Zanla Choir legacy lingers
The Zanla Choir, unlike other liberation war choirs or cultural groups, came not so much as a result of planning but accident.
In an interview with this writer, a few years ago, one of the leaders of the choir Comrade Chinx (real name Dickson Chingaira) said when he crossed into Mozambique to join the struggle; he was part of jovial group.
One of the leaders then remarked that since the group was full of life, they should form a choir.
“When he arrived at Chimoio in 1976, one of the commanders Cde Mhere Yarira remarked that their group was jovial and as such they should form a choir.
“The choir that was formed was called Takawira in honour of the late nationalist Leopold Takawira,” Cde Chinx said.
But the Takawira Choir became just but one of many other choirs which boosted freedom fighters’ morale during the war. Cde Chinx had joined the guerrillas with the sole aim of liberating Zimbabwe but found himself leader of the choir, which later took up the name the Zanla Choir, which acted as a morale booster for the fighting cadres when Cde Mhere Yaraira who led the group was transferred.
Indeed, the Zanla Choir came up with various songs, which derided the settler regime. Some of the songs, which have stood the test of time, are “Vanhu Vose Vemu Africa”, a soul-touching song that talks about unity and sacrifice on the continent and how such unity would help the continent to blossom both politically and economically.
Ironically, some of what the song says is what was agreed recently when leaders met to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity the predecessor of the African Union.
Other songs made fun of the Rhodesians among them “Maruza Imi Vapambe Pfumi” (You have lost [the war] you robbers of wealth) in which the choir used even vulgar words to entertain and show the anger and hatred towards the settler regime.
One song that clearly showed how blind racism is, talks about a white farmer who sits at the front (of his vehicle) with his dog while the black servant sits at the back. When an accident occurs, the police ask the black worker what had happened but he (the black man) tells the police to ask the dog because it was sitting beside the white farmer.
Most of these songs were sung during the all-night gatherings (pungwes) countrywide apart from them being beamed via a satellite radio station in Mozambique.
When the war ended, all the choirs were brought under one umbrella. Among the groups were the Zanla Choir led by Cde Chinx, Kasongo Band that was based in Kenya and was led by the late Ketai Muchawaya; and Max Mapfumo.
But that was not the last for Cde Chinx who went on to form various groups among them Mazana Movement and the Barrel of Peace.
In 2000, when the land reform started, Cde Chinx was part of the group, which took up an active role in propping up what came to be called the Third Chimurenga by composing songs in support of the move.
Born in Rusape, in the Eastern Districts of Zimbabwe, on the September 27, 1952, “Chinx” (short for “Chingaira), his real name, is among the greatest musicians ever to emerge from Zimbabwe.
His interest in music began when his primary school headmaster Mr Martin Dhlamini at Chigora Primary School encouraged him to join the school choir.
Growing up, Cde Chinx never conceived of himself rising to become one of the finest musicians in Zimbabwe for he wanted to pursue an academic career.
On completion of secondary school, Cde Chinx got a place to study medicine overseas but he failed to get travel documents and the whole plan failed to materialise. He had always wanted to be a doctor, thus he was frustrated when his father who was a carpenter could not raise enough money to send him to a school that could allow him to pursue his dreams.
He then took up a job in 1974 with an engineering plant in Msasa, Harare, earning Z$7 a week but was very unhappy there as his white South African superiors kept calling him names such as “terrorist” “kaffir”, and “gook”. This constant abuse forced him to leave his job without giving proper notice and in 1976, Chinx left for Chimoio, Mozambique, to join the liberation struggle.
Today the Zanla Choir’s legacy still lives on as shown by recent choirs that have come up among them the Mbare Chimurenga Choir made up of female members of Zanu-PF.
In typical style of the earlier Zanla choirs, Mbare Chimurenga Choir pokes fun at puppets, who team up with former settlers to derail black empowerment.