12 September 2007

Southern Africa: Nkhata's Contribution to Zimbabwean Music Significant

Harare — The  10-year-old federation of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) made it possible for the peoples of the three countries to work and travel freely.

It also made it possible for the different cultures to blend through music and various other activities. It was not therefore uncommon to come across a group comprising of Zambians, Malawians and Zimbabweans especially when the three colonies had one radio station - the Central African Broadcasting Service - based in Lusaka. The late Alick Nkhata - teacher, solo guitarist, Second World War soldier and farmer - was an announcer with the CABS before and after it relocated from Lusaka to the then Salisbury (Harare) where he met and teamed up with Sam Matambo and Elias Banda.

He also worked with Jonah Marumahoko, Simangaliso Tutani and Mathew Chinhoyi.

Banda went on to form the Springfields after the group Nkhata led, All Stars Group, had disbanded.

Although Nkhata did not stay long in Zimbabwe, his contribution to the country's musical growth could not be belittled considering that he was part of the fad epitomised by the De Black Evening Follies among many other groups.

Born to a Tonga father and Bemba mother in Kasama District in 1922 in Zambia, Nkhata trained as a schoolteacher before he left to join the Second World War where he served in the East African Division that was based in Burma. When the war ended, Nkhata studied musicology and then toured the Southern African region recording other musicians before joining the Central African Broadcasting Service as an announcer and translator.

In between his work, Nkhata recorded some of his earliest songs and later rope one of his assistants Dick Sapseid as a pianist in the group called the Lusaka Radio Band that later became the Big Gold Six Band when it took over advertising for Players Number 6 cigarettes. The group that released several songs among them Taxi Driver, Chisoni, Maliya or Abalumendo Bamo toured extensively and even played at the Expo 70 in Japan.

Most of these songs were translated from original rural folklore, fables and morality tales about "town and country, past and present, and of tribal and detribalised society". But his career waned when he was elevated to be the Director of Broadcasting and Cultural Services before he retired into farming in 1974.

Sadly, the Rhodesian soldiers killed Nkhata during a crossborder raid in Zambia in 1978.

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