Thursday, January 10, 2013

Let us learn from Joyce Jenje-Makwenda

Although Joyce Jenje-Makwenda’s book; Zimbabwe Township Music is from way back in 2005, it is a constant reminder that we need to chronicle our arts and artists as Zimbabweans and participate in establishing our opinion in the larger world.

From a Zimbabwean point of view, it will not help matters if, for instance, the first full book on Oliver Mtukudzi is going to be done from out of Zimbabwe by outsiders. And… my dear Zimbabweans, that day is fast approaching! We may need to learn from the case of Dambudzo Marechera who is more written about abroad than at home. The wonderful reception that Moses Chunga received recently in Belgium, taking us by pleasant surprise, should be another wakeup call for us.

We are in a mess already because at major international airports today, you find books on our major politicians written by foreigners. And the books sell like hot cakes! We have not adequately described our prominent men and women to the world and to ourselves.  When we finally close the gate, the calf will have bolted. Although we may never be able to stop others from writing about our own, we have virtually failed to give the first word on most of our icons. This is a collective failure between those with the capacity to fund and those with the skills in our midst.

Although Joyce Jenje-Makwenda’s book is not and could not have exhausted all major issues to do with Township Music in Zimbabwe, it is a very useful starting point in understanding the music and the times. She rehabilitates many names in our music that were almost forgotten.

Joyce Jenje Makwenda’s aptly defines Township Music as music that originated in the new urban centers in the 1930’s and that grew from strength to strength up to the 1960’s and is still growing after slowing down in the 1970’s because of the disruptive war of liberation and subsequent exile of the artists. Without specifying any country, Makwenda says that this kind of music is a fusion of many traditional African music forms from the whole Southern African region like Tsabatsaba, Kwela, Omasganda, Marabi and others. There is also fusion with African American Jazz from America.

Many of the musicians covered here are great names; Moses Mafusire, Dorothy Masuka, Sonny Sondo, Lina Mattaka, Simangaliso Tutani, Roger Hukuimwe, Louis Mhlanga, Jacob Mhungu, Alick Nkatha, Sarah Mabhokela and many more.

 The township musicians played guitars, saxophones, and pennywhistles. They also employed vocals and footstamping to provide entertainment in the growing townships. The first organized Township music was a group from Mbare called Bantu Actors that were led by Kenneth Mattaka in 1932. They had a popular tune called ‘Kumadokero’.

 Besides being a book on music, it  also sociological insights into the world of black people in Harare and Bulawayo of a period of the stated seventy-five years. This book is both informative and exhilarating because besides the historic narrative, there are also here very beautiful pictures of the beautiful iconic musicians of various generations from Harare to Bulawayo.

 As you flip through, you develop nostalgia for the 1930’s, 40’s or the 60’s. The pictures here tend to say much more than words or any form of theorising.

 In one picture, the great musician Sonny Sondo, appears in a dark suit with a marvelous bowtie, drinking what looks like wine from a mug. There is an air of a modern man around him and you can also see that the fellow could smile! His most popular composition is ‘Handei KwaMutare’, a song about the beauty of the mountains around Mutare district. A local Zimbabwean band called ‘Mbare Trio’ did a remix of this marvelous song in 2006.

 In another picture, Sonny appears alongside Steven Mtunyani, Titus Mukosanjera and Sam Matambo of the City Quads of the 1960’s. From these fine pictures, you see that these were refined fellows who realised that they had arrived, musically. They were at the helm of a black people’s Music culture. They gave black township folk some new cultural pride.

Amongst the women musicians, Dorothy Masuka’s pictures are the most outstanding. Turning the pages, you realise that during her days, Dorothy could ‘pose’ for a ‘photo’. In her more recent photographs, in this book, she is chubby, less cheerful but clearly combative, with her eyes closed as she belts out into the mike.

Described here clearly as the best ever woman musician from Zimbabwe, Dorothy Masuka has been singing for over fifty years! She went to school in South Africa from where she discovered her voice. Sophiatown swallowed her and she shared the stage in the 1950’s and 60’s with some great South African women musicians like Dolly Rathebe and Mariam Makeba. Penning great and timeless classics like ‘Hamba Notsokolo’ and ‘Imali yami Iphele eshabeni,’ Dorothy came back home to Rhodesia in the 60’s, crossed boarders into Malawi, Zambia and England.

Known simply as ‘Dotty’, she was once married to Dusty King, a great soccer star of the 50’s. And her single wish now: ‘Someday a local football stadium be named after her former husband.’ From this book one gets the impression that there were no clear cut cultural hindrances to the development of women musicians. If there were, Makwenda chooses not to highlight them at all.

