Clive Malunga


The music industry in Zimbabwe has experienced periods of boom and slump. The early musicians played music for passion rather than for money. Being a musician was associated with ‘hurombe’. Indeed many who played music before 1980, could testify of there being very little financial gain from the work. The period immediately after independence was characterized by celebratory music and relative prosperity for musicians who were creative and popular. From around 2000, changes in the music industry tended to frustrate rather than facilitate the development of the music sector. Non-enforcement of copyright laws have led to loss of revenue for musicians at a time when production and recording costs have become extremely high. Amidst the gloom, there has been some rosy patches. In spite of the many challenges faced by the sector, Zimbabwe has produced some very successful musicians.  In this issue, I write about four such musicians namely Thomas Mapfumo, Jonah Sithole, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe and myself. I will write about other successful musicians, including many young artists, in another article.

Dr Thomas Mapfumo’s music has been widely acclaimed locally and internationally.  Mapfumo rose to national prominence in the 1960s when he switched from playing foreign copyright music to playing indigenous music.  He was among the first group of  local artists who decided to sing in Shona when doing so appeared very unfashionable. Use of the vernacular and the adoption and development of unique local rhythms made his music very relevant because it reproduced African life and clearly expressed both the feelings and aspirations of the people. The 1960s were the years when the Second Chimurenga was launched. Dr Mapfumo immediately joined the war of his people as a  “guerrilla musician” urging people to send their children to join the liberation armies and fight the imperialists.  As Chikowero says (2015:263), Chimurenga musicians like Mapfumo, “operated at the frontline of popular consciousness, helping to breach the zones of colonial criminalization of both the guerrillas and communities that deployed and hosted them, and breaking the vice of state propaganda. ” Mapfumo’s music encouraged Africans to prosecute the war of  liberation and reassured them of inevitable victory over settlerism. Music such as his helped to raise the morale of the masses, exhorting them never to lose heart even when the odds seemed insurmountable.

After independence Dr Mapfumo helped to popularise traditional Zimbabwean music across the globe. As a fitting tribute to his role as our country’s cultural ambassador to the world,’, Mapfumo was crowned King of Chimurenga at Gwanzura Stadium in 2002 during a Jenaguru Music Festival. The then chairman of Jenaguru, Dr Nathan Shamuyarira bestowed him with a 21 carat gold star.  He was also conferred with the freedom of the city of Harare by Harare City Council and a plaque in his honour was erected at the corner of George Silundika and First Street. The plaque has since been vandalised and Jenaguru is planning to replace it by constructing a life-size statue of Dr Thomas Mapfumo.  Work on the construction of the platform base where the statue will stand is set to start in February 2022. Dr Mapfumo’s statue will serve as a symbol of the eternal destruction of the colonial white supremacist mentality which prevailed before independence.  For the young generation, it may sound funny and inconceivable ‘, but it’s true that Africans were not allowed to walk along First Street. 

Jenaguru promotions successfully applied to the   University of Zimbabwe to honour Dr Thomas with an honorary degree. Dr Thomas Mapfumo has won numerous other local and international awards. His success was a result of hard work and commitment to his calling.  Dr Mapfumo’s achievements must give Zimbabwe’s art industry a sense of pride and must serve as an inspiration to both established and budding artists.

Another musician I personally worked with and who was a towering figure in local music is Jonah Sithole. Jonah Sithole spent the greatest part of his music career as a guitarist in Thomas Mapfumo’s Blacks Unlimited band, although he had stints as a session musician and a leader of his own band, the Deep Horizon. Jonah could play many guitar styles such as rhumba and afro-jazz. However, he was best known for developing his own Chimurenga guitar style called the mbira-guitar. The mbira guitar style is a guitar sound based on the sound of mbira music. After the Blacks Unlimited’s successful experiment with the mbira guitar, many local artists later imitated this style. Jonah played the guitar with such emotional force and expressiveness that set him above other contemporary mbira guitarists.  His style is highlighted in his perennial hits such as Sabhuku, Kusasana and Kana Ndaguta. Jonah’s guitar wizardry and his signature sound is also apparent in the following albums of the Blacks Unlimited; Gwindingwi Rine Shumba(1980), Chimurenga For Justice (1985), Zimbabwe-Mozambique (1987), Varombo Kuvarombo (Corruption, 1989), Chimurenga:African Spirit Music (1995) and Roots Chimurenga (1996). Jonah’s vocals were also so good that when Thomas Mapfumo was incarcerated for subversion by the Smith regime, Jonah kept the band going by taking over the vocal duties.  Moses Mullah and I did the the backing vocals for Jonah’s Sithole’ s timeless song, Sabhuku (second version). When Jonah was a session musician, he played the guitar when I recorded Sekuru Gora, Ambuya Beauler Dyoko and Evans Mambara. Jonah also performed at all Jenaguru Festivals. He was a rare talent we will always miss.

