Where is the Macheso genius?

As Masimba Kuchera admits in an article on the Chesopower website, ‘there have been many schools of thought on the (real) strength of Macheso- some arguing about his skills with the bass guitar, some contending that it is his vocals and others proffering his dancing skills, it is generally agreed that the musician is of immense talent.’ When people agree that you are extremely but go on to debate hotly about exactly whether your strength lies in the way you walk or the way you run, then that is a mark of genius. You actually put people in a crisis of naming aspects of phenomena. But watching him play with his new band in Bindura in late 1999, well after the album Magariro and just after releasing the second album Vakiridzo, one was not certain if Alick would be anything. After all there were stronger Sungura echoes then from Nikolas Zakaria, Ngwenya Brothers, Chimbetu, Tazvida and others. It was at Bindura’s tiny Kuyedza cocktail bar, of all places in Zimbabwe. It was on an odd Saturday late afternoon and there were only about fifty people hanging around, killing the hours with the help of a beer. If you looked you could see the chimneys of Trojan mine in the distance and outside, Chipadze Township was taking a weekend nap. On such a day one felt some easy pity for Alick. This was a man ‘born from somewhere near here’ that had just left (and some said been dumped by) the great Nicholas Zakaria and was trying his luck on his own. Orchestra Mberikwazvo looked like a band hastily put together. Considering their youthfulness, they looked like a cheeky little band of mutineers! Macheso looked nervous and someone in the little crowd constantly called at him, claiming loudly that he was a friend of his father. And Macheso did well to wave and smile at ‘the family friend’ in acknowledgement. It was not surprising because Macheso was born indeed around Shamva-Bindura in 1968. Pakutema Munda from the album Magariro and Chitubu from Vakiridzo, seemed to touch the audience and suddenly the rude crowd swelled and apparently they were coming into the bar for free! Crowd and band warmed up to each other and something in Zakaria Zakaria, on the lead guitar, seemed to burst open and he moved backwards and forward and the crowd liked it too. His resemblance with Nikolas Zakaria was awesome and if Macheso had picked a quarrel with Nikolas, why was Zakaria Zakaria here with Macheso, the Bindura revellers must have wondered. Much later you felt that the crowd realised that it had somehow abused the band on the makeshift stage and serious jive began. Macheso smiled knowingly and the trips to the counter and back multiplied and one wanted to see how the wiry young man and his band would go on. All that in sharp contrast to Macheso’s current shows at amuzinda or the Chitungwiza Aquatic complex. Here people raise their arms to Macheso, wanting to embrace the man, his song, his dance and band, to preserve them in a securely sealed envelope for the sake of memory. He obviously wouldn’t quite fit into the tiny Kuyedza bar back in his Bindura. He has not only grown. He has become a phenomenon. Macheso has the unusual gift of poetry. His lyrics elicit an easy-going camaraderie. He sings like the guy from next door, very familiar and liberating. That is why he is the favourite man of the ordinary mechanic, the unassuming kombi driver, the seller of ordinary wares and many more. And if you look and listen, the Macheso lyrics appeal to the little and remote reserves of energy in people in a country faced with economic challenges. Listening to Upenyu Hwemunhu, you sit back on the kombi, and feel very private and secure. Indeed Upenyu hwemunhu hunozivikanwa nemurarami wahwo- only the individual really knows where his/her life is. You want to laugh and cry, too, because in these moments of hardships we have all done many shameful things just in order to get to the next day. If you are not on the kombi, you are at home in your bedroom-kitchen- lounge. And you listen to Madhawu. You just feel it. There is that open invitation to stand up and dance and shake your body and laugh at how your body is still with you after all. That song, Madhawu, makes you feel mischievous in a strange way. Maybe Macheso’s best lyrics are in songs like Mwari WeNyasha, Amai VaRubhi, Kunyarara Zvavo and Kumuzi Kwatu. In Mwari weNyasha on the Zvakanaka Zvakadaro album, the singer asks three rhetoric questions in a row, compounding each of them that you wonder how many question marks should one employ here: Imhodzi rudzii yamadyara matiri mambo?/ isingaperi nokutumbuka?/ isingakohwewe-e?/ dura rayo riripi?/ chero netsapi dzayo dziripi…? But Trust Khoza of the Daily Mirror will tell you that Macheso’s best lyrics are in Shedia where triple voices dialogue publicly about how they should negotiate private family space. Yet someone from the farms and mines might argue that the real Macheso substance is in Mindikumbuke because even if you have not lost any parents, that song can still remind you of the other good things that you have lost in your life – a job, a girl, a man, an opportunity’ But the Macheso lyrical space is not that very wide after all. Half of his songs are about relating to one’s own relatives or generally about coming to terms with colleagues. You find all that in Shedia, Madhawu, Kunyarara Zvavo, Patunia, Amakebhoyi, Teererai and others. But the lyrics remain refreshed and repackaged with each outing and that is where the Macheso variety is. You also have here Ndombolo vibes and rapping and it is sweet because the brother is fluent in Shona, ChiChewa, Sena, Venda and Lingala. He can casually throw out lines and abstract verbs in all these languages.

May 2006
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