Monday, May 21, 2012
the genius of Alick Macheso
I wrote the following article on Alick Macheso way back in 2006 just after the release of album Vapupuri Pupurai at the instigation of Moses Magadza when he was editing the Southern Times. (Moses is now a close friend.) Now, years later, after so much has happened to Macheso and all of us, this article has been abridged, truncated and sometimes- quoted out of the original context, by various writers. Fortunately, Macheso himself has posted it (as it is) on his website. Here is the article as it appeared in the Southern Times during the Winter of 2006.
Although Zimbabwean music lovers are generally agreed that Alick Macheso is the King of Sungura, the Zimbabwean brand of Rhumba, that is only as far as the agreement can go.
As Masimba Kuchera admits in an article on the Chesopower website, ‘there have been many schools of thought on the (real) strength of Macheso- some arguing about his skills with the bass guitar, some contending that it is his vocals and others proffering his dancing skills, it is generally agreed that the musician is of immense talent.’
When people agree that you are extremely good, but going on to debate hotly about exactly whether your strength lies in the way you walk or the way you run, then that is a mark of genius. You actually put people in a crisis of naming aspects of phenomena.
But watching him play with his new band in Bindura in late 1999, well after the album Magariro and just after releasing the second album Vakiridzo, one was not certain if Alick would be anything. After all there were stronger Sungura echoes then from Nikolas Zakaria, Ngwenya Brothers, Chimbetu, Tazvida and others. It was at Bindura’s tiny Kuyedza cocktail bar, of all places in Zimbabwe. It was on an odd Saturday late afternoon and there were only about fifty people hanging around, killing the hours with the help of a beer. If you looked, you could see the chimneys of Trojan mine in the distance and outside, Chipadze Township was taking a weekend nap. On such a day, one felt some easy pity for Alick.
This was a man ‘born from somewhere near here’ that had just left (and some said been dumped by) the great Nicholas Zakaria and was trying his luck on his own. Orchestra Mberikwazvo, his band, looked like an affair hastily put together. Considering their youthfulness, they looked like a cheeky little band of mutineers!
Macheso himself looked nervous. A half-dazed fellow in the little crowd constantly called at Macheso, claiming loudly that he was a friend of Macheso's father. And Macheso did well to wave and smile at ‘the family friend’ in acknowledgement. It was not surprising because Macheso was indeed born around Shamva-Bindura in 1968. I was also born here, several years later!
Pakutema Munda from the album Magariro and Chitubu from Vakiridzo, seemed to touch the audience and suddenly the rude crowd swelled and apparently they were coming into the bar for free! Crowd and band warmed up to each other and something in Zakaria Zakaria, on one of the guitars, seemed to burst open and he moved backwards and forward, backwards.. and the crowd liked it too. His resemblance with Nikolas Zakaria was awesome and if Macheso had picked a quarrel with Nikolas, why was Zakaria Zakaria here with Macheso, the Bindura revellers must have wondered.
Much later, you felt that the crowd realised that it had somehow abused the band on the makeshift stage and serious jive began. Macheso smiled knowingly and the trips to the counter and back multiplied and one wanted to see how the wiry young man and his band would go on.
All that is in sharp contrast to Macheso’s current (2006) shows at Pamuzinda or the Chitungwiza Aquatic complex in Harare and Chitungwiza respectively. Here people raise their arms to Macheso, wanting to embrace the man, his song, his dance and the band, in order to preserve them in a securely sealed envelope for the sake of memory. He obviously wouldn’t quite fit into the tiny Kuyedza bar back in his Bindura any more. He has not only grown. He has become a phenomenon.
Macheso has the unusual gift of easy poetry. His lyrics elicit an easy-going camaraderie. He sings like the guy from next door, very familiar and liberating. That is why he is the favourite man of the ordinary mechanic, the unassuming kombi driver, the seller of ordinary wares and many more. And if you look and listen, the Macheso lyrics appeal to the little and remote reserves of energy in people in a country faced with economic challenges.
Listening to Upenyu Hwemunhu, you sit back in the kombi, and feel very private and secure. Indeed Upenyu hwemunhu hunozivikanwa nemurarami wahwo- only the individual really knows where his/her life is. You want to laugh and cry, too, because in these moments of hardships, we have all done many shameful things just in order to get to the next day.
