The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: The Closest Dendera 'Syllabus' Ever

Suluman Chimbetu's latest album, Syllabus, is about determination to succeed at all cost; about taking risks; about forging ahead in the face of adversity; and about getting there.

This is the composite theme told in the seven songs that sound like a journey through time. And with this album, those who know dendera music as it should will, at least say, Suluman's journey is closer to home.

And for Suluman home in the music industry is not a comfortable place where he can afford to lie on his back and smile waiting for fate to deliver results. Instead, it's a world of shrewdness, foresightedness and agility.

When Suluman Chimbetu gave me his CD, "NonStop" in 2010, it did not take me long to feel the lyrical emptiness and the bubblegum nature of the whole album.

Maybe, to fully appreciate the Dendera beat, one has to listen to the lyrics which set Simon and his brother Naison apart from other sungura musicians.

Needless to say, their music imitates the beautiful courting sounds of the matendera birds early in the morning when the male woos the female for lovemaking.

This explains why as Marxist Brothers, Simon and Naison maintained a two vocal line repertoire as seen in songs such as "Denda", "Dr Nero" and "Mwana Wedangwe".

Indeed, their earliest lyrics were simple and easy to interpret but after the split and a few years before Simon's imprisonment and his release, he had taken the music a bit higher lyrically. This was when he released "Utete Ura Wangu" and the misunderstood "Hoko" album.

It is in this context Dendera music should be understood and it is also in this context that Suluman's latest album, Syllabus should be seen.

It should further be appreciated that Suluman's task is not an easy one because he has to bridge two generations - to keep his father's fans and appeal to the new generation.

We must also not forget that Suluman and all those who are performing the Dendera beat, none of them will be Simon or Naison. The best Simon and Naison's fans should do is to understand and appreciate the fact that in and with this album; Suluman has edged so much close to his father's standard.

But with Simon's prowess as a great guitarist, a shrewd arranger and talented composer, Suluman's Syllabus is the closest thing to happen since his father's death.

It is within this context that when I got the album and chose at random track seven "Nesu" - I immediately felt the music run in my veins for good music does not speak but is felt.

It's, therefore, imperative that when one listens to Dendera music, to quote Leonard Zhakata, "they should listen carefully to the message".

"Nesu" is like a silent prayer most people do when embarking on a journey. It's a plea to God and the ancestors.

Here the instruments are tamed - beautifully suppressed and the vocals lowered as if in respect of the dead or the gods.

My second random spin was track four - "Young Man". In here once again the lyrics are sparse but deep yet they advise those among us who think they know to calm down and calculate every move.

The third random search led me to track five, "Ndega". "Nguva yakwana iyi ndoenda ndoga/ nyangwe murudo ndoenda ndoga/ or kuhondo ndoenda ndoga/ ini ndoenda ndoga/ ndiMwari anenge atonga . . ."

This song aptly fits into the famous saying that the only regrets we will ever have is not taking risks. This is some kind of signing off, determination that whether you want to come with me or not, I will go it alone.

Outstanding on this song is the twirling lead guitar and the laidback bass line.

Then I picked on track six "Kateteriyeni" - which brings in the ongoing competition among all the sungura artistes especially those claiming to be Dendera beat heirs. Dendera music is like honey and for one to get it, they have to brave the stings hence he sings Dendera haritye nyuchi.

And goes on to dare his band members to come and raid the bees.

"Shack huya timore huchi zvimwe haudi karikibiti kaye kakandirume/ Nhodza huya timore huchi zvimwe haudi karikibiti kaye kakandirume/ Mhofu mhofela huya timore huchi zvimwe haudi karikibiti kaye kakandirume/ Franco huya timore huchi zvimwe haudi karikibiti kaye kakandirume/ Josh Hozheri huya timore huchi zvimwe haudi karikibiti kaye kakandirume/ Handitye nyuchi ini Sulu karikibiti kaye kakandirume/ Dendera haritye nyuchi Sulu karikidiki kaya kakandirume. Sindiwopa nchichi ine a Sulu. . ."

Taken on a broader sense, this song is about success that comes at a cost.

There is so much injustice going on in the world today. The innocent suffer most. The question is: What powers did God give to those who terrorise others? Or they take it upon themselves to illtreat others. This is the message in "Njiva" track one.

"Vanditorera nyana rangu vanditorera/ vanditorera nyana rangu vanditorera"

This song has a haunting edge to it when the lone dove coos. Children sing about "Sean Timba" - track three was the last song I scrambled. Those who criticise Suluman say he is instigating violence in this song. The world, not only in the music sector, but in every sphere is cutthroat. If you do not stand your ground in the fight for self advancement, you will be the first to fall.

In this song, Suluman outlines the struggles he goes through every day in eking out a living.

This is a mature, brave and the now dendera beat that embraces the old as expounded by Simon and Naison as well as the new.

Wonder Guchu is former arts and entertainment editor as well as deputy news editor of The Herald. He is currently based in Namibia where he is founder and deputy editor of a Windhoek business weekly, The Villager newspaper. He is a music blogger, award winning author and playwright and columnist for Southern Times

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