16 February 2013

Zambia: The Other Side of Shakarongo

WHEN curtains closed on Zambia's once glamour band, the Mosi Oa Tunya, it was not all lost for founder members such as Brian Chengala.

Of course, it could not have been easy to settle down back home after a long stint in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where the five man piece etched its name, becoming a force to reckon with among that country's local outfits.

Chengala, fondly referred to as Shakarongo (his real name) in social, music and cultural circles, immediately got started as he did not want to lose track of the path he and other bandsmen treaded on back in East Africa.

Shakarongo found himself in the middle of great musicians whom he rounded up to form a three-man WE Band in 1978 specialising in Rock and Blues.

"I formed the band WE around 1977-78, shortly after we came back from Kenya. It was a three man piece playing Blues and Rock," Shakarongo recalls.

The band comprised a Madagascari, Jimmy Mawi on lead guitar, and Newet Chulu on bass. Another bass player Nasser Hassan, who previously played for a band called Red Rock, was also part of the band while Shakarongo took charge of the skins.

"I met Jimmy in Nairobi, he was one of the finest guitarists I ever came across; he was a replica of Jimmy Hendrix who was the world's greatest blues and rock guitarist. I invited Jimmy to come to Zambia so we could play together and we played for one year before he went back to Madagascar," Shakarongo explained.

Chulu later left to play for the now defunct Broadway Quintet which moved camp to Botswana just at the close of the 1970s.

At this time, around 1979, Agudu Chimenya formerly of the Syles and the Afro Mods (renowned for songs like Manyama Ya Mpelembe, Mwana WA Malume and Tabalesamba) and former Rave Five member, Dr Footswitch, formed Zambia Association of Musicians (ZAM) and Shakarongo became its first General Secretary up to 1984.

Although on the other hand it looked like the end of the WE band, it was not so, as it regrouped in 1982 this time, roping in a Norwegian, Knut Skodvin on bass and accordion, Frenchman Eric Founier (Saxophone), Rico Valez from the Philipines on guitar and bass, Belgium born Kyiraya Baldwin on Piano and Saxophone, and Zambians Happy Bwalya on Singubu and Saxophone and the late Shadreck Mutemwa playing percussion and bass guitar.

It was not long when most of the band members left for their respective countries and around 1985, the WE Band merged with an upcoming reggae outfit, Maoma, to make WE-Maoma, enforcing it with Shakarongo on drums, Zeko Simwinji (guitar), Spuki Mulemwa (second guitar), Sikota Toza taking charge of bass, flute and percussion while Mutemwa was on bass and percussion.

The band in August 1986 went on a three-month tour of Germany this time, specialising in reggae and a fusion of African rhythms (also called shakarongo music).

With Shakarongo doubling on drums and xylophone, the band held about 27 shows, including two festivals in Cologne and Munster where the band's impact was clearly felt.

At the end of 1986, Shakarongo left to go to Norway on a tour and linked up with his former bandsman in WE band, Skodvin and formed the Brian Chengala Band to continue rocking that part of Europe with Shakarongo vibes.

The band had in its domain the likes of Harald Dahlstrom on keyboard and synthesizer, Atle Jahannesen (lead guitar), Arne Moe Vindedal on percussion, Skodvin (bass) with Shakarongo settling on Xylophone.

It was in Norway that Shakarongo embarked on music workshops in schools, doing a number of live concerts and upon coming back at the end of 1986, he continued with the same project, jamming with some of the local bands such as B-Sharp for example, concert promotions and artiste management.

This culminated into Shakarongo's recommendation to the Music Cross Roads -Southern Africa programme by the Zambian Embassy in Sweden which saw him meet the General Secretary of the Jeunesses Musicales International (JMI), the owners of the programme.

JMI is the world's largest youth and music organisation established in 1986 with its head office in Brussels, Belgium, while Music Cross roads is a music youth empowerment programme involving skills development workshops, festivals and competitions.

Shakarongo attended and observed a Cross Roads music festival in Dar es salaam, Tanzania, with a view to setting up a similar chapter in Zambia to which he was initiated as Music Cross Roads-Zambia first chairperson, project coordinator and later director from 2003 to 2008.

In addition, Shakarongo has toured Scotland, Norway, Germany, England, France as well as, Eastern and Southern Africa and performed alongside international stars like Tshala Muana, Brenda Fassie, Oliver Mtukuzi and Manu Dibango among them.

He also set up the first ever youth music entertainment educational project(Africa Alive) under the Jones Hopkins University, Baltimore University USA and the Zambia Integrated Health Project(ZIHP) and used music to sensitise the youth on HIV/Aids and other health related diseases.

Shakarongo has to his credit, the Ngoma Award for the best instrumental recording(1999) and a Diploma in honour of an outstanding contribution in the field of Music and Musician promotion and in 2001, he was included in the Who is Who in the 21st Century, by the International Biological Centre in Cambridge, UK.

In 2004, he was sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council in collaboration with Trade Africa 2000, to hold a series of performances, music workshops, interactive education shows in schools and colleges in Scotland including that country's biggest Music and Art institution, Stevenson College.

He also performed on Zambia's 40th independence anniversary at Edinburgh University in a band that included Jones Kabanga of B-Sharp, and a host of other musicians From Scotland, Canada and Italy which was a great success.

The success of the first show attracted the attention of the Scottish Border Council, Scotland Unlimited and Heart of Harwick who invited Shakarongo back to Scotland in 2005 for a similar programme.

He also went back in 2010; this time invited by an organisation called Dying Arts and was sponsored by a Zambian organisation, My Home Town, which saw him conduct high profile demonstrations to high school students.

He encouraged the use of African instruments which are being ignored by young African musicians in preference to western instruments.

On the current scenario on the local scene, Shakarongo said, the veterans have been sidelined by the National Arts Council (NAC) and ZUM don't seem to understand the role of a veteran musician.

"We are talking about playing real music by helping young ones in workshops but it seems NAC does not support such things. There is need to be proactive if the local music industry is to develop," Shakarongo said.

Despite all this, Shakarongo is undaunted and according to him, he will continue to be a rocker till the end.

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