 A history of Zimbabwean music, which leaves out Mbuya Stella Rambisai Chiweshe, the Grand Dame of mbira music, will be awfully incomplete. Stella Chiweshe started playing mbira in the 1960s when playing the instrument was considered a male preserve and the colonial government had banned the use of the instrument.  She defied both the gender conventions and repressive colonial proscription of tradtional instruments to become the epitome of excellence in mbira music. Stella has been a true ambassador of Zimbabwean traditional music, playing the mbira and marimba at almost all the major music festivals around the world. In 2003 she was crowned the Queen of Chimurenga music and presented with a 21 carat gold star by Jenaguru Promotions. In the same year, Jenaguru Promotions also successfully lobbied the University of Zimbabwe to honour her with an honorary master of arts degree for her music genius. In 2006, she won a National Arts Merit Award for the Most Outstanding Female Artist. In 2020, NAMA recognised her  with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Through her love of the music of our culture; she set a very high bar that   must have inspired many a female artist such as Hope Masike and the late Chiwoniso Maraire  towards excellence in playing the mbira.

Stella has led to the acceptance of Zimbabwean mbira music in venues as diverse as Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Canada, Britain and the United States of America. Her strong voice , her gentle dances , her colourful costumes and her amazing mbira skills have mesmerized audiences  across the globe. We, as Zimbabweans, must be very proud of her successes .

 I founded Jenaguru Promotions in 1992 to promote local music.The highlights  of my success on the performative stage have been  the well received hits such as Marujata, Rudhiya and Nesango. I also coordinated the production of a highly successful single “Chenjerera Upenyu” which was done by various top artists in honour of Bhundu Boys bassist, David Mankaba who had passed on.  My video Nesango won the Silver Jubilee Award, the Millennium Award, Zimbabwe Music Awards (ZIMA), National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA), Gramma Records Award and ZBC offered to shoot any video of my choice for free.

As I see it, my greatest achievements have been working with other artists and carrying out charity work. Below, I highlight only a few projects I did or am still doing to uplift other artists or disadvantaged members of the community.

Jenaguru organised Jenaguru Music Festivals from 1992 -2005. The Jenaguru Festivals  annually brought together the cream de la cream of Zimbabwean music. This helped in building strong professional bonds among local artists. Artists would also learn from each other as they shared the stage. We also invited foreign artists such as Brother Ayouba from the USA, Ambero from Zambia, Jambo and Zamaleck from South Africa and other groups from Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi and Egypt. Bringing in international artists was meant to give greater variety and more value to our music fans as well as  enable local artists to forge international links and borrow best practices from the foreign groups.

The festivals always brought  a carnival atmosphere into Harare and they became highly anticipated annual events. Fans would win many prizes before and  during the festivals . The prizes ranged from free tea shirts donated by Coca-Cola, free musical records from Gramma Records, Zimbabwe Music Corporation (ZMC) and Spinalong. The Coca-Cola  company provided free drinks for all performing artists while Telecel would donate free cellphones for the first 20 people to enter the stadium. ZBC would do live broadcasts of the event. What unforgettable nights we had with ZBC presenters such as Admire Taderera , James Maridadi, Temba Moyo, Zenzo Dube , Timothy Tapfumaneyi and Lawrence Simbarashe!

 Jenaguru has managed and recorded many artists; among them Ambuya Beauler Dyoko, Kuda Henry Matimba, Sekuru Gora,  Evans Mambara, Ronnie Chataika and Ticharara Makomborero. Jenaguru started recording Ticharara Makomborero when he was 7 years old and has managed him  until today.

Jenaguru has also been involved into charity work. We donated some money to Danhiko centre. We also gave food and clothing to Chinyaradzo Children’s Home, Harare Children’s Home and Matthew Rusike Children’s Home. In 2002 we organised a big Christmas party for street children at Harare Gardens in conjuction with The Just Children Foundation.

Jenaguru assisted Mitchel Jambo and Marshall Munhumumwe with funds to undergo rehabilitation after they were involved in car accidents. During the Mozambican civil war, Jenaguru donated money to Zimbabwe ‘Mozambique Friendship Association (ZIMOFA) to ensure that our defence forces who were guarding our pipeline and route to the sea were properly taken care of.  We donated a truckload of food to the Doma people under Chief Chapoto. We have donated stationery and learning equipment to many schools around the country.

Jenaguru purchased tombstones for the following music legends: James Chimombe, Tobias Areketa, Tinei Chikupo, Susan Mapfumo, Jordan Chataika, Leonard Picket Chiyangwa, Charles Mapika and Solomon Skuza.

Since 1992, Jenaguru has been scouting for talented boys and girls to train them in Zimbabwean traditional dances such as dinhe, mbakumba, chinyambera, shangara and mhande. Once they master the dances, we take them on cultural exchange tours of Japan and South Korea. They perform in elementary schools, high school and universities showcasing Zimbabwean culture. We got a donation of US$99 000 from the Japanese Government through an NGO called Grassroots Level to buy musical instruments. We use the instruments for training of young aspiring musicians.

I believe that local artists must focus on developing original local rhythms. Young musicians should not be copycats of established musicians; neither should they try to imitate foreign rhythms. In South Africa, Arthur Mafokate and Mandoza experimented with local South African rhythms and developed a unique original genre called Kwaito. Leonard Dembo, John Chibadura, Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Andy Brown, Robson Banda, Simon Chimbetu and Chiwoniso Maraire all excelled because they sound(ed) different musically.

The local media should not be obsessed with American music while local artists are crying for space. The scale should always be tilted in favour of local music. The reason why Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Dr Thomas Mapfumo, the Bhundu Boys, Chiwoniso Maraire and Jah Prayzah made it big internationally is because they are (were) playing Zimbabwean  rhythms ( mbira, jiti, chimurenga). The media must give amble space to our local artsists to promote local rhythms.