How rumba came to Zimbabwe
Rumba music came to the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) via three routes.
The first route was by Congolese rumba groups which migrated directly to the country just when other groups were also settling in east Africa.
One of such Congolese groups was the OK Success that was led by Joseph Ngoyi. During its stay in Zimbabwe, the band became a training ground for some of the musicians who later became very popular.
Among the musicians who found their musical footing in the OK Success was the late James Chimombe, Lovemore Majaivana, the late Susan Mapfumo, the late comedian Simon Shumba, the late Fanyana Dube, Virginia Sillah who later played with the Harare Mambos and the Chimbetu brothers – Simon and Naison.
With an advantage of owning instruments, which were very hard to get during the colonial era, the OK Success made inroads, in as far as popularising rumba was concerned, in Harare.
Ngoyi, John Mwale and Joseph Kishala and others founded the OK Success in Limpopo now Lubumbashi where another popular rumba group, the Limpopo Jazz Band that also toured and later stayed in the country, was formed.
Joseph was born in the then Rhodesia to Zambian parents who later returned to Zambia after that country’s independence. He then went to Zaire where he teamed up with Ngoyi and others.
The group then came through Zambia on its way to Rhodesia in the late 60s and was the resident band at the then Simba Club (now Livewire) before it became the El Morocco and then the Jobs).
The success of the OK Success spawned local rumba groups that were as equally successful in the form of the Great Sounds that was led by Elias Banda.
To firmly establish itself, the OK Success then adopted the use of local languages to starve off stiff competition from local groups.
Some of songs the group released were “Baba VaBhoyi”, “Sekuru”, “Amai”, “Lupwai Abwela”, “Gore Rakapera” and “Mudiwa Mary”.
“Baba VaBhoyi” and “Amai” were composed and sung by the late Mapfumo while “Sekuru”, “Gore Rakapera” and “Mudiwa Mary” were penned and sung by the leader of the group, Andrew Ngoyi.
In 1980, the group released a song that celebrated the attainment of independence – “Comrade Mahwina (Tafara)”. The group also backed the Chimbetu brothers for the first time at a hotel in Harare – Mushandirapamwe – and helped them release their debut singles.
In actual fact, the success of the OK Success died when they fell off with the management of the hotel after Ngoyi had started operating taxis in Harare.
By then there were many local groups coming up playing the east African type of rumba that had come into the country via vinyl records, which were very popular on the farms.
This was the reason why most rumba or sungura musicians in Zimbabwe today originated from the farms.
All of them except maybe the late Tongai Moyo and System Tazvida grew up on farms or moved onto farms at some stage of their lives.
This is true of the late John Chibadura, Simon and Naison Chimbetu, Nicholas Zakaria, Alick Macheso, Ephraim Joe, the Ngwenya Brothers, the Somanjes – Daiton and Josphat – and several others who are coming up today.
This is also why a suburb – Gillingham (now Dzivaresekwa) in Harare that was populated by people of Malawian or Zambian decent became a hub or a stop-over for most rumba or sungura musicians who moved from the farms into Harare.
Even though the OK Success had been playing in the then Salisbury (now Harare) for years before independence, their brand of Congolese rumba was not as popular as the songs done in Shona.
It must be said that the songs done in Shona are not on ‘genuine’ Congolese rumba tip. By then the rumba that took roots with urbanites was different. This heralded the birth of Zimbabwe’s rumba brand that is known today as sungura.
The pioneer sungura group was the Vhuka Boys that led by Shepherd Chinyani who was staying and still stays in Gillingham today.
Most of the musicians who later left to found other groups, played with the Vhuka Boys. Among these are Zakaria, Macheso, Chibadura, Joe and Bata Sintirawo. The core of the Sungura Boys whose base was just outside Harare came from the Vhuka Boys.
The reason why most sungura musicians came from the farms was because in the late 70s, rumba was very popular on most farms in Zimbabwe. And this created a pool of young musicians who are today topping the list of Zimbabwe’s greatest musicians.
At the time, most local musicians were experimenting with their beat. Even Thomas Mapfumo was yet to define his music as Chimurenga. As a result Zimbabwean music was just pop music.
At independence, a Zimbabwean outfit called Kasongo, formed in Tanzania by the late Ketai Muchawaya together with Major Mirirai, Fainos Mapurisa and Rex Moto Moto who were inmates of Nachingweya Training camp returned home.
The group’s earliest songs were in Kiswahili and one such song, Asante Sana which means thank you rocked the Zimbabwean music scene in the early 80s.
This song was done in honour of the late Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel of Mozambique and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia for the help rendered to the independence of Zimbabwe.
Even the name Kasongo itself had its roots in Congo. It’s not clear whether the group adopted on this name from Kasongo Kanema, one of the greatest rumba musicians who played Shika Shika and later with Baba Nationale before he moved over to Les Mangelepa.