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Chikupo: Jiti’s unsung hero

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

As we start the new year, we should also look at the history of music heroes who entertained us for many years, but are no more.
Most of Zimbabwe’s prominent musicians who have made an impact by showing the world what our music is all about have passed on. The death of Oliver Mtukudzi in January last year was a big shock to the whole world. Then there were others like Biggie Tembo of The Bhundu Boys, Simon Chimbetu, Dorothy Masuka, Leonard Dembo, Tinei Chikupo, Susan Mapfumo, Safirio Madzikatire, James Chimombe, John Chibadura, Paul Matavire, Marshal Munhumumwe of The Four Brothers, Robson Banda, Ephat Mujuru, Don Gumbo of Ilanga, Solomon Skuza, Pio Farai Macheka, System Tazvida, Beaulah Dyoko, Prince Tendai Mupfurutsa, Andy Brown and Chiwoniso Maraire, to mention only a few. The deceased artistes have shown the world that Zimbabwe’s music has a place on the world map.

This article will focus on one unsung music hero who made an impact in the 1970s and who could easily be accredited with being the pioneer of the genre known as jiti. His name is Tinei Chikupo.

I have been trying to document Chikupo’s history since the 1990s, thinking that I would get enough information on him from people who worked with him such as Tymon Mabaleka, Nicholas Zakaria, Cephas Mashakada, Bothwell Nyamhondera, AK Mapfumo, Mtukudzi, Zexie Manatsa, Thomas Mapfumo, Chibadura, Clive Malunga, Shepherd Chinyani, Morton Dzumbunu and Chimombe. Many of these people have now died. Chikupo still remains a mystery to me. The information I received from some of these people is insufficient to do a full biography on Chikupo. I traced him back to his roots in Murehwa thinking that I would get his full story from his children, but I was told that he had no children. Before Mtukudzi died, he had promised to install a tombstone at Chikupo’s graveside at Churu Farm where he died, but unfortunately this did not happen.

Recently I spoke to Edmond Mtetwa, one of Chikupo’s adoring fans who is equally disgruntled that not enough accolades and publicity were given to this superstar. He even blamed me for not writing about him in my 2014 book titled Music Rocking Zimbabwe.

Chikupo was the pioneer of jiti music. He won many competitions. He had fame, creative prowess and adoring fans. He dominated the charts year after year in the 1970s — yet hardly anything is written about him.

He had massive stage presence which was boosted by his mesmerising dance moves. He was a well-respected musician of the time and he made a name for himself, especially on the farms in rural Zimbabwe. He sold hundreds of thousands of records to the extent that Gramma Records bought him a house in one of Harare’s suburbs. This decision was arrived at by Tony Hagelthorn and John Grant of Gramma Records who noticed that Chikupo was making a lot of money, but did not have a proper place to live. He spent most his royalties on booze and women. Instead of giving him the royalties he had earned in 1978, they bought him a house. To show that he did not appreciate owning a house, rumour has it that when he was down and out, he began to spend a lot of his time in beerhalls instead of composing more songs. In his last days, he had become an alcoholic to the extent that he even decided to sell his house in order to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, I only attended one of Chikupo’s shows at Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield after an invitation from Charles Tawengwa, the owner of the hotel, shortly after independence. He was a gifted and amazing performer and from the way he moved, people in the audience thought that he was a possessed man. I overheard one fan shouting: “Aakusvikirwa manje!” (“He is now possessed!”) At the time people thought that Chikupo had supernatural powers that made him do unnatural and inexplicable things on stage. Dressed in traditional black and white attire, he would go into a trance in the middle of a song. Chikupo pronounced who he was without having to speak. His style of dressing spoke for itself. His father was said to be a spirit medium and the rainmaker of Murehwa.

Even his own band, the Sungura Boys, regarded him as a madman. They found him too wild for their liking. Music journalists of the time called him the Dambuzo Marechera of Sungura.

At Mushandirapamwe, I listened very attentively to his own rendition of jiti music. All his compositions were focused on the war of liberation in Zimbabwe since it was at the peak when he started his career. Therefore, his music was bound to be revolutionary. With songs such as Tine Nzara, Kudzapasi, Kapfumo Kandibaya, Mhuka Ine Mavara, Sirivia Hande Kumagobo or Chamunorwa (Rega Kurova Amai), which he had recorded with the Mother Band, Vhuka Boys or Mawonera Superstars, one could tell that he was very bitter about what was going on during the war. All these compositions carried revolutionary messages. Tine Nzara simply means “We are hungry”. Kapfumo Kandibaya referred to the bullets that were aimed at innocent people during the liberation war; while Mhuka Ine Mavara was a derogatory term used to describe the camouflaged Rhodesian soldiers.Then there was Sirivia Hande Kumagobo, a song which called for the taking-up of arms to fight the enemy. The song sent messages to the boys and girls who would later cross into either Zambia or Mozambique where they received military training after which they returned home to fight the settler regime. Chamunorwa (Rega Kurova Amai) was a song that urged the black soldiers within the Rhodesian army not to harass innocent villagers who could easily be their mothers or biological parents.

Hama Dzapera was about the massacres that occurred in Zambian, Tanzanian and Mozambican refugee camps namely Nyadzonia, Chimoio, Tembwe and Mboroma where Zimbabweans took shelter from colonial oppression.

All these songs peaked at number one on the then Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC) charts and were chanted by both the guerillas and collaborators during the war. Delivered with passion, the shrieky and emotionally-charged voice of Chikupo who was behind these songs had the power to stir anger within the youths in the war-ravaged Rhodesia.

So, if those from that era remember these songs, surely the name Tineyi Chikupo should not be new.

Mtetwa told me that during his time, Chikupo was a regular winner in the best musician of the month competitions that were held at Rufaro Stadium where groups performed and then at the end the best group was chosen. According to him, “On three occasions, Chikupo was number one ahead of Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo and even Zexie Manatsa.”

So why is this icon with so much musical prowess and who sold hundreds of thousands of records not as well-known as his contemporaries such as Tuku, Mapfumo and Manatsa? I wonder. Some just dismissed him as an irresponsible drunkard when they compared him with his contemporaries.

In August 1979, Chikupo performed at Zexie Manatsa’s commercialised wedding at Rufaro Stadium in Mbare where he brought the house down with Sirivia Handei Kumagobo and the crowd was ecstatic when he started his wild gyrations.

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