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vj: Gone but not forgotten

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

The death of a friend I fondly called Eugene, Vambe Jirira (VJ), last week came as a big shock to me. Despite our sporadic meetings since the early 1970s up until 2019, each time we met, we would talk about events we had in common in our lives. The last meeting I had with him was around December last year when he told me that he was retiring as the CEO of Boabab Media, a company he had formed in Ruwa because he just wanted to rest. He didn’t look too well and I told him that he indeed deserved a rest.

I interacted more with Vambe during his time at ZBC where he worked as a film-maker, creator of programming and content producer. We clicked because he could also strum the guitar. He was a musician, but never followed this up as seriously as I did.

In 1983, I was about to follow the video script Vambe had written for me after listening to one of my songs. He assured me that this would be the best music video Zimbabwe would ever produce in that year. I believed him. He teamed up with three cameramen from ZTV. We went to Waterfalls to do the filming. The song title was African Bourgeois. The lyrics included a part with the lines: Your wife is full of pride. When she takes the kids for a ride. Stopping by the market place. To get Ambi for her face.

Munya Brown from Misty in Roots acted as the African Bourgeois and Irene Zindi acted as his wife. I was the lead singer and driver of a posh car which we had hired from businessman Joe Masters. The rest of the cast were students from Morgan Zintec College. We spent four days shooting that video and Vambe kept the footage for editing. After a month, I went to ZBC to follow up on how much progress had been made with the editing. I asked for Vambe and was told that he had gone to Namibia on some business. One of the cameramen during the video shooting was Francis Mambo. I went to his office and he told me that he was not sure where Vambe had left the video footage. Desperate to see results, I went to Danford Denga, who was in charge of production. He did not have a clue either.

Two years later, I saw Vambe and asked him for the footage. He told me that he had transferred it onto a reel-to-reel tape and would look for it. I went back after three more weeks. He said that he had rummaged through all the reel-to-reel tapes in the storeroom but could not locate it. As he put it: “Perhaps someone erased it and recorded ZBC news on that tape during my absence.” That was the end of all that effort.

I was always touched by Vambe’s friendliness, smiling face and humility beneath his brilliant exterior. We had known each other for years from the days he was at Hartzell High School in Mutare. One of his teachers was Quinton Malianga (Fungai Malianga’s brother), who had recently returned from the United States.

Vambe told me that Malianga was a great inspiration to him and would one day like to experience what he had experienced in the US. Almost everyone who attended the United Methodist institution at Hartzell had the aspiration to someday visit America.

Why I had chosen Vambe to do my video, many years later is because he was now working at ZTV and I knew that he had the expertise to deal with it, especially after he had obtained a degree in Mass Communication/Media Studies in the States between 1976 and 1980.

Vambe was a jack of all trades as evidenced by the fact that he had done courses in radio and television broadcasting, media, photography, screenplay writing, music composition, electronics, video editing and advanced digital photography. In 1977 he studied electronics at Cleveland Institute of Technology in Ohio.

After a short stint in Zimbabwe, he went to further his studies in Berlin, Germany, where he did courses in advanced video editing in 1987. On return he also went back to Namibia to do advanced digital photography.

As friends, I got to know and interacted with some members of his family who included Nancy who was doing nursing during my time in England and Viola who was also studying computer sciences.

In 2010 after Vambe had discovered that I was the chairman of the board of directors at the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, he paid me a visit at my house to ask how he would go about applying for a licence to establish a communications network such as Econet or Telecel. I informed him that my period as chairman had expired but he could go and get the application forms so that I could help him fill them. I am not sure what became of that project, but he did not come back.

In or around April 2016, Vambe came to me again, this time with an idea he had been musing for a while. He wanted to form what he called the Zimbabwe Jazz Community Trust and asked if I wanted to become part of the board of trustees. He had already spoken to ex-Frontline Kids band member, Filbert Marova, who was now a jazz artiste. I told him that I would be conflicted as I was also chairperson of Music Crossroads Trust and was also too busy at the time to consider becoming a member.

However, the Zimbabwe Jazz Community Trust was formed on May 25, 2016. Its members included Marova, Tinashe Mukarati, Friday Mbirimi, Clancy Mbirimi, Vambe Jirira and its chairman, Robert Basvi.

As we are probably aware, very few individuals have held jazz music together in this country, mainly for the love of that music genre and not for financial gain. These include Vambe Jirira, Gibson Mandishona, Herbert Murerwa, Solomon Guramatunhu, Penny Yon, Clancy and Friday Mbirimi, as well as Marova.

As can be seen from the line-up of the above jazz enthusiasts, the genre has remained largely a preserve for the elite in Zimbabwe with jazz musicians choosing to perform at affluent venues and rarely playing to grassroots audiences in Mbare, Mabvuku or Kuwadzana.

We hope that one day Vambe’s dream of taking jazz to the people will come true.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
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