Useful start for music buffs

Joyce Jenje-Makwenda’s new book on Zimbabwe Township Music is both informative and exhilarating. It offers the reader an over seventy-five year flitting glance into different aspects of a musical form loosely tied up and called ‘Township Music’ in Zimbabwe and the world of black people in general. This collection is difficult to place for various reasons. One is torn between categorizing it as serious History or Coffee table book. The beautiful pictures of beautiful musicians of various generations from Harare to Bulawayo, make one forgive the sometimes restless and scanty details on each star and epoch. The impression is that Joyce was overtaken by a whirlwind at some point and decided to write about every beloved musician and every version of township music. She does this, sometimes at the expense of specific details. She is clearly indebted to each of the musicians covered here. And many of them great names; Moses Mafusire, Sonny Sondo, Lina Mattaka, Simangaliso Tutani, Roger Hukuimwe, Louis Mhlanga, Jacob Mhungu, Alick Nkatha, Sarah Mabhokela . . . One feels Joyce Makwenda’s love for each of them in this breathtaking fast-paced narrative. Taking care not to belittle or misplace anyone of them, this book sometimes feels like a nostalgic project instead of a quest for fact and history. The arrangement of the pictures is so feminine that the pictures breath passionate life from the page and you cry with panoramic joy as you go through this book. The pictures compete against and even almost outdo the narrative. Dorothy Masuka’s pictures are the most outstanding. Turning the pages, you realise that during her days, Dorothy could ‘pose’ for a ‘photo’. She comes across as a timeless African beauty. Tallish, dark and with a full bust ‘ she is a suitable model woman from the country between the Zambezi and the Limpopo. In her more recent photographs, in this book, she is chubby, less cheerful but clearly combative, with her eyes closed as she belts out into the mike. Described here clearly as the best ever woman musician from Zimbabwe, Dorothy has been singing for over fifty years! She went to school in South Africa from where she discovered her voice. Sophiatown swallowed her and she shared the stage with other great women like Dolly Rathebe and Mariam Makeba. Penning great and timeless classics like ‘Hamba Notsokolo’ and ‘Imali yami Iphele eshabeni,’ Dorothy came back home, crossed boarders into Malawi, Zambia and England. Known simply as ‘Dotty’, she was once married to Dusty King, a great soccer star of the 50’s. And her single wish now: ‘Someday a local football stadium be named after her former husband.’ The several pictures of Josaya Hadebe in this book portray a handsome African cowboy with no horse! He should have broken many girls’hearts in the 1940’s and 50’s. He played ‘Omasganda’ and his favourite tunes tended to be ‘derogatory and vulgar.’ However he recorded over fifteen songs with Gallo recording company. And the crowds just loved Hadebe! When he visited the Bantu Sports club in Johannesburg, in 1951, he caused a riot ‘as the crowds followed him through the tunnel, obstructing the soccer spectators from all sides of the field.’ However for Joyce, one Augustine Musarurwa must be the most outstanding male Zimbabwean musician of all times. His prominence in this book is done justice by a very close and touching narrative of his diary. His song ‘Skokian’ (an illicit township brew) is a song that crossed boarders and various musicians made numerous versions of it. These include the great jazz trumpeter, Louis Armstrong himself, Nico Carsten, Robert Delgado, Sandy Nelson, James Last, Paul Lunga and others. Born in Zvimba at Musarurwa village, Augustine Musarurwa was not only a world-class saxophonist but also a decent policeman with a knack for the three-piece suit. When the African-American musician, Armstrong, made his famous visit to Rhodesia in 1960, Musarurwa personally paid tribute to Augustine and played alongside him. Later, in 1970, even Hugh Masekela made his own version of Musarurwa’s Skokian. Joyce Jenje Makwenda’s definition of Township Music is all embracing and not watertight. It is defined as music that originated in the new urban centers in the 1930’s and grew from strength to strength up to the 1960’s and is still growing after slowing down in the 1970’s because of the war of liberation and exile. It is a fusion of many traditional African music forms from the whole Southern African region like tsabatsaba, kwela Omasganda, marabi and others. There is also fusion with African American Jazz from America. The township musicians played guitars, saxophones, and pennywhistles. They also employed vocals and footstamping to provide entertainment in the growing townships. The first organized Township music was a group from Mbare called Bantu Actors t led by Kenneth Mattaka in 1932. Besides being a wholesome book that asks the reader to browse on and on, Makwenda’s book has some useful sub sections. In the Recording History section, one learns that recording of music in Zimbabwe started in Masvingo (then Fort Victoria) in1929. Hugh Tracy who was interested in collecting African folk music did the recordings. Individual musicians got prominent recording by Gallo in the 1940’s. Josaya Hadebe, George Sibanda and Sakale Mathe were some of the very first to be recorded. In the section called Venues one learns about the centrality of venues like Mbare’s Mai Musodzi and Stordat halls and Bulawayo’s Macdonal and Stanley halls in the development of Township Music. The story of an Asian man called Mohammed Bhika or Karimapondo is also touching. He built the Bhika Brothers restaurant to allow decent blacks to have a decent spot to have meals and drinks and music. Africans and Asians were not allowed in the whites only city center spots. Mr. Josiah Chinamano (B.A.) was reported in the African Daily News of 17 November 1956 to have said, ‘the restaurant is a real pride to all Africans who will patronize it.’ In such places township music blossomed. The Kwela Music section of the book has a more interesting scenario. Kwela music is pennywhistle music. It was first played by the street side, attracting both black and white passersby who were quickly displaced by the police as Kwela usually indicated that there was some gambling nearby. The police would order those arrested to climb into big vans and would shout “Kwela! Kwela!” and that became the name for this music. Spokes Mashiyane is considered the most prominent Kwela musician. There is a way in which township music tended to express the presence of black folks in the urban centers. It became a rallying point for black people and the colonialists tended to disperse people who congregated around an Omasganda or Kwela musician. It is no mistake that names of some nationalists like Daniel Madzimbamuto and Webster Shamhu are associated with either recording or general development of Township music. Although Jenje-Makwenda’s book is not and could not have exhausted all issues to do with township music it is a very useful starting point in understanding both the music and the times. There is need for other writers to go into some sub themes and explore them in greater detail. This won’t be easy though because Township music has resurfaced again in Zimbabwe with the likes of Tanga weKwaSando, Dudu Manhenga, Prudence Katomeni and others.

April 2006
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