The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Victor Kunonga Redefines Jazz

Photo: Victor Kunonga
Victor Kunonga's Album Cover Handinete

UNTIL last week, for this writer, mention of the name Victor Kunonga conjured up images of South African jazz maestros Hugh Masekela and Dollar Brand. So not being exactly a jazz fan, I was pleasantly surprised when I watched him perform at the Book Café on Friday night.

There was no sign of the saxophone (which has for long been a symbol of jazz music) when Kunonga and his band Peace took to the stage around 11.00pm. In place of the saxophone was the mbira.

Then was an air of anticipation as Kunonga did his sound check, first with the guitar followed by the mbira -- not just one but two of them -- which he used interchangeably throughout the show.

Satisfied that everything was up to scratch, Kunonga announced: "Welcome to the show which is going to be pregnant with African rhythms". There was no mention of the word jazz, which he is famous for.

The stage was set for an entertaining evening as Kunonga treated revellers, among them mbira musicians Chiwoniso Maraire and Hope Masike, to afro-jazz music from his three albums "Such is Life: Ndanyengetedzwai" (2004), "Uyo" (2006) and "Handinete" (2011).

Songs such as "Umazenza" which warns a deviant child, "Maidarirei" which deplores child abuse, and "Peace" which advocates just that in the world, "Nzara", a touching song where Kunonga reaches out to all the millions who are starving, really wowed fans.

Then there was "Maramba Kukura", a song which tells the story of elderly men (the so-called sugar daddies) who date very young girls and others like "Marunjeya", "Kusadzidza", "Hurombo", "Kure", "Rudo", "Toita Sei", "Kuenda Mbire", "Kufa Kwemurume (Kubuda Hura)", and "Uyo", on which Chiwoniso added her vocal support.

Through his lyrics, Kunonga strives to be a social commentator and this has been acknowledged by his appointment by the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations as one of its ambassadors against poverty in Southern Africa.

Verdict: A five-star performance from a singer/songwriter who takes diverse themes such as poverty, unemployment, hunger, injustice and turns them into melodic and easily danceable jazz gems, amplified by his extraordinary guitar and mbira-playing skills.

Pity his talents have up to now been confined to jazz festivals, jazz joints and private functions. His music certainly deserves a wider audience.

Earlier in the evening, Lwazi Tshabangu gave a commendable performance as the supporting act.

The talented singer whose music fuses different genres like mbaqanga, maskanda and jazz, had the audience literally eating out of his hands with his "Love Story" -- a mixed bag of some of Zimbabwe's finest love ballads.

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InFocus

Zimbabwean Star Redefines Jazz

Afro-jazz maestro Victor Kunonga gave a five-star performance with his extraordinary guitar and mbira-playing skills when his band performed at the Book Café in Harare. Read more »