I went to Back to Jazzics at Chez Zandi next to Alliance Française last Sunday and who did I bump into? It was none other than ex-Frontline Kids member Filbert Marova who rushed to reach his bag in order to give me his latest jazz offering titled Zim Jazz Chapter 1 (Featuring Collaborations).
Later on, after the live gig, on my way home, I stuck the CD into my player and patiently gave it a listen while I was driving.
I had no doubt that this CD was going to be a scorcher. Marova is a great composer as evidenced by songs such as BP Yangu Yakwira sung by Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana during his time with Jazz Invitation. As usual due to his lack of vocal prowess, Marova uses several musician friends to come up with the voices. In this case, Zim Jazz Chapter 1 features on vocals Hope Masike, Raven Duchess, Katomeni-Mbofana, Nyasha Shereni, Nonhlanhla Muhoni and John Pfumojena. They all sing individually and sometimes collectively.
Due to lack of concentration on my part at first, I was just about to dismiss the effort after listening to the first track, Shades of Confusion, but it was the sweet and melodious voice of Katomeni-Mbofana which made me think again. As a formality, I thought it fair to listen to the whole album before passing any judgement.
By the time the first four bars of the opening number on the second track, Vanochemei, had elapsed, I knew I was going to enjoy this.
A bright, perky little tune. It's actually pure Kwela music, but played here with so light a touch that I barely noticed. The voice of Muhoni moved me straight away and I began to do some wiggling in the car almost forgetting that I was driving. As one track succeeded another, I had plenty more chances to appreciate the precision and clarity of Marova's piano/keyboards techniques. I have heard him playing in various bands before, but he's at his best with his own Blaqberry Jazz on this album. Marova is really heartbreakingly brilliant as evidenced by his previous works, which include the seven-track Hard Hat Area, Kariba Bream and Nyanga Trout with some of the tracks featuring Eve Kawadza on vocals.
I once asked Marova why he enjoys writing songs about fish and this is what he had to say: "I have always had a problem with eating fish because of the fish bones, but many fish connoisseurs tell me that it's the bones which give them pleasure in eating fish."
"My favourite are mackerel, tilapia, matemba, Kariba bream and Nyanga trout," he went on to say.
According to him, Nyanga trout is a tasty oily fish which is related to the salmon and he simply loves to eat it. This is what inspired him to write songs about fish.
That conversation reminded me of a recital which we were all forced to learn by our teacher about fish during my schooldays. It went something like this:
"A canny young fisher named Fisher once fished on the edge of a fissure. A fish with a grin pulled the fisherman in. Now we are fishing the fissure for Fisher."
Up to now I have not fully grasped its meaning, but thanks to Marova, who likes to eat fish, for reminding me of this saying.
Marova is a versatile and extremely talented multi-instrumentalist. When he joined the Frontline Kids, he came in as a guitarist. It was only after David Nyadore, who was the keyboards player in the band, had exited the group that I persuaded him to go to the Zimbabwe College of Music to learn how to play keyboards because already there was Emmanuel Thomas, another guitarist in the band. He reluctantly did so. Now we cannot remove him from the keyboards.
Five of these six pieces on Zim Jazz Chapter 1 are Marova's own compositions, including that first tune, Shades of Confusion. The sixth one is a collaboration in words with Katomeni-Mbofana. The album was done by jazz musicians who have a genuine affection for these songs. There are some beauties here, including Backstage Blues, a true evergreen, where Tinashe Sunny Mukarati's saxophone dominates the sweet melodies and becomes over-exuberant at the end. Baisai's tender version sung by Masike together with Muhoni and Pfumojena is one of the best I can remember, complete with the introductory verse. By contrast, the next song, Kudhakwireni (which talks about a drunk husband beating up his wife), takes off like a rocket, and features invigorating drumming by Mutsa Gudhlanga and sweet trumpet riffs from Peter Hunt. The next song Jazzilicious also features Hunt once again on trumpet accompanied by Mathew Ngorima's guitar riffs and wicked drumming from Bright Chisvo. The album is a real delight from start to finish.
The bass player behind all the six tracks is none other than Tafadzwa "Taffibass" Marova. There is musical blood all over this young man's body as he comes straight out of a musical family. His grandfather is one musical icon, James Chimombe. His mother, Tendai Chimombe, is also a musician, and, of course, his father is the iconic keyboardist and great composer, jazz musician, Marova. Not only does Tafadzwa play in his dad's band, he is also the bass player behind most of Winky D's recordings, which include Kasong Kejecha and Mugarden. I have known this young man from birth as he was born during the period I was managing the Frontline Kids. Let me tell you some of his history.
Tafadzwa is a young musician who started doing music at the tender age of three years. His father, Filbert, was determined to make a musician out of his son. He started teaching him to play the guitar at that very tender age. At the age of eight, after he had started going to school, he was already playing bass and had formed a group which appeared on television in a programme called Spotlight: Your Chance To Shine. The group took the number three position out of 25 who had entered the competition. He later went to Prince Edward School, where he was enrolled in the school jazz band. After high school he joined the Umoja programme, which saw him visiting countries like South Africa, Mozambique and Norway as a bass player. He also worked with a lot of musicians in Zimbabwe. He played at the Hifa opening shows in 2012 and 2014.Tafadzwa has toured countries like Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates through music. He is a rising star in his own right and will soon prove it as he is also a great composer.
Despite jazz's aptitude for pushing the envelope and keeping a finger on the popular pulse at the same time, its adherents still sometimes find themselves fending off complaints of smart-ass elitism and/or snobbishness.
I was playing Zim Chapter 1 in my car when suddenly, my 13- year-old niece, who was seated in the back seat, exclaimed: "Uncle, are you a snob?" Wondering why I was being asked this question, I responded with a curious, "What do you mean?" She responded quickly as if expecting the question: "Because people who listen to this kind of music are snobs. People from the ghetto listen to Zimdancehall." But I listen to all kinds of music and you know that," I reacted. "Aaah, but this is too much!" she said. We closed the subject by agreeing to have our own separate views on music.
Marova and his band know how to make a blur of musical scene-changes. They happen dizzyingly fast without losing the sense of a plot as they take us to heaven with juggling bone-shaking jazz hooks and abstract improvisations, which exhibit exuberant and sophisticated classically-influenced syncopation
After listening to Zim Chapter 1 and having enjoyed the enthralling live show at Chez Zandi, I can confidently declare that Filbert is heartbreakingly brilliant.