COLUMN | Stories from Dangamvura | To the choirmasters who taught us the joy of singing

The Seke 7 School choir: The age of the enthusiastic choir master must continue

In his latest edition of Stories from Dangamvura, Chris Kabwato looks back at the sometimes eccentric choirmasters of the past, and why they must not fade from memory


Recently, I was in church bright and early, looking forward to words of encouragement. But the start of the service was not too promising. The church organist had not yet arrived – unusual for him.

The dear reverend indicated the hymn to be sung. Someone tried to kick off the song and then trailed off – either the words failed them, or the voice could not carry the tune. Either way, there was some embarrassing silence and then some brave soul jumped into the river of the hymn and tried. Still, the fire would not catch.

The reverend, ever pragmatic, suggested a different hymn. That worked – somewhat. And as we struggled, rising and ebbing like a wave, the organist walked in casually and perched himself by his instrument. Suddenly the church came to life – even the singing seemed to rise and improve.

I also remember a slightly different experience at a different church six weeks before this incident. There, the singing literally competed with the din of the instruments – as the norm now in the pentecostal churches. But it was not only that, it was also the apparent lack of training in musicianship that was on display. Enthusiasm was 100% but the ear to calibrate the sound so that it would not drown the voice was missing.

I wondered whether the art of acapella singing was getting lost as we spend more time on our gadgets and rarely sing in unison just for the sake of singing.

When singing mattered

Growing up in Dangamvura, songs were in the air. Singing and playing of instruments were things you casually did with family and friends. But we also had our maestros of song.

Before Kirk Franklin and Sugar Hill, there was Mr Matara, the master of the Rujeko Primary School junior choir. Part of the misinformation on the internet is that African Americans started rap in 1979 or thereabouts with Sugarhill’s Rappers Delight, but I want to put this matter straight. Mr Matara invented rap in 1978 or earlier.

On any given morning at Rujeko Primary’s assembly, the junior or the senior choir would sing a song as part of the proceedings, which included reciting the Our Father prayer and headmaster Mr Makande making announcements.

Mr Matara’s repertoire was diverse and included his own composition and African American gospel songs. His DJ Kool Herc moment would come to the fore in his song called Ndendende:


Haiwa haiwa ndendende


As the Grades 4-5 choir members sing the above chorus Mr Matara steps forward facing the audience begins to rap:

VanaMai navanaBaba

Chinokura chinokotama

Musoro wegudo chava chinokoro

Ndakafamba nenyika yino

Regai nditaure zvandakaona


Haiwa haiwa ndendende

Nde-nde-nde x 2

You could argue this was more like a toned-down version of Grandmaster Flash’s The Message. Tell me that Rakim, Kurtis Blow or Whodunit could have matched that.

If that was on a slower tempo, on a different day, Mr Matara would liven it up with a fast-paced, energetic song: Who will be the witness?

Solo: Who will be the witness?

Chorus: For my Lord! For my Lord!

Solo: Now Methuselah was man who lived 969. And God sent an angel! Who will be the witness?

Chorus: For my Lord! For my Lord!

I can still see my sister Ethel in the junior choir, head on the side, shouting so sincerely. Run DMC could not better Mr Matara. Not even Mr Kirk Franklin could. I am sure Mr Matara wanted us to listen to this song’s message, but we tended to giggle on the Methuselah and 969 years part. It sounded quite improbable that anyone would live that long.

But if we thought he had no wider range, Mr Matara would drop on you some American gospel:

Ezekiel saw the wheel

Way up in the middle of the air

Ezekiel saw the wheel

Way up in the middle of the air

The singing was accompanied by the motions of the wheel spinning and then fingers pointing “way up”. You could imagine those two wheels up in the sky. It was a time when beliefs, myths, taboos and superstitions crawled out of every crevice around us.

The Rujeko school assembly area, and choir battlefield

Every MC has a rival

Mr Matara’s rival was his colleague, Mr Chitakatira, who was the choirmaster for the senior group (Grade 6-7). They were contrasting masters in every way. Mr Matara was short, slight and intense whereas Mr Chitakatira had the quiet, laidback attitude of a nerd.

With his sideburns, thick glasses and closely cropped jet-black half-Afro, he looked every bit the scientist in a lab cooking some mysterious liquid. What united these two maestros was the love of music.

