with Fred Zindi
A Jamaican music researcher in African music asked me the other day what name we give to Zimbabwean music. He said: “I know that in the DRC they call their music Rhumba. In West Africa there is High Life and Juju and in South Africa, they have Mbac’anga, but what do we call Zimbabwean music?”
I couldn’t find a proper name to give to our music. So I simply answered him with: “There is Museve, Sungura, Kwela, Jiti, Chimurenga and Zimdancehall”.
“No, man”, he said, “Dancehall is Jamaican and how is Zimdancehall different?” I didn’t know what to say except to tell him that we have the same rhythms as our Jamaican counterparts but we mainly sing it in Shona.
That got me thinking. Should we not have our own genre which we can exclusively identify with in Zimbabwean music? The Chimurenga guru, Thomas Mapfumo has announced that he is about to retire from music performances. Does that signal the end of the Chimurenga music genre? There are not many musicians following the Chimurenga music genre these days. Even some of the above genres, apart from Sungura, which are purported to be Zimbabwean have not really stuck into the minds of many a music lover. They come and go.
There is not one single genre that sticks in Zimbabwe. When I was about 16 years of age, we used to enjoy Kwela, but today’s youth will not know what I am talking about if I said to them I enjoy Kwela music.
As far back as 1980, Tinei Chikupo and the Mother Band came out with a beat that sounded like Jiti. A few years later James Chimombe’s songs also took the Jiti drive. For a while, Jiti music had died until 1987 when the Bhundu Boys popularised it across the world. Jiti is beginning to re-surface with the likes of Baba Harare of The Reason Why fame.
In my view, all the above mentioned beats could be combined in order to come up with one single Zimbabwean genre if the artistes put their heads together.
Since August this year, I have been following closely the collaboration between Alick Macheso and Freeman in the Ngaibake song taken from Freeman’s Gango album. This song has brought about a new dimension in the Zimdancehall versus Sungura arena.
The song appeals to both Sungura and Zimdancehall fans. It shows a display of how to hone the two genres together. And it is the most credible way to build a bridge between the two genres, Sungura and Zimdancehall. Ngaibake is a good example of where two worlds meet. The song has ignited excitement among both the Dancehall and Sungura fans and since August, it is receiving massive airplay. It is already being touted as a top contender of the best songs of 2019 on radio charts judging by the on-going comments on various social media platforms.
Last week, I spoke to an excited nephew of mine in Mutare and casually asked him what he was up to for the weekend. “I am going to Mandel Night Club in Watsomba this weekend just to see Macheso and Freeman on stage together. I was also there when Jah Prayzah performed there with Jah Signal in August. That was fantastic. This is historical, Sungura and Zimdancehall? Never!” he said.
I wonder what other songs Macheso and Freeman played together in Watsomba, but I am sure they are now working on another hit after Ngaibake.
A lot of comments coming from social media are not about the musicianship displayed in the song, but about the attire Macheso is wearing in the video to the song.
What is more interesting is the fact that in the video, Macheso appears in a bright yellow summer shirt with floral print, wide brim hat and black jeans, which all make him look so youthful. Sungura fans like it, so do Zimmdancehall fans. However, that aside, has anybody cared to listen to the bassline on the song itself? Macheso’s heart-stopping bassline could stop an elephant dead in its tracks. Most Zimdancehall riddims follow the chord sequence which ranges from E,C ,G to D. Macheso has broken that rule. He puts in a sequence of his own bassline which is hard to follow and gives a new life to the riddim. That is the shape of things to come. That combination of Zimdancehall riddim with Sungura bassline is the way to go if Zimbabwe is to develop its own genre. Ngaibake already has a following if the excitement shown by the public in the song is anything to go by.
The growing relationship between Macheso and Freeman just like the combination between Jah Prayzah and Jah Signal of Stonyeni fame could soon become one of the best combinations from the two genres. Sungura and Zimdancehall should start to seriously search for one genre which combines the two and we will have our own brand of Zimbabwean music which will have a new name. Freeman and Macheso have set the tone. Other artistes should follow. Our radio DJs are waiting for something new. Let’s give it to them.
Macheso and Freeman’s collaboration comes against the backdrop of yet another production that merged Sungura and Dancehall voices when Sungura kingpin Nicholas “Senior Lecturer” Zakaria was featured on Zimdancehall artiste Jah Signal’s Unovashungurudza off his recently released album Jaya.
A lot of local and international artistes benefitted from their collaborations with Dr Oliver Mtukudzi. While local artistes who were dying to build their careers went to Mtukudzi with their brand of music, Mtukudzi did not persuade them or force them to change the genre of music they presented their music in.
Instead, he tried to fit into that genre . A good example is his last collaboration with Gary Tight in the reggae song Ndizarurire. He allowed Gary to maintain the Reggae genre he had chosen instead of forcing him to do it in Katekwe. However, it is time now to become more radical and come up with a music genre which will be identified as Zimbabwean. Mixing Sungura with Zimdancehall as shown by Macheso and Freeman in Ngaibake is a good start. There is no doubt that if this is done properly, it will bring about commercial success to the artistes involved.
Commercial viability does not come in one night. Young up-coming musicians should know that a successful career in music doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, tenacity, an openness to critique, and even some failure to clarify goals if they are to make it happen. They should continue to experiment with their creativity. Networking and creative alliances matter just like Macheso and Freeman did. Musicians should talk to each other more often and even share ideas on song-writing and composition.
The music industry is constantly changing. To keep up, musicians need to stay informed.
Building a career and establishing a personal brand in the music industry requires honing one’s ability to create and maintain mutually beneficial relationships.
Musicians need to take advantage of face-to-face interactions with peers, co
lleagues, and established professionals in the industry. Social media sites such as WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram have made networking easier than ever. Musicians who aren’t already on these or other platforms, should create a profile and start connecting. There is need to.keep track of who they meet and why both might benefit from staying in touch. This is the easiest way to establish beneficial collaborations.
There is no prescribed roadmap for how to get from A to Z in the music and entertainment business. It’s best to acknowledge and accept that now. But one’s commitment to succeeding in this business has great potential to make an impact and be satisfying.
In order to create an everlasting Zimbabwean music genre, there is need for ongoing learning, hustle, and investment in collaborations as shown in Ngaibake.
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