There is something in Nicholas "Madzibaba" Zakaria's countenance that evokes admiration and sympathy at once. A humble and experienced musician who mostly treads far from controversy and makes good music, the man somehow fails to fully enjoy the fruits of his sweat.
Despite owning two houses in Chitungwiza and Norton, Zakaria's lifestyle does not satisfactorily reflect the gains of his experience and contribution to the local music industry. To a distant observer, it appears Zakaria leads a modest life out of choice, but the musician admits he also wants colourful lifestyle like other music gurus.
He is a reserved character who usually prefers keeping his feelings to himself, but his expressions betray a bitter soul. He relishes the days of success, when the hit "Mabvi Nemagokora" gave Khiama Boys their highest earnings. He also talks happily about the success of his album "Mazano" that saw him being rewarded by Gramma Records.
Sadly, the reward from Gramma Records is the only recognition that Madzibaba had in his career until Star FM decided to give him a "Legend Award" last year. He has no other awards to his name.
Madzibaba believes he deserves to be in a better place. Even his followers wonder why lady fortune has not been generous to him. He has done numerous other projects that display his talent and experience, yet he is sometimes forgotten when names of local music gurus are mentioned.
Considering the experience and many years that he has been creating good music, Madzibaba's name should have been going on the same list with his peers like Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi but he has remained in the bracket of average musicians.
Madzibaba started music in 1975 in Mazowe with a group called Green Mangoes before he moved to the capital where he teamed up with Solo Makore, Shepherd Chinyani, Sam Chikudzura and Wellington Sakala to form Vhuka Boys.
The Khiama Boys project began in 1984 and he is still leader of that group. He now has 26 albums and, over all these decades, he has seen hitmakers coming and going while others amassed great fortunes from music.
Nothing much has changed in his lane. His protégé Alick Macheso has convincingly overtaken him while young guys like Jah Prayzah would grab all the attention if they were to walk down the street with Madzibaba.
Many promoters that organise big shows that feature many musicians do not consider Madzibaba as one of performers. Despite the odds, the old man continues doing music. It is his passion.
The group Khiama Boys was one of the strongest forces behind the growth of sungura. As leader of the group, Madzibaba worked with the likes of Macheso, System Tazvida, Tineyi Chikupo, Amon Mvula, and Cephas Karushanga among others.
Some made it in the industry, while others died at the peak of their careers. They were all talented and Madzibaba is credited for grooming them. He earned himself the nickname "Senior Lecturer" because of the talent he has groomed in the music industry. Just like a teacher who grooms students for lucrative professions, the senior has had to watch his juniors scaling up the music ladder.
"I have accepted that I was meant to groom other musicians. I do not have anything against those from Khiama Boys who made it before me and those that have overtaken me. My dream is to have an academy to groom young musicians. I got land from the council in Chitungwiza and I need help to build an institution that I will call NIZA Academy," said Madzibaba in an interview last week.
The bitterness in his voice was compounded by the sad story about the last festive season that he shared.
"We usually make money during the festive season, but last year was a different case. We came back with nothing after 10 shows in different parts of the country. We went to Mhangura, Chegutu, Wedza, Mberengwa, Shurungwi, Filabusi, Gokwe, Bulawayo and other areas. We suffered losses and we had nothing to bring to our families after the trip."
Events on ground on the day of the interview proved the sad situation. Madzibaba had initially refused to have the interview in our offices because he did not have $1 parking fees for his old vehicle that is screaming for attention. A new arrangement had to be made to make him comfortable.
The musician believes the coming in of Zimdancehall has made his situation worse because he is forced to retreat to remote areas where there are still many sungura followers. But he still has hope that the genre will regain its popularity.
"It happened during the days when rhumba became popular in the country. We faced tough competition and we got our fans back when the genre lost popularity. I know the Zimdancehall era is a phase. Sungura is here to stay."
Indeed Madzibaba has faith that is probably rooted in his religious background. For many years he was a follower of an apostolic sect, which earned him the nickname Madzibaba. He moved to join Prophet Walter Magaya's Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries, probably in search of better fortunes.
"The decision to change a denomination does not change one's faith. It was just a move that I made after liking the way they do things at PHD. The denominations serve the same God, so it was a personal decision based on various considerations," the musician explained.
Like everyone else in the country, Madzibaba is also pinning his hope on the new Government.
"The new dispensation promises to bring us a better year. We all want improvement in life and I know if the economy improves, numbers to our shows will also improve. We have been complaining about piracy for many years and we hope the new Government will deal with that evil decisively. It is not a good situation for a musician to have small numbers at shows and also fail to get music sales. It is hard to survive in such a situation."
Despite all his challenges, the musician continues to work with hope and faith. He is currently in the studio working on a new album that is expected in March. He will continue with his live shows in remote areas.