The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Where Are the Pied Pipers?

They say good music always comes from the slums or ghettos of any urban setting. Psychologists say that this is due to the hardships experienced in such poor environments that when one takes to singing it is done from the heart and soul. Indeed, we have had several years of good music and good musicians coming from Mbare.

Names associated with Mbare roots such as Johnny Papas, Simangaliso Tutani, Manu Kambani, Isaac Chirwa, Clancy Mbirimi, Chris Chabuka, Elisha Josam, Jonah Marumahoko, Louis Mhlanga, Sebastian Mbata, Susan Chenjerayi, Susan Mapfumo, Thomas Mapfumo, William Kashiri, Friday Mbirimi and William Mhlanga come to mind.

One outstanding music group that came out of Mbare is the Pied Pipers who started their career in Barbara Tredgold Circle and Muchirahondo Crescent, two streets in Mbare.

Initially it was five youths staying in the same neighbourhood in 1969. They used to get together every evening, especially in the winter months to burn old motor car tyres and then sit around the fire in Barbara Tredgold Circle.

At first while warming themselves around the fire, they would spend time cracking jokes and catching up on the latest ghetto gossip until one of them brought his elder brother's box guitar, which later became a part of the gathering as each of them learnt how to play it.

With time, the five -- Fungai Neganje, Chowasi Mdoka, Elisha Hwata, Tendai Masango and Evans Chatew - got more serious and started calling themselves Rhythm and Blues Band.

They then went out to test the musical waters by playing copyright music from the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, Percy Sledge, Credence Clear Water Revival, Elvis Presley, the Beatles and other pop stars of the day.

The Rhythm and Blues Band became so popular that even veteran musicians in the area became interested in becoming part of them. People like William Mhlanga who was running his father's shop, Jabulani Stores in Mbare, later decided to be part of the team and he became their drummer .

The original Pied Pipers consisted of the five members of Rhythm and Blues Band but by 1971 the band was now made up of William Mhlanga on drums, Brian Rusike on keyboards, Chowas Mdoka on bass guitar, Fungai Neganje on lead guitar and his brother Gideon Neganje on vocals.

The Pied Pipers became one of Zimbabwe's 1980s group that changed the shape of Zimbabwean pop music and was the first to break through onto the international markets. The late Jack Sadza assisted the youths with bits and pieces of instruments during the early stages when they would play in halls such as Stodart, Mufakose, Mabvuku, Tafara and during festivals which were mostly held in Gwanzura Stadium.

Later, Sam Dhauya who stayed in the same suburb and is said to be the founder of Dynamos Football Club introduced the youths to one of the Zimbabwe Furniture's directors, Van Rensburg who agreed to buy them a new kit.

They were paid a flat fee every Monday regardless of whether they had played or not.

After a while, the director wanted the band to tour Malawi but the youths refused to go and a makeshift outfit had to be put together, given the name Rhythm and Blues, and was sent to Malawi.

The original Rhythm and Blues was left stranded without instruments since the owner had taken them away.

In 1973, as their fame grew, The Pied Pipers were assisted by Kenneth Chogugudza a.k.a. James Bond a businessman who also lived in Zata Street, in the same neighbourhood as the band. Bond supplied the band with all the necessary musical equipment that they required. The band managed to secure a contract at Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield and another at Hotel Elizabeth in Harare's city centre in the mid-1970s.

They also went into the studio and recorded several singles with Teal Record Company. Gideon Neganje who was busy churning out hits such as "Country Boy", "Fatherland", "Freedom Train", "Reggae Sounds of Africa", "Lightning", "Jimmy Boy" and "You Can't Stop The Revolution" gave the Pied Pipers a new lease of life as the band became more and more popular.

During the early days of independence, the group released "Let"s Rebuild Zimbabwe" and "Reggae Sounds of Africa", singles that had a massive support as well as sales. Reggae Sounds of Africa won a gold disc from South Africa in 1982.

When Brian came, he co-authored the single "African Woman" with Gideon. An album called "People of the World Unite" came soon afterwards.

But just when things were going on well, Gideon, the soul of the group was involved in a near fatal accident in 1981 when the group was on its way to a concert in the Midlands town, Kwekwe where they were billed to play at the Golden Mile Hotel. He was twenty-eight at the time.

Gideon was in the lead car when the accident happened, A fundraising show was held to assist Gideon with his medical treatment, but the money raised was misused by the promoter of the band. Fungayi Neganje, Gideon's brother left the band in protest due to the misuse of this money. He said: "I left after the band members were no longer interested in caring for Gideon. Our contract as a band stated that a member was to be paid even when he is ill. In case of Gideon, he had been injured while on duty and he was supposed to have been paid.

"But this was not done and he lost his Southerton home when he failed to pay the mortgage," said Fungayi who played lead guitar.

When he left, the Gideon Neganje Benefit Shows were held in Sakubva, Mutare and at the old Queens Hotel in Harare. The man at the helm of the shows was Uzziel Mankola."

Gideon later died.

At this stage, the band changed its line-up a great deal. New members came in to join the band. First it was William Mhlanga (Louis Mhlanga's elder brother), who came in with Brian Rusike of the "Ruva Rangu" fame, then Jane Chenjerai (Susan Chenjerayi's daughter). Later Doreen Ncube and Busi Ncube also became members of the band. Brian Rusike soon left to join Talking Drum.

Gideon was indeed a great composer and one endowed with a great voice. His music was appreciated internationally. He is the only Zimbabwean who has songs copied by international artists without him having travelled to Europe.

Boney M, the Germany-based black pop group is understood to have taken "African Woman". Then the two blind South African singers, Steve Kekana and Babys Mlangeni also used Gideon's song, "Reggae Sounds of Africa" and "African Woman" respectively. While playing at Hotel Elizabeth, between 1978 and 1980, new faces crept onto the stage to be part of the mighty Pied Pipers. The late Derek Tizora, Sandra Thompson and Alois Jentala are such examples.. Most of these came in to replace members who had left. The late Jonah Mtuma came in to replace Brian Rusike.

Afterwards, the late Joe Masters came in to assist with finance and management.

The band then assumed the name The Masters Pied Pipers when Masters took over the affairs of the band but their relationship with him was short-lived.

Joe Masters, after a disagreement took the band's equipment claiming that they owed him some money.

The Pied Pipers will forever be remembered for their unique Afro-Reggae sounds of Africa in songs such as "Simukayi", "Makwiro" and "Reggae Sounds of Africa"

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