Local content policy useful after all

The policy is bound to spring some inadvertent but joyful results. When this local content policy was promulgated around the year 2000, it seemed calculated to produce only the young and wide-eyed Urban Groovers. But Mbare Trio has shown that there were some sections of old school music that needed reprieve as well. Mbare Trio is made up of prominent educationist, Friday Mbirimi, his sibling Lovejoy and William Kashiri. When they performed at last year’s Winter Jazz festival at Harare’s Jazz 105 and at the Miriam Makeba show, the youngsters called: ‘Madhara-madhara!’ throughout. That was not a clear compliment. However the three gentlemen who have roots in Mbare Township (formally Harare) were, in fact, making reappearance on the Zimbabwean musical scene. They were coming straight from the archives to revive an old but scintillating form of township music. Besides having slowed down for so many years, Friday Mbirimi is a grand dad of Zimbabwean music. Having risen around the advent of the historic Mai Musodzi hall in the African Township of Mbare and played with groups that include the Capital City Dixies, The Broadway Quartet and the Harare Mambos, he is an old horse. The same can be said about his colleagues, Lovejoy Mbirimi and William Kashiri. Their names are touted everytime that Mbare or township music comes into fore. Their first album as a new group called Uru Rufaro ‘an offering of Joy’ brings back a very invigorating version of township music. The voices in this CD are clear, full and romantic. They remind one of the connection with African American Spirituals and Blues. All this puts Mbare high density suburb in good light. The good part of Mbare’s history is to do with championing the rise of Township music in the 1930s through to the 1970’s. Recent researches by Joyce Makwenda reveal that township music could be loosely 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, Makwaera and others. There is also heavy fusion with African American Jazz . 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 outfit was a group from Mbare called Bantu Actors that was led by Kenneth Mattaka in 1932. Makwenda’s book is fittingly called Zimbabwe Township Music and has been the talk of the music world. 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 Shamu are associated with either recording or general development of Township music. And many of the musicians who worked in this genre have remained household names; Moses Mafusire, Sonny Sondo, Lina Mattaka, Simangaliso Tutani, gynaecologist Roger Hukuimwe, Louis Mhlanga, Jacob Mhungu, Alick Nkatha, Sarah Mabhokela . . . Mbare Trio’s Uru Rufaro has ten songs. With a balance between new compositions and some very well known songs from the Zimbabwe township music tradition, the collection is both experimental and assertive. ‘Anojiwa special’ is a very outstanding cut. It is an adoptation and revitalisatiom of System Tazvida’s very popular song that people know as ‘Anodyiwa haataure’. It also extends into versions of songs by Bob Nyabinde and Nyamhute’s ‘Special Meat.’ The new ‘Anojiwa Special’ is a satiric song about revelers who indulge in beer and women. The township was always meant to be a huge dormitory. And in such a set up the weekend tends to be a moment to drink and wash away one’s sorrows. ‘Sekuru ndipeiwo Zano’, penned by Friday Mbirimi himself is imbued in Marimba rhythms and the background has very refined instrumentals. The three ‘boys’ croon about wanting to win and marry a girl called Chido. This song can easily find its place in wedding ceremonies because it has a happy-ever-after feel to it. ‘Chigaba chemanyuchi’ meaning a can full of sweet jam is an Oliver Mtukudzi composition. The phrase; chigaba chemanyuchi is repeated until you feel that chigaba chemanyuchi can be anything one craves for; a beer, a woman, a man, a delicious meal or just a good song. The beats are gradual and soulful and with beer on your mind, you might cry for all the good- but-gone-things and places of your childhood. A good song must make you want something and show you the inadequacies of individual being. ‘KwaMutare Pidigu’ is a Sonny Sondo composition. A classic on its own, this song is steeped in romanticism, admiring the hills of Mutare city and the people too. No wonder Sonny Sondo is such a big name in Township music. In a photograph in Makwenda’s book Sondo appears in a dark suit with a marvelous bowtie, drinking what looks like wine from a glass mug. There is an air of ‘modernism around him and you can also see that the fellow could smile! In another picture Sonny appears alongside Steven Mtunyani, Titus Mukotsanjera and Sam Matambo of the City Quads in the 1960’s. You actually see that these are people who had arrived. People who had probed great depths and traveled some distances through music. People who can give you something more than meat, sweets or ice cream. There is also here a Faith Dauti composition called ‘Ngatipembere’. In her research Makwenda reveals that Faith was commonly mistaken for Dorothy Masuku as she had ‘rich vocals and a sweet personality. Her short stature won her nickname ‘Shot Gun Boogie’. The African Daily News of the time reported: “Faith must have been born when the allocation of voices to creatures was still fresh!” ‘Uru Rufaro’ the title track by Friday Mbirimi is about handing over joy to one’s beloved. Just like ‘Tinobva Mbare’, this is an offering from Mbare by people who can identify with Mbare especially its musical greats. It is also important to acknowledge that the Summer Breeze band did extremely well in backing the Mbare Trio. Their instruments are as sweet as an itch and command heavy nostalgia for days when Mbare was brand new. Kingstons who recorded this CD and are marketing and distributing it are doing a great job. Maybe they need to know that it is viable to have a cassette version so that this music could reach a wider audience.

April 2006
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