Resuming his column, in which he regales us with tales of old Dangamvura, Mutare, Chris Kabwato writes here about barely legal bum-jive, and a community’s pride at a local band that ‘stole’ a hit song and made it theirs
Growing up in Dangamvura was a unique experience. It gave us the kind of exposure to music that you couldn’t find elsewhere. I would claim that wouldn’t I? I am sure anyone from my generation could equally claim their own township experiences could trump anything else.
But do hear me out.
The Dangamvura of the 1970s and early 80s was a melting pot of musical tastes. Our eclectic fare ranged from country (Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Don Williams, Kris Kristofferson), rock (Slade, Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Adam and the Ants), disco (The Temptations, T-Connection), soul (Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye), mbaqanga (Mahotella Queens), gospel (Jordan Chataika), reggae (Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff) and local (Zacks Manatsa, Devera Ngwena).
Our ‘focused’ youths formed many music bands – Sound Power, Crazy Reunion, Dr Footswitch, Fogo Fire. And of course, there was the Muparutsa clan with a band with a name that only they could come up with – Real Unique Natural Notion (RUNN Family). These bands tended to own American and British songs as if they had composed them.
At weddings at the Dangamvura Beit Hall, they played our favourites such as Bellamy Brothers’ Let Your Love Flow, Santana’s Well Alright and Dobbie Brothers’ Long Train Runnin’. Add to that the wedding “ma-steps” in which Charles “Chada” Bunjira was the maestro leading from the front – arm raised, then down, platform shoes and tight bell-bottom trousers start to swivel on the floor, stilettoes follow suit, defying gravity. Outside, two oil drums converted to pots are hosting sadza and beef on an open fire.
Music was all around us. We also had our fair share of one-hit wonders. For example, in 1978, a hit song called Jive Maphepha defined our Christmas. There were no lyrics to the song, just the chant “Jive Maphepha!”, and then some fast kwela beat that had us galloping like Mashonaland Turf Club horses. That Christmas, my favourite aunt arrived with balloons flying from the side of my father’s white Cortina GS. But, even more impressive was that she had brought with her the Jive Maphepha single. With our supply of batteries, and a new needle for the stylus, our “briefcase” stereo was ready to bawl until after the New Year when Christmas would be truly over.
A new dance craze had arrived on the scene and it was called “bum jive”. Typically, we had corrupted it to “bhambo jaivhi”. It was a dance in which the posteriors of men and women hit each other, with variations in which hands could also be used. It is a wonder the Smith regime did not sanction the natives for this act that clearly violated the morality of the pseudo-Christian setters.
Even then some of us were beginning to abandon local music as we gravitated to what we called “funk” (Shalamar, Evelyn Champagne King, Melba Moore, Surface, Kashif). The birth of Radio Three in 1981 found us a most ardent and fanatical audience ready to ditch the local fare.
But in 1980 there were some irresistible Zimbabwean songs that had us flocking to the record bars to take a listen. The record bar was the equivalent of the internet café, only that in this case you did not pay to access something we all treasured. So downtown Umtali (Mutare), an enterprising family would set up a little shop along Second Street close to the main bus terminus (PaMudzviti).
The mother of my friend Richard Chaguma had one such record bar. It was a treat to gather a few cents, take a bus ride into “town”, buy chipondamoyo and Fanta and listen to your favourite songs. In that year, Job Mashanda and the Muddy Face gave us Amai Mandigona. With his charisma, a Colgate toothpaste smile and distinctive voice, we loved to watch him on Mvengemvenge. Our black and white TV could not dim his light.
1980 was a year of euphoria for those old enough to understand what was happening in the country. The boys were back in town to paraphrase Elijah Madzikatire. Song, hope and joy filled the air. There was also trepidation in some quarters. Ms Masvikeni, our teacher at Rujeko Primary School, said there were rumours that Robert Mugabe was a communist and what would now happen is that you would have to share your house with a family that did not have anything. If you had two TVs (I did not know many families that had even one), you would have to give up a set to a family that did not have one. This was communism and it was bad, we were told.
But, I digress using 600 words. My tale is about a township band that did something extraordinary in a magical time.
To welcome Samora Machel on his official visit to an independent Zimbabwe in April 1980, the Government and ZANU PF organised that each province was to send choirs and bands to Harare (not limited to one).
In Manicaland, amongst the bands chosen was an amateur band called Chimurenga Superstars, comprising Rex Kabwato, Tsama Jasi, Witness Musa, Wallace Maraire, Gift Mberi and dancers Sharon and Hatsari Jeyacheya and Rhoda Nyakanda.
The band’s instruments were self-made from cooking oil tins, discarded primus stoves, wood, twine, plastic, and copper wire. They used to play under a tree in the T Section of Dangamvura, close to the Nyamanhindi Hotel which we all referred to as KwaBaba aBonny (Bonny being the son of proprietor Mr Nyamanhindi).
They became more popular with the local crowd when they started doing their own rendition of Jairos Jiri Sunrise Kwela Kings’ Take Cover. They had even made wire models of the AK-47 and would simulate war on the bare red earth where they played.
When the Government call came, the ever-enterprising Shakey “Masamoosa” Saunyama made himself manager of the band. They travelled to Harare with their “instruments”; legend has it they played on the runway of the Harare International Airport as Samora and Mugabe watched.
The band was lodged at Monomotapa Hotel and was also asked to play at the University of Zimbabwe.
Later that same year, ZTV’s music show Mvengemvenge came to Mutare Teacher’s College to record various musical acts (choirs, bands and dancing groups). They asked to record Chimurenga Superstars’ version of Take Cover. In the absence of Jairos Jiri’s original on TV, this became the version of Take Cover that would appear regularly on TV for a while.
I do not know how the Jairos Jiri Band took this but for us in Dangamvura this was a moment to savour. Copyright or no copyright.