Clive Malunga

Simon Chimbetu, Among Zimbabwe’s Musical Greatest of All Time

The late Simon Chimbetu attended my father’s funeral in Norton.  I felt honoured to have the presence of an artist of Chimbetu’s caliber among the people mourning my father. He drove all the way from Harare to bid my father farewell.  My father was well-known in Norton and surrounding areas as Mr. Zuda.

Simon Chimbetu later told me that he had known my father very well for quite some time. He told me that his late father used to play a gambling game of cards commonly called njuga or makasa with my father at a farm compound called Mashumba. My father was well known for the gambling game. At that time the Chimbetus were staying in Selous popularly known as Seruwe.

After Thomas Mapfumo, Simon Chimbetu is probably ranked as the second musician to earn the most praise-names from his legion of devoted fans. Among his most used stage names were Cellular, Chopper, Marxist Dende, Master of Song, the Maestro, Viscose and Mukoma Sam. He produced many hit songs in his glittering music career. Remember Kunjere kunjere, Mwana Wedangwe, Nguva Yakaoma, Pachipamwe, Survival and Lullaby! Scorchers like Samatenga, Pane Asipo and Saina are timeless. In 1998 Simon Chimbetu released a bomb of a song called Dzandipedza Mafuta, off the album, Lullaby. In my own analysis, this hit monster of a song shook the Zimbabwean music market like no other song had done before. In terms of sales, the song broke the Zimbabwean record. This blockbuster song endeared Simon to his fans and cemented his place among Zimbabwe’s musical greatest of all time (GOAT). The whole country was happy.

Mukoma Simon was a regular performer at Jenaguru Music Festival. Simon Chimbetu was billed to perform at Jenaguru Music Festival in 1998.  It happened that his management had made a double booking. He was supposed to perform in Gweru a day before the end of the Jenaguru Music Festival. He had to perform in Gweru on a Saturday and then return to Harare for the Jenaguru Music Festival early the next day. We were looking forward to seeing Simon Chimbetu and his band very early on Sunday. He was the hottest property in the capital city and his fans were eager to see him perform at the 1998 Jenaguru Music Festival. 

Our Jenaguru Music Festival would end at 1000 hours but at 0930 hours Mukoma Sam was nowhere to be seen. The crowd became restive and started complaining declaring that they would not disperse until Simon Chimbetu had arrived and performed. I did not have Mukoma Simon’s phone number at that time. I started panicking because fans were beginning to say they would want to be refunded their money if Simon Chimbetu was not going to perform. Some fans even threatened to physically harm me.

When I realised that the situation was deteriorating fast and threatening to get out of hand, I sneaked out of the stadium and went into hiding at Mushandirapamwe Hotel. I would check the situation in the stadium through the hotel balcony.

Fortunately, a friend of mine who was very close to Chimbetu managed to contact him on his mobile phone. The guy who did that was the late Phillip Magwaza, veteran political editor at The Herald.  At that time Phillip worked as a journalist for The Herald Newspaper but also doubled as a member of Simon’s Chimbetu’s management team. He came to where I was hiding and assured me that Mukoma Simon was on his way to Gwanzura Stadium.  I took his word for real because I was very close to the Magwaza family. Phillip Magwaza ‘s elder brother called Prince was my best friend. He was a former ZANLA combatant.  We had shared trenches and many sad moments together in Zimbabwe’s protracted liberation struggle.

The crowd did not go anywhere. They kept on shouting that they wanted to see their hero performing. At 1015 hours Mukoma Simon arrived at Gwanzura Stadium with his musical group, The Orchestra Dendera Kings. As soon as his arrival was announced, an electric atmosphere gripped Gwanzura Stadium. A large group of fans went to open the entry gate for Simon’s entourage to enter. As I walked into the stadium from my place of hiding, I could see a group of young men lifting the car which Mukoma Sam had come driving. They carried the car from the gate and put it down next to the stage. Simon opened his car door and climbed straight to the stage. The rapturous fans were ululating and chanting Simon’s many stage names. The people’s darling had arrived. That day, I realised the power of music. You cannot separate diehard fans from their favourite artist.

Simon played his hit songs from 1030 hours to 1230 hours non-stop. People danced, sang along and enjoyed to the maximum. The concert which was supposed to end at 1000 hours had to be pushed to 1230 hours to allow the Master of Song to serenade his fans in a blistering two-hour period of nonstop music. I was very happy because Mukoma Simon did not let me down.

Our bigger and one of the best  Jenaguru Musical Festival was held at the National Sports Stadium.  Mukoma Simon Chimbetu performed at midnight. His performance coincided with the lighting of fireworks displays. He shared the stage with Brother Ayouba from San Francisco, USA, Amber 04 from Zambia and other groups from Egypt and Malawi. Simon left us but we will always carry rich memories of that music genius.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all Jenaguru music fans who believed in my dream and travelled with me in all the Jenaguru Music Festivals till the end. Thank you for those blissful years.

Last but not least, I pay tribute to Classic 263 radio manager, Terrence Mapurisana for providing me with some information pertaining Jenaguru Music Festivals and the arts in general. His articles do well to remind me of some valuable information I might have forgotten.