COLUMN | Stories from Dangamvura: The big bands once played in the township, and then they left

Past its glory: what remains of the stage at Nyamanhindi Hotel, Mutare

In this instalment of ‘Stories from Dangamvura’, Chris Kabwato returns to the venues that once hosted some of Zimbabwe’s most loved musicians. It’s not quite the same. The music has left, and so has the glory days of the places. He reminisces on the glory days of Dangamvura Beit Hall, Nyamanhindi Hotel and Zimunya Hotel.

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In the late 1970s and early 1980s, on any given Saturday, there would be two music shows at the Dangamvura Beit Hall. The “Teens” show, as we called it, was in the afternoon and then the adults had their own gig in the evening.

It could be the same band playing both shows; Peter ‘Blackie’ Phiri and the Sound Power, the RUNN Family (Peter Muparutsa and his brothers and cousins), or the drummer Ansell Boka and the Crazy Union.

If there was no “Teens,” then you knew there was a wedding and it boiled down to the same thing – a band will be playing, everyone rocks up for the food cooked in drums, for the wedding dances (ma-steps) and for the music. No invitation was needed, just make sure your mother does not get to hear that you were feasting at a stranger’s wedding.

As you entered Dangamvura from the Weirmouth side, you encountered Nyamanhindi Hotel, nestled at the base of a hill overlooking the township and inviting all for a cold beer. Others called the place Dangamvura Hotel, but for us locals, it was “paBaba aBonnie” – Bonnie being the first child of Mr Nyamanhindi.

The bands playing at Nyamanhindi Hotel were a veritable feast of who is who – Jonah Sithole and The Storm had a residence there in 1976-7 and was playing “Sabhuku” prior to recording the hit-song. With his handsome features and prowess on the guitar, he was very popular with a certain demographic.

Echoes from the past: Nyamanhindi Hotel

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Zexie Manatsa and the Green Arrows would also come later and have their stint at the hotel. The boys from Mashaba Asbestos Mine, Devera Ngwena Jazz Band, would arrive and play hits such as “Devera Ngwena Zhimozhi” on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.

The music blared across the township, and we knew things were going down at the hotel. If the show was in the afternoon, you could peep through the wooden fence and watch the revelling crowd.

The men from Congo

In 1978, a vastly different group of musicians arrived at this hotel. They were always impeccably dressed in matching clothes, invariably flared trousers that hugged the waist tightly, long-sleeved shirts or orange and black Carling Black label t-shirts with the legend – “Send it Baba. Right on, Man.”

With their Afros, smooth skins that seemed as if they used Ambi skin lightening cream and their elegance, they were certainly not like our musicians who cared little about how they appeared on stage.

Soon we called them “Ma-Zaire” as we had now been told that they were from Kinshasa. They were the Real Sounds of Africa. For months, they lived with us in Dangamvura – mesmerising us with their dance routines.

They mingled with us, and some had long-term relationships and children. The group also played at Zimunya Hotel which was run by a man everyone called Ben – no surname – just Ben, to young and old. Ben looked like he had stepped out of a gangster movie with his huge frame, a suit, and a fedora hat.

The Tuku and Mapfumo years

It could have been in 1979 or early 1980 that I saw on stage, at Dangamvura Beit Hall, a lanky fellow in an impossible three-piece light-brown corduroy suit and matching platform shoes, which we called “dzika mumango” (come-down-the-mango-tree). It was Oliver Mtukudzi. Back then, he would start most of his songs with the characteristic little cough that spoke to mischief and humour.

When I first encountered Thomas Mapfumo live, he had begun to incorporate reggae into his repertoire in the aftermath of Bob Marley’s 1980 Independence Day concert.

The entrance to Dangambura Beit Hall
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With his dreadlocks beginning to sprout and now wearing the colourful woollen Rasta beret, Mapfumo played a few Marley songs, notably “Real Situation” and “Reggae on Broadway”. 

Prior to Mapfumo coming on stage, his band would do the warm-up. Back then, nearly every evening concert was a pungwe – a musician had to entertain you from 8pm to 6am, otherwise you felt cheated. 

To prepare you for the main act, the backing band played you a variety of cover songs. When the great Tobias Areketa was briefly with Mapfumo’s Blacks Unlimited, he would belt out Steve Winwood’s “Arc of a Diver” and Third World’s “Try Jah Love”. He owned those two songs, Tobias.
Zimunya Hotel

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What most people do not know is that in the mid-70s, Thomas Mapfumo and the Acid Band played as a resident band at 10 Miles, the common name for Zimunya Hotel and the township itself. My brother Rex swears that in between breaks from playing, Mapfumo did odd jobs for our uncle Mr Mamenemuno.

By the mid-80s the bands had moved to bigger venues such as Sakubva Stadium and Queen’s Hall. The Dangamvura Hall was too small now for Tuku or Mapfumo.

Into the vacuum stepped in the discos with names like O’Jays, Road Lamp, Dub Chemist, Midnite Express and Nite Shift. My next article will be on the colourful DJs, their rivalries, their fans, and the experiences they created.