WHEN one of the founders of legendary music group, Transit Crew, Munyaradzi Nyemba, known in reggae circles either as “Elder Munya” or “Ras Munya” passed away in March last year, many feared that this was the death of roots rockers reggae.
Ras Munya, a very likeable character, was in a class of his own. He played the bass guitar for Transit Crew in ways that gave the group a unique identity. His guitar was deep in authority and had this thumping vibe that left many reggae fans mesmerised.
And so when Ras Munya passed away, a dark cloud hang over the group. “Will the music keep playing on”, reggae fans whispered in wonder and worry.
Well, about two weeks ago, Transit Crew held a gig in Harare commemorating the passing on of Ras Munya and to the surprise of many who attended this gig, “Elder Munya” had refused to die. Indeed, its true that artists of the calibre of Ras Munya don’t die.
In his physical form, Ras Munya is in the world yonder, but spiritually he is still very much alive. To keep his spirit alive on this day, was one Master “Pablo” Nakaka, who played the bass guitar during this commemorative gig as if his life depended on it. He strummed the bass guitar with reckless abandon, leaving the audience glued to the stage as they marveled at his antics.
Not exactly the Ras Munya style, but Pablo gave his best and his thumping bassline gave Transit Crew fans assurance that roots rockers reggae was not about to die.
“When in 2016, we lost our brother, Elder Munya, one of the founding members of Transit Crew, I was devasted. I used to follow Transit Crew a lot. I was a big fan of the group, particularly Elder Munya, with his thumping bass guitar.
“Munya was just too humble, very accomodative and when on stage, you would feel he was the backbone of the group. The guy was just too good. He was a great man in music and when I heard that he had passed on, I actually asked myself, will Tansit Crew survive? Who will step into those big boots left by Elder Munya? Transit Crew is a big brand. The group represents, reggae in its original form and I was deeply worrried.
“One day, I just picked up the phone and told Mannex, who was the lead singer of the group then that “If you guys want to try someone to play your bass guitar, just call me.” In January this year, I got a call from the band manager, Fred Zindi and the publicist TK who asked me to come and join the group. I didnt think twice. I said I would do anything to keep Elder Munya’s legacy and spirit alive.
“You see, I learnt quite a lot from Elder Munya. I remember one day, when they were playing at Bookcafe, I had a chat with him. I had been watching their show and was mesmerised by how he was playing the bass guitar. I approached him after the show asking him “how do you play your bass guitar? It’s really out of this world. It has lots of depth. How do you do it?”
“Elder Munya took me to the stage and showed me how he played the bass guitar. He told me that ‘when playing the bass guitar for reggae, dont play on top of the pickers. Play on top of the frets, they give this thumping and deep baseline.’
“Up to this day, when I am playing the bass guitar, his words keep ringing in my mind and I keep playing on top of the frets. When I joined Transit Crew in January, I just stuck to Elder Munya’s wise words. This has been working wonders,” said Pablo who grew up in Mabvuku.
Growing up in Mabvuku, Pablo was part of the reggae group, Clash Gang which used to play at what they used to call “Area D.” From then on Pablo went on to rub shoulders with many artists.
“There was a time when Andy Brown came for a show in Mabvuku and watching him from the crowd I shouted that I wanted to play his guitar. To my surprise, Andy called me to the stage and I played his guitar. That was my first time to play an electric guitar. It was awesome being on stage with Andy’s group. I remember the group was playing Andy’s song called Daisy and boy, oh, boy I nailed it. I just asked the key from him and from there I played the song with the group. Andy was impressed and from then on we became very good friends with Andy,” said Pablo.
In 1991, Pablo attended lessons in guitar playing at the College of Music where he went on to rub shoulders with veteran artists like Dumi Ngulube, Clayton Ndlovu, James Buzuzi, Edwin Hama, Jabu Zondo and Philani Dube among others.
Pablo, who went on to become a lecturer at the College of Music shared a few lessons on playing the guitar.
“When playing a guitar, the first thing you have to know are the keys. All the instruments are tuned according to the keys. I would say there are about seven keys.
“Lets say someone is playing the lead guitar in key G, as a bass guitarist you have to know what to play in that key. Everything that has to be created has to created in G. If this player is in this key and the other in another key, this is when listeners say uumm, hazvisi kupindirana. The keys are A, B, C, D, E, F and G. To succeed in playing a guitar, you have to have passion and talent. You should enjoy playing the guitar,” said Pablo.
Away from music, Pablo is a Fit and Turner. “God has blessed me with a business, I own Sealflex Seals – which manufactures hydrolic seals for earthmoving machines. We are the second company in the country to manufacture these seals,” said Pablo who has been a member of Uya Moya, Africa Revenge and Jazz Sensation.
After performing with Rute Mbangwa and Jazz Sensation, Pablo went on to form his own group, Pablo and Friends, foccussing on playing instrumentals only. Around 2010, this whole group, Pablo and Friends, joined Winky D.
“We helped Winky D to move from playing backtracks to using a live band. I remember I met Winky D one day and I said to him, whenever you think of playing with a live band, get hold of me. He later got hold of me and I worked with Winky until around 2014.
“It wasnt easy taking the backtracks to a live band but let me tell you this, Winky D is an artist. Winky understands the language of a live band and so it was easy for us to work with him. One thing with Winky D, everything that he does on stage, we would have rehearsed it all. Thats what makes him a very good musician. He is one guy I really enjoyed working with, his work ethic was just something,” said Pablo.
After 2014, Pablo and Friends continued but Pablo was now focussing more on his business, Sealflex. Up to 2016, he was not actively involved in music.
Turning back to his new role in Transit Crew, Pablo confessed that it was not easy to set into the big shoes of Ras Munya.
“Look, I am not a bad bass player myself but this is Elder Munya we are talking about. He had lots of fans who came to shows just to watch him do his thing and when I stepped into his shoes, it was inevitable that these fans would compare me with Elder Munya. I dont want to disappoint Elder Munya and his fans. This is what keeps me going. The good thing is that I had support from yet another veteran guitarist, Samaita Zindi and Anthony Liba. These are some of the founders of Transit Crew and they knew me as a musician. So during the first gigs, they allowed me to make a few mistakes because they knew that i would eventually get it right,” said Pablo.
Transit Crew comprises Samaita Zindi (lead), Anthony Liba (keyboard), Lenny (second keyboard), Adam (drummer), J Farai (lead singer) and Pablo.
“The commemorative gig was my fourth show and many people came wanting to see who is this guy who has stepped into Elder Munya’s big shoes. I tell you I didn’t disappoint. After the show, many people came to me telling me that I had nailed it. One of my good friends, Mono Mukundu, a shrewed guitarist in his own right, told me that he had really enjoyed listening to the gig, especially my bass.
“As I was playing the bass guitar on that night, I said to myself, artists like Elder Munya don’t die. I have to carry on with his legacy. Roots Rockers Reggae can’t and won’t die. Elder Munya has to know this. All Transit Crew fans should know that roots rockers reggae vibes continue,” said Pablo. Let the music play! Sleep well Ras Munya!
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