The Sunday Mail
Mtandazo Dube —
EVER wondered how some hardly visible singers in local showbiz, whose sole income comes from music, survive on a day-to-day basis?
When — if ever — did you last buy CDs by Simon Mutambi, Obvious Mutanhi, Clement Magwaza, Rhonie Mudhindo, First Farai, Kapfupi, Somandla Ndebele, Sugar Sugar, Leroy Kamusena, Romeo Gasa and Jephta Muchini, just to name a few?
In an age in which artistes almost survive solely on live shows, how do these performers earn their living?
Their music is largely confined to just two radio stations in Zimbabwe, and clubs in big cities and towns do not even know their names.
However, each year, it is these people who populate a good number of the slots on the Coca-Cola Radio Zimbabwe Top 50.
For instance, last year’s Coca-Cola Radio Zimbabwe Top 50 winners, who received their prizes last Wednesday, proved that these “bush” celebs do not need Harare’s validation to be considered powerhouses.
Sitting on number three (artistes rankings) was Tatenda Pinjisi, whose song “Saina” was number seven on the songs chart. And it was seventh only because Leonard Zhakata’s and Alick Macheso’s songs occupied positions one to six.
Pinjisi’s success is particularly eyebrow raising considering that this was his debut album, yet it spawned quite a number of hits and his song “Saina” received over 40 000 votes.
Jephta Muchini’s “Chihera” came in at number nine, making his song one of the biggest hits in 2016. But very few people would recognise either Pinjisi or Muchini if they walked down the streets of any town or city in Zimbabwe.
They are not kings in Harare and Bulawayo, but they rule the countryside where the majority of Zimbabweans live.
They drive decent cars and some even own houses. Their children are in school and some of these musicians take care of large extended families.
Their bands usually consist of up to 12 members, and their only job is music. So, how do these artistes make things work? What is their secret?
The Sunday Mail Leisure spoke to a few to get a grip of how they do their stuff. Most are unreachable as they spend most of their time in the jungle where they hunt.
Simon Mutambi, the first sungura artiste to play at the esteemed Harare International Festival of the Arts, lives in Beatrice.
The 31-year-old multi-talented artiste drives a Mercedes C240, has a Nissan Caravan 18-seater that ferries band members to and from shows, and two other cars at home.
He has his own PA system and his weekends are packed with shows.
Mutambi has six albums to his name, and each one since 2009 has carried hits that make the Top 50. Last year he was on second position and walked away with cash and other prizes.
This is what he had to say: “We know that competition is tough in towns and cities, that many people would not recognise us even in bank queues; but we are surviving, maybe even better than those whose faces are popular.
“Our shows are mostly in the farms, mines and growth points. A few towns have also accepted us and we do promotional gigs even in Harare, where we get nothing but are just pushing our brand.”
Mutambi, who plays a trendy cordless bass guitar, says in areas like Karoi, he plays for over 1 000 people. In Beatrice, Mvuma and Chivhu, it would be suicidal for any other musician to play there without the help of Mutambi, especially if he decides to stage a show close by.
Clement Magwaza, who once played with Ndolwane Super Sounds and now runs Macrey Super Sounds, is a big hit in Matabeleland.
His albums like “Nantsi Indaba”, “Belinda”, “Nomathemba”, “Take Take” and “Uyalugogo” have contributed regular hits to radio charts.
Magwaza operates mostly in Gwanda, Lupane, Gokwe, Tsholotsho, Zhombe, Nkayi and occasionally crosses into remote areas of Botswana and South Africa.
Speaking to this publication from his base in Bulawayo, the Plumtree born-and-bred Magwaza said he lived a comfortable life and his 10-piece band relied solely on music for a living.
Tendai Dembo also spoke of memorable shows in Gokwe’s music industry backwater areas like Zenda Mine.
“Sometimes we can spend up to three days playing in one place. The area is infested with makorokoza (gold panners), so when we go there everyone wants to enjoy the show yet they also have to work.
“In the end, they rotate: those that were underground when you got there get to come out when their counterparts that we played for, say, yesterday go back underground to dig for the precious mineral,” explained Dembo.
Dembo speaks highly of the tobacco farming community of Tengwe in Karoi and the surrounding areas, where many fond memories have been created.
Dembo has eight band members, drives his own car and owns a PA system. And then there are veterans of the jungle, the likes of Somandla Ndebele, First Farai and Kapfupi.
Ndebele says he has played in almost every place in Zimbabwe where he can build a stage and plug his PA system.
“Some of the roads are absolutely terrible, but it is our job,” said the man also known as Soma.
Soma says he is a superstar in places like Chivi, Mberengwa, Lundi, Ngundu, Nyabira and Mhangura; and in areas like Chipinge (Gaza O) and Chirundu, he plays up to five times a year because of public demand.
Soma has 22 albums to his name and is finalising number 23, which is due in March 2017.
Songs such as “Wakandidadira”, “Masimba aMwari”, “Muzukuru Peter”, “Vimba Naye”, “Kutamba Hakubvaruki” are still popular among his fans, while his 2005 album “Makobvu Nematete” has assumed legendary status in sungura circles.
He has a 14-piece band, two commuter omnibuses, a trailer, a personal car, and a PA system.
Said Soma: “Toita kunge tapera (we are like spent forces) but we live well, we do not borrow or beg from anyone. We do not get media coverage but we may actually have better lives than some, if not most, of the guys in the limelight. We can go for months without a single promoter helping us stage a show, yet we drive every day, pay school fees and feed our families.”
Although we could not get in touch with Leroy Kamusena, Sugar Sugar and the several splinter groups of Ngosimbi Crew, the band left behind by Admire Kasenga when he passed on in the early 2000s, these artistes rule the roost on farms and mines in Zimbabwe and the border areas of Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa.
It is also not unusual to get into a Windhoek taxi driven by indigenes of Namibia’s Zambezi region and hear their music blaring from the speakers.
These guys may be out in the countryside most of the time, but they are contributing significantly to the rich legacy of Zimbabwean music.
They may not get the attention, but they remain stars, icons even, whose music will live long after we have stopped playing the bubblegum stuff that takes turns to rock Harare.
They may be the bush celebs of Zimbabwe, but they are celebs nonetheless.