If you are not on the kombi, you are at home in your bedroom-kitchen- lounge. And you listen to Madhawu. You just feel it. There is that open invitation to stand up and dance and shake your body and laugh at how your body is still with you after all. That song, Madhawu, makes you feel mischievous in a strange way.
Maybe Macheso’s best lyrics are in songs like Mwari WeNyasha, Amai VaRubhi, Kunyarara Zvavo and Kumuzi Kwatu. In Mwari weNyasha off the Zvakanaka Zvakadaro album, the singer asks three rhetoric questions in a row, compounding each of them that you wonder how many question marks should one employ here: Imhodzi rudzii yamadyara matiri mambo?/ isingaperi nokutumbuka?/ isingakohwewe-e?/ dura rayo riripi?/ chero netsapi dzayo dziripi...?
But Trust Khoza of the Daily Mirror will tell you that Macheso’s best lyrics are in Shedia where triple voices dialogue publicly about how they should negotiate private family space. Yet someone from the farms and mines might argue that the real Macheso substance is in Mundikumbuke because even if you have not lost any parents, that song can still remind you of the other good things that you have lost in your life – a job, a girl, an opportunity…
But the Macheso lyrical space is not that very wide after all. Half of his songs are about relating to one’s own relatives or generally about coming to terms with colleagues. You find all that in Shedia, Madhawu, Kunyarara Zvavo, Patunia, Amakebhoyi, Teererai and others. But the lyrics remain refreshed and repackaged with each outing and that is where the Macheso variety is. You also have here Ndombolo vibes and rapping and it is sweet because the brother is fluent in Shona, ChiChewa, Sena, Venda and Lingala. He can casually throw out lines and abstract verbs in all these languages.
Since the formation of Orchestra Mberikwazvo in 1997, Macheso has gone on a bass guitar revolution. You feel it in the varied bass guitar vibes that change as you move from Petunia to Madhawu to Teererai. The Macheso bass guitar tends to be the axis around which everything else in this band revolves. The Macheso bass guitar has a kind of reckless abandonment that only the happy leader of a band can allow. It speaks of innovation and ingenuity. That in turn has influenced other Sungura artists like Tongai Moyo and Somandla Ndebele.
Instrumental innovation and ingenuity has also crept into the fingers of Macheso’s key guitarists, Innocent Mujintu and Lucky Muririki. It is not about merely playing the guitar. It is about manufacturing new ways of playing the guitar. It is about believing in the guitar in order to have the guitar give you that outstanding position amongst other guitarists.
Whilst Zvakanaka Zvakadaro could be Macheso’s best album in matters of lyrics and powerful sales, the latest Vapupuri Pupurai could be his best offering, instrumentally. The song Teererai is particularly monstrous. Taking turns to parade guitar by guitar, Teererai is about how the human mind and hand can find extension through guitar, creating new and finer possibilities, a thing that the Zimbabwean socioscape itself is dying to have. How to make the economy tick and tick for the ordinary man is one of the greatest challenges that Zimbabwe faces today.
Macheso’s productivity is also ably projected by his conscious decision to come up with a kind of dance to accompany the music. It is not enough to give people music. You need to show them how to dance to it too. ‘Borrowdale’ the name of the Macheso dance comes from Harare’s Borrowdale race course. The dance incorporates notions of ‘running the race in order to win.’ Macheso can dance. He is one of the best dancers in Zimbabwe today. Alongside Slomo, his side-kick, they can mesmerize with their slow motion dance. It is slow motioning in real life as in film! Reality mirroring Art? But then Macheso has quickly come up with a different dance called Razor Wire.
Macheso is arguably the holder of various firsts in Zimbabwean music, among them the best selling and the best selling upon launch. Although he does not make political pronouncements in his songs, his ability to grip the eye and ear of the Zimbabwean ghetto and village is currently next to none.
Macheso music remains tops in the ghetto, the village, mine and farm, amongst those who ‘don’t know and are not known.’ Macheso has benefited a lot from his one time bandleader, Nikolas Zakaria. They clearly play the same music but Nikolas is soulful, slower and meditative where Macheso chooses to excite and tantalize. For me, through his six albums, Chesopower has grown to represent what the ordinary Zimbabwean hand and mind can do with very little.
+By Memory Chirere