Zimbabwe: Remembering Jazz-Guitarist Moses Kabubi

13 November 2019

Moses Bhekilanga Kabubi, who died on November 2, 2019 in Harare and was buried on Monday, November 4 at Granville Cemetery, dominated a great deal of my jazz listening and love for this genre.

According to a Jabavu Drive band member and legendary saxophonist Philip Svosve, he suffered liver complications.

He was 72.

To me he has been there like an Everest. I remember he once challenged me to engage with his music and write a book on him and some of the members of Summer Breeze, a jazz group that he played with for many years.

Often, I tried and could only reach the foothills as I struggled to get through the tangled thickets of the lower slopes.

A guitarist, keyboardist, composer and music educator, Kabubi was sought after by top musicians to record and play with them live whenever there was a show because of his keyboard playing feel for the blues, rhumba and jazz music.

I first heard of Kabubi's passing on from jazz crooner and veteran broadcaster Andrew Kiposa when he paid me a visit. I had watched Mukoma Mosie, as we affectionately call him at Jazz 105, Mannenburg, Book Cafe and other jazz joints as well as at local jazz festivals playing for Summer Breeze. I later learnt that he was also credited for teaching the late Oliver Mtukudzi how to play the guitar. He was an excellent guitarist too.

Kabubi was remarkable. There was no one like him, no one played the keyboard like him: he was forceful, uncompromising and did not deviate in any way.

Kabubi, who grew up in Highfield with the likes of Tanga Wekwa Sando, played with the likes of the late jazz drummer Jethro Shasha, groups such as Two Plus Two, Kookie Tuitani, saxophonist Simamngaliso Tutani, among others.

And to quote veteran blues artiste Gift Musarurwa, who is now based on Nunberg, German, Kabubi was an excellent player.

"Just as we did at the Galaxy Musical Club, Social Centre, Cyril Jennings Hall, Stodart Hall, The Rising Sun Club, Rolland's Sound Land and Bretts Skyline, you will play that keyboard again for Auntie Dotty -- Dorothy Masuku wherever you are."

Kabubi once told me after a gig with Summer Breeze at Jazz 105 that what he was trying to do was to harness the energies of Zimbabwean composers, their technique, and consciously blend this with traditional music of the Afro jazz to create a new energy.

Tanga WeKwa Sando: "I have known Moses from Highfield over the years, from when I was young, when he played guitar and keyboards with various groups; playing diverse popular genres, including, but not limited to rock with Manu Kambani and Jethro Shasha), rhumba with Real Sounds and Lubumbashi Stars and jazz with Summer Breeze. Besides being a witty improviser on the keyboards, he was a comedian par excellence."

Kabubi met up with alto saxophone player Philip Svosve in 1968 when they both played for The All Saints. Part of the line-up was made up of Shasha and Kambani. They later moved to The Great Sounds, an association that would last many more years.

With Summer Breeze, he jammed live in a number of clubs in and around Harare with Vincent Kapepa, Fari Sumaili, Isa Chida and Pamela Zulu, known to many as Gonyeti.

According to jazz vocalist Rute Mbangwa, Kabubi supported women in jazz a lot.

"I still remember him giving me a platform every time I would go to watch Summer Breeze play, and I learnt my few jazz standards from him. He was also instrumental in nurturing Pamela Zulu."

"The collaborations with Great Sounds, Cde Chinx's band, Sounds Effect, Summer Breeze and Lubumbashi Stars made him one of the most sought- after artistes," said music producer Clancy Mbirimi

"Kabubi played keyboards for the Pied Pipers when they recorded "Country Boy" and "Reggae Sounds of Africa". He later played for Lubumbashi Stars, though it was more for survival than his taste for music," says veteran journalist Funny Mushava.

In the late 1990s, his jazz-inflected style made him a sought-after bandmate for some of jazz's premier venues.

"He was such a complete musician. Kabubi worked with Lovemore Majaivana and Fanyana Dube when they were the Jobs Combination and he played the keyboards on my song 'Senzeni Na'", said Albert Nyathi.

For Kabubi, music was a way of life.

"Moses Bhekilanga Kabubi, was humble, an unassuming human being, full of humility with a permanent smile and was ready to crack your ribs with laughter," said Musarurwa.

At the time of his death, he had finished working on two tracks, "Tsindi" and "Kindly Treat Me". On the tracks, Kabubi played piano and organ, while Mono Mukundu was on the guitar. The album is expected to be launched this month in Nurnberg, Germany.

Born and raised in Old Highfield he attended Chipembere School, a stone's throw away from his home before attending Highfield Secondary School. He was nicknamed "Rib-cracker" because of his never-ending wit and jokes.

He first learnt to play the guitar which was brought to him by the Red Cross and his first songs were "Kudhala Ngibochiwe", and "Sikumbule Abazali".

Kabubi participated in muting the idea of Society for the Destitute and Aged (SODA) and Galaxy Musical Club at the Highfield Youth Centre (formerly Chengu Primary School).

Along with Peter Jack Sango, Charles Mutembo, Davis Kanyama, Kabubi and Elia Banda, known for composing "Anopenga Anewaya" were at Cyril Jennings Hall to solicit help from businessmen to help the aged at Kumachembere in Old Highfield.

According to Musarurwa, the first "Pop Festival was then held at Gwanzura Stadium to raise the funds.

Days to follow, the festival then saw Kabubi, Gift Musarurwa and Jethro Shasha playing live at the Rising Sun, which became a regular spot to jam "until the ladies had a crush on the Boys from the Ghetto."

The birth of Sound Effects, a formidable band that rocked all the townships, followed.

It comprised Moses on guitar and keyboards, Manu Kambani on guitar, Jethro Shasha on drums and Elias on bass.

Kabubi helped formulate so many bands and played with all of them.

When Dorothy Masuku relocated to South Africa, she would summon Kabubi if she was playing any serious concert.

Clive Mono Mukundu described Moses' passing on as the fall of "a whole library"

"Kabubi was a keyboard player whose outstanding qualities were fully appreciated by many who saw him performing live. A superb ensemble player and inspiring accompanist, as he played with many of the country's finest musicians and singers," said Filbert Marova of Jazz Invitation.

Dub poet Albert Nyathi said on Kabubi's passing on: "Moses Bhekizulu Kabubi played keyboards during the recording of the song "Senzeni Na" and the entire album titled "For How Long/Kuze Kube Nini?" This was in 1993 at Shed Studios. He was such a humble man and yet so talented."

"You have always been a wonderful person to work with," he said.

Terrence Mapurisana is the Deputy News Editor for ZBC News and Current Affairs, and a producer/presenter on ZBC Classic263. He can be reached on [email protected]

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