The Herald (Harare)

18 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Know Your Author - Albert Nyathi

Albert Nyathi is a Zimbabwean writer, poet, musician and actor who has made a great impact on the arts sector. Currently, he is the country's representative at the United Nations Creative Artists Advisory Council. Albert was born on November 15, 1962 in rural Gwanda into a family of 23 children.

His father, Simon Nyathi, affectionately known as Sibulawa or Mavhuthela, had two wives.

Albert's mother was the first wife and he was the first born in a family of 10 children.

Mavuthela used to buy goods from villages for resale in Bulawayo and Albert grew up as a herd boy herding his father's cattle. He would often look after the goats that his father would have bought for resale.

"There were times when I would sleep in the pen with the goats mainly because the goat's droppings would be warm. At times it would be because the goats would have strayed and got lost, the result of which would be a hiding. No one in my village ever thought that I would grow up to be a sensible man that I think I am now. I never liked school then and most of the time I would get beaten for not attending school," he said.

Albert, who attended Chobeni Primary School in Kezi District, said at that stage he had never seen someone succeed because of education as most of the people around him had only gone up to Standard 5. This had a major bearing in his early years of education.

"The only successful people from my village were those who had gone to Egoli in South Africa and those included my brothers, cousins and neighbours. I and most of the children in the area were not that informed and I never knew that there was a people called Shona until 1975," says Albert.

After Independence, Albert went back to school and this time he remained focused and getting good results at school. At 19 years Albert completed Grade Seven at Mpumelelo Primary School and later proceeded to Msiteli Secondary school for his secondary education.

After passing his Ordinary Level exams, he went for Advanced Level education at Matopo High School.

Upon Completion of his Advanced level, Albert enrolled with the University of Zimbabwe where he studied for a Bachelor of Arts general completing the degree in 1990. His growing wish to be educated and succeed saw him enrolling for BA Honours degree.

Among his contemporaries at the University were the likes of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, Finance Minister Tendai Biti, businessman Tawanda Nyambirai, Minister of Economic Planning Tapuwa Mashakada, business mogul Elijah Chanakira, law lecturer and former member of parliament for Highfield Munyaradzi Gwisai and Medical doctor Dr Tapiwa Magure of National Aids Council.

While at the UZ, Albert featured in a musical play entitled "Mandela the Spirit of No Surrender" as part of the group Zambuko/Izibuko. In the play, Albert was the main character acting as Nelson Mandela, while celebrated Kenyan author Professor Micere Mugo played Mandela's wife Winnie Mandela.

At that time, he was with his friends poet Titus Moetsabi and author Cynthia Mungofa. Albert performed with the group Vadzimba at the University. While studying for an Honours Degree, he worked part time for the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, an organisation he later joined as full time in 1992.

It is during his tenure at NACZ that he recorded the hit song Senzenina, which featured other musicians Mateo, Jays Marabini and Muzi Mangena of the Kelvin and Muzi fame.

Although Prudence Katomeni Mbofana helped with the vocals, she did not appear on the video where she was replaced by Naomi Makwenda.

The song Senzenina was a dedication to celebrated South African icon Chris Hani who spent most of his life in jail only to be shot dead soon after release from prison while taking a jog. After the release of Senzenina, Albert was invited to Denmark by a Humanitarian organisation called MS where he was attached to Odense Theatre in the town of Odense for six months.

On his return from his stint in Denmark, Albert was appointed acting director of National Arts Council, a position he held between 1995 and 1996. At the time the late Professor Solomon Mutsvairo was the NACZ board chairman.

In 1996 he formed the band Imbongi before leaving NACZ to pursue a full time a career in arts. That same year he was privileged to perform for the then South African President Nelson Mandela at the official opening Nelson Mandela Avenue.

As a way of giving back to the community, Albert Nyathi formed Imbongi Cultural Arts in 1997, an institution that trained the likes of Sandra Ndebele, Charles Chipanga and Mpopoma High School drama club now called Iyasa, among others arts personality.

"Even though I have sort of thrown my degree out of the window, I believe the education helped shape me in a great way. I will never advise anyone not to take up school seriously because although one may have talent they need education to sharpen it," Albert said.

Albert paid tribute to his mentor Dr Robert Mclaren, saying his wise counsel had a good influence in his career.

In 1999 he brought the tears to the entire nation when he led the funeral procession at the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo's funeral.

From 2000 with the group Imbongi, Albert toured the world thus taking Zimbabwean arts to international platforms.

His most memorable event in his life was when he was invited by Chelsea Football Club in collaboration with Kick Out Magazine, Westminister Library and Archives and the English Football Association (FA) to conduct workshops in London on poetry against racism in football.

Albert also worked with children from varying ethnic backgrounds.

While working with Chelsea, he wrote a poem called Fans and Fools.

In the poem Nyathi talks of the difference between fans who cheer at the team and its jersey and fools who jeer at skin colour.

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