The several pictures of Josaya Hadebe in this book portray a handsome African cowboy with no horse! He should have broken many girls’ hearts in the 1940’s and 50’s. He played ‘Omasganda’ and his favourite tunes tended to be ‘derogatory and vulgar.’ His favourite song ‘Pendeka’ was about the life of a prostitute. However he recorded over fifteen songs with Gallo recording company. And the crowds just loved Hadebe! When he visited the Bantu Sports club in Johannesburg, in 1951, he caused a riot ‘as the crowds followed him through the tunnel, obstructing the soccer spectators from all sides of the field.’

Omasganda artists like Hadebe gave people a sense of belonging because they positioned themselves as ‘popular in a set up where black people wanted ordinary black heroes to identify with in the loneliness caused by being in the township, far away from one’s village of origin.'

However for Joyce Makwenda, one Augustine Musarurwa must be the most outstanding male Zimbabwean musician of all times. His prominence in this book is done justice by a very close and touching narrative of him that reads almost like a day to day diary of events of his life. His song ‘Skokian’ (an illicit township brew) is a song that crossed boarders and various musicians made numerous versions of it. These include the great jazz trumpeter, Louis Armstrong himself, Nico Carsten, Robert Delgado, Sandy Nelson, James Last, Paul Lunga and others.

Born in Zvimba at Musarurwa village, Augustine Musarurwa was not only a world-class saxophonist but also a decent policeman with a knack for the three-piece suit. When the African-American musician, Armstrong, made his famous visit to Rhodesia in 1960, Musarurwa personally paid tribute to Augustine and played alongside him. Later, in 1970, even Hugh Masekela made his own version of Musarurwa’s Skokian.

Besides being a wholesome book that asks the reader to browse on and on, Makwenda’s book has some useful sub sections. In the Recording History section, one learns that recording of music in Zimbabwe started in Masvingo (then Fort Victoria) in1929. Hugh Tracy who was interested in collecting African folk music did the recordings. Individual musicians got prominent recording by Gallo in the 1940’s. Josaya Hadebe, George Sibanda and Sakale Mathe were some of the very first to be recorded.

In the section called Venues one learns about the centrality of venues like Mbare’s Mai Musodzi and Stordat halls and Bulawayo’s Macdonal and Stanley halls in the development of Township Music. The story of an Asian man called Mohammed Bhika or Karimapondo is also touching. He built the Bhika Brothers restaurant to allow decent blacks to have a decent spot to have meals and drinks and music. Africans and Asians were not allowed in the whites only city center spots. Mr. Josiah Chinamano (B.A.) was reported in the African Daily News of 17 November 1956 to have said, ‘the restaurant is a real pride to all Africans who will patronize it.’ In such places township music blossomed.

The Kwela Music section of this book has a more interesting scenario. Kwela music is pennywhistle music. It was first played by the street side, attracting both black and white passersby who were quickly displaced by the police as Kwela usually indicated that there was some gambling going on nearby. The police would order those arrested to climb into big vans and would shout “Kwela! Kwela!” and that became the name for this sharp music. Spokes Mashiyane is considered the most prominent Kwela musician.

There is a way in which township music tended to express the presence of black folks in the urban centers. It became a rallying point for black people and the colonialists tended to disperse people who congregated around an Omasganda or Kwela musician. It is no mistake that names of some nationalists like Daniel Madzimbamuto and Webster Shamhu are associated with either recording or general development of Township music.

Joyce Makwenda has led by example. She has made a very conscious choice to work on a musical form that grew and developed as she grew in the Zimbabwean township of Mbare herself. She is working on a familiar subject in familiar territory. Other writers could work on various other popular Musical forms of Zimbabwe like Chimurenga and Sungura.

There is need now for other writers to go into the some sub themes (established here) and explore them to greater detail, establishing the effects of the music on the lives of ordinary people and exploring more effectively the major individual Township Music  artists themselves. This would be necessary because Township Music has resurfaced again in Zimbabwe with the likes of Tanga weKwaSando, Dudu Manhenga, Prudence Katomeni and others.

-By Memory Chirere






  1. True. Till lions have own historians tales of hunting will always praise the hunter. I was privileged to be the first person to review that book for the Sunday Mirror and I also made tge same poiny.

    I dont forget how as a young graduate I wanted to do a book on Tuku with all ideas set only to be blocked by his then manager Debbie. I hope this project can be revived now given the change of set up at Tuku music.

    Thanks Chirere for raising that point and putting up the challenge back to us.

  2. Yes, we should tell our own stories. To do this, however, we need to recognize certain barriers that stand in our path. One has already been noted by Kurasha above. Another is that "our" prominent men and women usually don't respect their own people, including writers. Our "big men" and "big women" grin and open up to (white) foreigner researchers at the fall of a hat but scorn their own. Otherwise why would Robert Mugabe - yes, the president of Zimbabwe - open up to CNN and SABC but "forget" to even give a proper press briefing here? There. I said it.