fallout with management there. The streets which used to be flooded with
hookers, looked deserted and forgotten.

Nine years ago, when Sizzla came to town, I remember a number of people asking Diva, the barman, about the Sizzla show which had been billed for Monday, March
1 at the Red Fox. All he could say was: “There’s a rumour something big, really big, is going to happen”. “Stick around. Who knows?” He shrugged and
disappeared out back into the store-room to arrange the evening’s bar.

Wind back to Monday, March 1, 2010. On this occasion, the fellas take their drinks and disperse to their favourite positions in The Red Fox. One asks the DJ to
play some favourite reggae tunes. It’s early evening on a steamy Monday and the reggae punters are turning up for the best night of the week.

By 9pm, the Red Fox is livening up. There are about 50 people in the club now and more arriving all the time. Up on stage, Transit Crew are well into the first
of several long, hard, sweaty sets. Their accent is on conscious reggae beat.

Rhythm heavy, but crisp and tight, down-to-earth singing, emotion from the gut. In two words – “Pure Niceness”.

Tonight, the Transit Crew singers are hammering out competent versions of Jamaican singers’ hits. The crowd wants to dance, drink and have a good time and they
want tunes they can recognise: Nice Nice To Know You, Let’s Do It Again, Waiting In Vain, Satamasangana, Addis Ababa, Love Fire, Zimbabwe, Ganja Planter, You Don’t Haffi Dread To Be Rasta and Stir It Up. For the most part, the band takes the various sounds and styles of Jamaican reggae hits and turns them into an
endless stream of gritty, conscious sounds.

Word that Sizzla is at the Red Fox has already spread around Harare. Soon, although it is on a Monday, the club is as crowded just like it does on Friday
nights.

At 9pm through this human corridor, strides a lanky, determined-looking man dressed in black with a Winky D-type bowler hat covering his dreadlocks.

There’s not much of him to see, yet he immediately dominates the room. Everyone has on their party best, but his suit is sharper, finely tailored to his slim
frame, clean to the bone. But his few pieces are large and genuine, glinting with the fire of a small fortune. More than anything else, it is his face that
sets him apart. It is a face of marked contrasts.

A broad mouth, now split into an engaging smile full of expensive dentistry as evidenced by his gold tooth, the smile belied by penetrating eyes, alert,
probing and seldom soft. It is, in the truest sense of the word, an attractive face.

A face that commands attention and demands respect. There is shoving and jostling among the crowd as everyone wants to catch a glimpse of the man they have
heard of but never seen in real life. That is Miguel Orlando Collins, aka Sizzla Kalonji, who is tonight’s guest at the Red Fox Hotel.

While he acknowledges the tumultuous reception, a waiter is despatched to escort the honoured guest and his small entourage to hastily located sofas opposite
the stage inside the venue where they are joined by the proprietor, Zhuwao. The band, Transit Crew, finds its beat again; the customers struggle back to their
tables, the club picks up the rhythm of its party. But it is now on a keener pitch.

Within minutes, through use of mobile phones, the word goes out. In no time at all, the crowd has swelled to twice the normal capacity of the club. The floor
space is soon blocked by expectant fans, most of them content just to stand and watch Sizzla, others eagerly jostling for a position from which they can talk
to the star.

At the Red Fox, Sizzla doesn’t have to prove a damn thing to anyone.

They already know his music. They all know where he’s coming from and he is aware of it.

Although he was not paid to sing on this particular night, on any visit to any night club, Sizzla knows he is going to be asked to sing at least one number
with the house band. More often than not, he’ll decline, preferring to relax and socialise, understandably wary of performing with unknown, unrehearsed
musicians, but not at the Red Fox. He had heard about Transit Crew while still in Jamaica from fellow musician Luciano, who had performed with the band on his
last visit to Zimbabwe.

As if on cue, I stop the band and beg him to take to the stage. As soon as I exchange greetings with him, I go on the stage, grab the microphone from the
Transit Crew singer and announce loudly (you can check this out on YouTube): “Please welcome to the Red Fox, all the way from Kingston, Jamaica, the hardest
working man in show business, Mr Sizzla Kalonji.”

Flattered, Sizzla is ceremonially escorted through the crowd, organises a hasty conference with Transit Crew to discover which of his hits these local boys
know best, then grabs the microphone. There are no further preliminaries. No flippant introduction. No polite “Hello”. Nor does he check again with the band
except when he commands them to “pull up” and “freeze”.

They have assured him they can cope, now they’ve got to prove it. He’s not about to follow them. They’d better be ready to keep up with him. He’s used to this
game. Now he turns to the crowd. Usually, it’s nothing more than a ritual greeting, a stylised catch-phrase or two, “Greetings in the name of his Imperial
Majesty, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of Judah, King Sellassie; Jah Rastafari! Is everyone feeling irie?” he chants.

The response from the crowd is immediate and ecstatic. “We feeling irie!”

Sizzla and the crowd toss these words back and forth, forming a hypnotic chant that rises in intensity with each call and response.

At this final screeched command, the band rips into Sizzla’s own compositions, Thank You Mama and Zimbabwe.

Like a jumbo jet soaring into the sky, the night ends with Sizzla, Transit Crew and the Red Fox Team feeling triumphant.

On May 25 this year, the Red Fox Hotel re-opened in a bid to revamp the “Ku Ma Rasta” feeling. It is no longer the Red Fox that I knew during my days there with Transit Crew.

On one side, the building has been parcelled out to accommodate a car wash business, a wedding venue, a windscreen and crack repair place
and a Square Deal kiosk, while on the other side the Weddy Weddy (Wednesday nights), the Thirsty Grooves (on Thursday nights) and the Freaky Fridays still
provide reggae and dancehall music with DJs Ash Styles, Abisha Palmer and Mercilless Zimbabwe at the controls. So far, they have not attracted the large crowds
we used to see in years past.

My question is: Will the Red Fox ever bring back those sweet memories again? I wonder!

Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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