The evolution of Chibuku Road to Fame

Takudzwa Chihambakwe
WHEN it was launched back in 2001, being headlined by trending artistes of that era, many nicknamed Chibuku Road to Fame a “sungura competition”.

Back then, Alick Macheso and his fierce rival the late Tongai Moyo, dominated the competition’s after parties. This trend and labelling would continue till the death of Tongai “Dhewa” Moyo in 2011. With the rivalry of the two no longer there, the dominance of the sungura genre in the competition began to fizzle out.

Whether this waning of sungura at the competition in particular and the country in general was by coincidence or as some claim “caused by the death of Dhewa” remains unclear.

Last weekend, Zimbabwe’s biggest talent search competition, Chibuku Road to Fame, was held at its traditional home, Glamis Arena. There was only one sungura group in the finals – Mashonaland East’s Uzumba Express. The other nine slots were occupied by six Afro-fusion groups, two jazz outfits and one rhumba group.

Rewind back to 2014, there were five sungura groups vying for the Chibuku Road to Fame top prize. It appears the general celebration of sungura at the competition is dying out. Road to Fame was one of the few platforms left in the country that celebrated this genre.

To further prove that the platform no longer celebrates the genre, there were only two sungura acts out of eight outfits that performed at the competition’s free after party. These were the late Dhewa’s son Peter Moyo and last year’s winners, Adequate Sounds.

Sungura maestro Macheso, who had always headlined the after party bash, was nowhere to be found. Afro-fusion acts such as Ammara Brown and Andy Muridzo alongside dancehall chanters, Boom Berto and Soul Jah Love dominated.

However, the general mood at the finale was subdued compared to previous years when the crowds got hyped up and fully enthralled by acts on the stage.

One could tell that there was disengagement between the audience and performers when jazz groups as well as Afro-fusion acts were playing. It was clear that the crowd that attends the second biggest free gig in Harare after the Harare International Carnival is not used to such sounds.

At times the already drunk folks would boo the acts off stage, proof they are used to simple and fast-paced sungura music and not the laid back and sophisticated arrangements understood more by musicians and music critics. But how did things get to this?

In 2006, while announcing changes to Chibuku Road to Fame, the then National Arts Council of Zimbabwe Matabeleland North provincial administrator, Nicholas Moyo, did not mince his words.

He said it was “compulsory” for all competing bands to have a drum set, bass guitar, as well as to sing three songs instead of just one. He also said that there was need for groups to present “danceable tracks”.

“The competition is sponsored by Delta through Chibuku brand and the sponsors are seeking to ensure that competitors’ music is in line with their brand. This means that competitors need to come up with danceable music such as sungura, reggae, chimurenga, rhumba, jit and other music genres,” Moyo was quoted by The Chronicle back then.

Moving on, the changes are not only on the music side, back in the day when the show started, Chibuku beer was more associated with the mature rural and ghetto folks who enjoyed a simple life and could share the then two-litre bottle among a group of friends.

Nowadays, the beer has been pimped up to different types and flavours such as chocolate to appeal to the hippy younger audience.

This could explain why the organisers of the event, Delta Beverages, decided to snub annual acts such as Macheso, Jah Prayzah and Sulu for Ammara and the dancehall acts as they appeal to the younger audience, which makes it easier to market the brand to them.

Meanwhile, the 2017 Chibuku Road to Fame top prize was won by Gweru-based Afro-fusion group, The Travellers, who walked away US$7000 richer.

African Tribe from Bulawayo were second and Mashonaland Central’s Knight Sounds came third, bagging cash prizes of US$5 000 and US$3 000 respectively.

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