Looking back, I can now see how Mr Chitakatira had a highly developed sense of pride in blackness and dignity. When the United Nations proclaimed1979 as the International Year of the Child he composed a powerful song for the occasion:

Mugore remwana

Mugore remwana

Zvose zvaiyera

Zvose zvaiyera

Mhoro hama dzedu

Mhoro hama dzedu

Heyi heyi he

Heyi heyi heyi he

Mr Chitakatira’s consciousness was also reflected in the song he composed in praise of our school, Rujeko Primary, and what it stood for:

Call: Tokudza tokudza tinokudza

Response: NeRujeko chikoro chedu

All: ChaVatema, chaVatema

Bringing together form and content in a song

We are grateful for this school for black people. Composing and making children sing such a song in the climate of the 1970s was a defiant and daring posture.  He also had a sense of history, and he sang of pandemics of past centuries:

Solo: Mugore remukondombera vakuru vanotiudza

Huya tinzwe nyaya


Chorus (bass): Hatikanganwi

Tenor: Gore remukondombera vanhu vakapera

Gore renhamo

His songs had intricate voice patterns – never flat, always with calls and responses and parts for tenor, bass and soprano. The songs had “movements” before we knew what that was.

He could also do the Christian gospel songs in his own way, mixing English and Shona and even having the English parts sung as if they were in our language:

Solo: He died on the cross

Chorus: Died on the cross

Solo: Kudenga akakwira

Chorus: Died on the cross

Solo: Jesu akakwira

For a long time, I thought the chorus was “ndaidhonza cross”.

Another gospel song had the breadth and pitch of an orchestral song:

Tenor Solo: He is King of Kings

Bass: Lord of Lords

All: Jesus Christ the First and Last

No man works like him

Tenor Solo: He built a castle in the air

Bass: No man works like him

The man who “invented” marimba

At Rujeko, every boy strove to get into one of the prestigious activities; either the first team for soccer, the senior choir or the marimba band.

Knowing from a very early age that I was hopeless at soccer, I did try the two options that were left on the table. First up was the choir where I rocked up for practice one afternoon and it did not take long for Mr Chitakatira to ask politely: “Ndiani ari kuita discord?” I did not fight with fate but slithered out with embarrassment.

The marimba group was under the tutelage of Mr Shorishori – a man with a massive head that looked like an inselberg. He knew his marimba and I actually believed he had invented the instrument. We sang to a famous marimba beat:


Mwana wemarimba


Mwana wemarimba

Mr Shorishori would nod to the beat as if acknowledging the praising of a clan name. He was the child and father of marimba. He was a hard taskmaster and the marimba team practiced hard until they were perfect.

My infiltration of the group did not succeed beyond being asked to be the drummer. At first, I was excited until I realised I was supposed to play only one beat – simply tapping the drum as the pupils marched to their classrooms after the morning assembly.

The girls did not look at the drummer. They looked at Luke Mupunga, Paddington Munongwa and Fortune Muparutsa as they hammered those marimba keys with speed and bewitching dexterity.

When history is not recorded

Mufudzi Wakanaka Choir was an unlikely church choir that came into being in the late 1960s in Dangamvura. The Anglican Church at that time worshipped in a simple structure (more just a tin roof supported by wooden poles) in the “garages” area.

It was here that a Mr Kuhudzayi formed the choir and the young women and men of that time joined. My aunt, Jane Tambula, was a member. I remember seeing her proudly wearing long light green dresses that were the women’s uniform. Of course, being her, she had brown platform shoes to go with this attire. The choir would go on to make history in Dangamvura by professionally recording their gospel songs as singles and having these put on the market. The one single had a song called Dzimba Dzenyu Dzekudenga:

Dzimba dzenyu dzekudenga

Dzinopindwa nevanoera

Ngatitevereyi mitemo yenyu gumi

Yamakatipa muchipasi

The song then transitions to mention all ten commandments:



Usave neruchiva…

Usauraye munhu

Kuti mazuva ako awande panyika

Avo Mwari akakupa

Whilst this music was recorded, nothing exists in the records of the existence of this choir. It was why I think a lot about Mr Matara and Mr Chitakatira – of how we are so lousy as a people with the documentation of our personal histories. I think a lot about their creativity and speculate about their motivations, the source of their inspiration and the processes of composing.

I hope to meet their families one day and gather fragments of the stories of these great music conductors into something coherent and befitting of their legacy.


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