Agony of being Mitchell Jambo

That which you love most may be the cause of your greatest sorrow. For most people, this takes the form of unrequited love.

For Mitchell Jambo, it is his love for sungura music.

Jambo – now based in Thohoyandou, a township in South Africa’s Limpopo province — is best-known for his late ’80s hit song “Vimbiso”, and the 25-minute track “Ndini Uyo”.

None of this made his wallet fatter.

And a decade ago, the ageing crooner abandoned his homeland in search of the proverbial greener pastures across the Limpopo.

He is yet to see the green and supplements his livelihood by vending CDs.

Jambo is quick to point out that “the journey has not been rosy – I have encountered and endured nasty occurrences”.

The Sunday Mail Society’s Prince Mushawevato spoke to Jambo at a poorly attended Harare show dubbed “Legends Farewell Party”. The following are excerpts of that conversation.

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Q: You have been off the radar for a while…

A: I’m in Thohoyandou, doing music. The Venda people are more like Zimbabweans, there is not much difference. Our music is played a lot on their radio stations. They have programmes dedicated to play music from Zimbabwe for at least two hours on selected days. But home remains the best. My family is based here.

Q: What motivated your decision to switch base?

A: I wanted to try my luck elsewhere. Jonah Moyo took me from Zimbabwe to South Africa and I’m grateful. I met him (Moyo) in 2006 at Mzee Bira gala in Bindura and that is when I begged to accompany him to South Africa since he had long set base.

There are other people that wanted to travel with him but he chose me. He is the one that met my passport bills, including that of my band members.

Q: What are your career highs and lows?

A: I haven’t smiled that much. It has been more of anguish than anything else and I’m disappointed a lot. The only positive is that I have been able make new friends and relatives around the country.

But it gets bad again as most of the people that I have met in this industry are no more. This industry is full of temptations that lead to the graveyard if you are not careful. I wish everyone to use their sixth sense in order to live longer. Moreover the industry is no longer rewarding as before due to piracy.

We should be leaving comfortably by virtue of years of service but that is not the case. Leonard Dembo’s death was also a major blow to me. I lost someone who used to give me ideas. I’m glad though that his legacy still lives on. He left us a rich heritage.

I did a tribute song called “Ndafunga Dembo” which is 30 minutes and 12 seconds long. The song fully expresses how I feel about Dembo’s death.

The accident, which also threatened to take my life and career, is another outstanding dark moment of my career. I thank God I survived. However, it pains me that I can no longer play a guitar since my hand was left severely deformed.

Q: “The Legends Live” and the subsequent farewell gigs did not do well, do you think you still have capacity to pull crowds?

A: Kireni Zulu is the one who organised and invited us. He told us our fans miss and are interested in seeing us in action. We are happy he gave us the chance to once again perform in Zimbabwe. He honoured his word in everything. However, a cocktail of issues affected the first show, “The Legends Live”. It drizzled on the day and later on it was cold.

Also two big events — “The Castle Larger National Braai Day” at Old Georgians Sports Club and the Tarrus Riley gig — on the same day, August 28, acted as counter attractions. People came but that is not what we looked forward to. On a good day we would have had a good crowd because our music is still relevant.

Q: But they are suggestions that sungura has been eclipsed by new forms of music like Zim dancehall?

A: Those saying sungura days are long-gone are fooling themselves. Sungura will never die! Our songs transcend generations while Zim dancehall songs struggle to go beyond a month. Besides, most of the Zim dancehall music is not suitable for family consumption. If obscenity and profanity is the new thing, then God help us.

But what I want to say is as long as Alick Macheso, Nicholas Zacharia, Jonah Moyo, First Farai, Simon Mutambi, myself and others are still alive, sungura will never die. We have loyal followers that cannot be easily swayed.

Q: Your fame seems to be premised in the yesteryear hit “Vimbiso”. Will you ever be able to compose an equal or better song?

A: Very much! I will even surpass that. I made those hits when I was still young. I’m now mature age and music wise hence I can now do better. Rather, I still have a lot to offer and am still far from hanging the microphone.

I have 10 albums to my name and am currently working on a new project that already has eight recorded tracks.

If all goes well I will release it this year.

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