Bob Marley’s classic “Zimbabwe” is one of the most significant songs in the country’s history.
Not only does the song resonate with Zimbabwe’s Independence mission, but the fact that it was sung by the biggest reggae artiste ever makes it even more special.
While the King of Reggae is the first person that comes to mind when this song is played, there is another individual who played a significant role in bringing this hit to life.
Many might not be familiar with the name Dr Gibson Mandishona, but this man was instrumental in the composition of the song “Zimbabwe”.
He says it was in Ethiopia — where he was working for the United Nations as a statistics and demography consultant – that met Bob Marley in the late ’70s. The two would become good friends, leading to the idea of coming up with a song for Zimbabwe. Dr Mandishona last week spoke to The Sunday Mail Leisure about this extraordinary journey with the reggae superstar.
“In the ’70s I was working for the UN in Ethiopia and together with several colleagues who had a passion for music, we formed a jazz band we called The United Nations Jazz Band,” recounted Dr Mandishona.
“In that band from Zimbabwe there was myself, (ex-Finance Mininster) Herbert Murerwa and Cephas Mangwana; but there were eight other members from other African countries. Our band used to play at various UN functions and other events where we would have been invited.
“Bob Marley used to come to Ethiopia to support the Rastafarian movement that was present in that country and during one of his visits he made enquires about people who were involved in music that side and apparently our group was brought to his attention and this is how we got to be connected.
“We became friends and he would come to my house and we would rehearse together. I was not a reggae artiste as I was more inclined to jazz music but then again Bob was a patient teacher who taught me the chords and progressions of the genre.”
It was Marley who came up with the idea to work on a song for Zimbabwe.
“He highlighted that Zimbabwe was on the brink of Independence and it would be great if we could actually write a song for the country so we started working on the track.
“… I was not much into reggae music but being an artiste and under the mentorship of the legend himself I found myself throwing in my ideas so as to add the African sound to the song. So while we were practicing the song I would add my ideas both in the instrumentation and lyrical bit of the song until it was complete.”
It was a humbling experience when he witnessed the reggae maestro performing the song he had helped create at the Independence Celebrations at Rufaro Stadium in April 1980.
“This song was so special in the sense that it was timely as it was sung during the Independence celebrations and the fact that it was being performed by an artiste of that calibre, who was a sympathiser of the liberation movement was just amazing.”
While Bob Marley has passed on, people ike Mandishona will never forget him.
“We had become close and at one point he even asked if it was possible for me to join his band whenever he was performing in Africa but I told him that it was not possible because I had a full-time job and music was just a hobby,” said Mandishona.
Mandishona has played his part in development of jazz in the country, having been a patron of the Zimbabwe National Jazz Festival.
Besides being the chair of Harare Institute of Technology, he is also at the helm of the Centre for Renewable Energy and Environmental Technology, which is involved in advancing green energy.
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