6 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Down Memory Lane With Jambo

Vereeniging — Zimbabwean music is rich, pregnant with potential hit makers and chart toppers. The country's music scene prides itself on a variety of genres which include mbira, jiti, rhumba, gospel, urban grooves and the ever so popular rhythmic sungura among others.

Sungura is Swahili for "hare" and it was named such because of the high velocity in which the hare can run. It's also popularly known as museve because an arrow travels at a very high speed.

Sungura, the mother of genres, is characterised by lengthy songs with fast tempos and full of high energy enough to keep the most tired of travellers awake for a week-long journey. It is said to be the offspring of kanindo and rhumba.

Jonah Moyo, Ephraim Joe and John Chibadura were some of the pioneers of sungura music whose birth could have been right in the middle of the Rhodesian farms in the colonial era.

"Ndini Uyo", Zimbabwe's longest ever recorded song (25 minutes) proudly belongs in this interesting genre. It was sung by one of the fathers of sungura, seasoned musician and songwriter Mitchell Jambo who sings with his band, Marunga Brothers.

Born in 1960 in Dandazi in Hurungwe, Mitchell did not need to look for inspiration as his father was a solo artiste although he never recorded any songs.

"I started singing around the age of 10. We formed a small band of four in my home area, Karuru. We made guitars or banjos as we called them from cooking oil tins and fishing rod twine," he explained.

"I wrote my first song in 1979," said the sungura musician.

Mitchell moved to the big city, Harare, in 1983. This was the place where everyone who wanted to earn a spot in the entertainment industry went. It didn't take him long to enter the competitive world of music.

He settled in Chitungwiza and before long, he had the rare and exciting opportunity to meet the members of Sungura Boys backstage at a performance at Mushandira Pamwe Hotel in Highfield.

As luck would have it, soon after this meeting, he had an encounter with Bata Sintrawo, one of the members. Thanks to the outgoing personality that he has, he grabbed this chance with both hands and approached Bata for a job with the band. Bata invited Mitchell to come and talk to the other band members.

"I started my music career in 1984 when I joined Sungura Boys which was then led by the late Ephraim Joe. I started off as a doorman and because I was talented I was promoted to a backing vocalist. I worked with this group for a year.

"There were 10 of us in the group with the likes of the iconic Ephraim Joe, who was the band leader, John Chibadura, Bata Sintirawo, Never Moyo, Ronny Gatakata, Moses Marasha, Mike Gunde, Simon and Naison Chimbetu (of the Marxist Brothers fame) and myself," said the humble, friendly sungura guru who has a very colourful sense of humour. There is never a dull moment in this musician's company.

"In 1985, Chibadura went solo to form the Tembo Brothers and I joined him as a backing vocalist. My stay with the Tembo Brothers was short-lived. I felt I wasn't growing career wise so I left the group in the same year and joined the newly formed Shika Shika Brothers.

"The group had three members who had brothers who were with the Sungura Boys. The three were the band leader Kumbukai Sintrawo, Andrew Joe and Edward Moyo. We had a contract at Saratoga Club in the high- density suburb of Highfield in Harare.

"After the contract was terminated in 1986, I packed my bags and joined the Zimbabwe Cha Cha Cha Kings led by the late David Dick Ziome who had just left Vhumba Jazz Band.

"We recorded our first seven-single, 'Kare Kare' which received three gold cups. We also recorded 'Hupenyu Hwangu', 'Nhamo yepaGweru', 'Totosevenza Nesimba' and 'Selina'.

"In 1989, we released our first album, 'Vimbiso'. It has vibey tracks which include 'Mudiwa Lucy', 'South Africa', 'Mari', 'Jimmy Shamwari Yangu' and the title track, 'Vimbiso'.

"I wrote 'Vimbiso' for the woman of my dreams who later became my wife and is until now. Her name is Vimbiso. After the release of 'Vimbiso', I went back home to Hurungwe and there I met Admire Kasenga.

"We formed Marunga Brothers, a name derived from my totem. Other band members are Joseph Soza, Succeed Matara, Christopher Kasiyabvumba, Sifiso Ngwenya and last but not least the late Chemanashe Jim, who passed away last year in Zimbabwe. We miss him dearly," said the clearly upset musician.

Admire left the band in 2007

In the same year of the band's birth, Marunga Brothers released the singles "Peshi" and "Rudo Runokosha".

The same year saw yet another addition to the offspring of the newly formed family, Ruvimbo.

The first born of Mitchell and Vimbiso, whose name is also the title track of Jambo's first album.

After a seven year drought, Jambo released "Simba Nesimba" in 1999, the home of the longest song ever recorded in Zimbabwean history "Ndini Uyo".

"Sungura is not about just singing a two-minute song and that's it. The longer the song the more your expertise and craftiness is displayed," chuckled the sungura expert.

"Zimbabweans are going to remember me as the first man to sing a song for 25 minutes," heartily explained the sociable sungura giant.

"I took my time before releasing this album because you can't rush perfection," he continued.

In 2003, Mitchell released the eight-track album "Ndinotenda". The four-track album "Asi Chii Nhai" was released in 2004.

The album is a tribute to the late sungura comrade Leonard "Musoro Wenyoka" Dembo. Jambo takes us down memory lane as he does a remix of the popular love song "Chitekete", the song that put Dembo on the map in the early 90s.

That was not all. Jambo was on fire as in the following year he released "Chikekedza Chimwe Chisipo", a five-track album with the love song "Rudo Rusina Muganhu", "Sarudzai", "Haashandike Naye" and "Mbandamire".

"I enjoy music and I especially like singing romantic melodies," he said.

Who can blame him; it is after all love that makes the world go round.

In 2006 Mitchell released "Zvine Nguva", an eight-track album with the songs, "Ndangariro", "Ndapera Nguva", "Open Prison" and "Chariga Duri" among others.

In 2006, Marunga Brothers were among the many bands that performed in Bindura at the Mzee Bira in Chipadze Stadium.

They and a few other bands which included Njerama Boys, Khiama Boys and Tongai Moyo and Utakataka Express were chosen for a performance in the place of gold, South Africa, the country he has been living in since later that year after his performance until now.

He lives with his daughter Ruvimbo and runs a successful business.

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