Zimbabwe: Friday Mbirimi, the Mbare Township Jazz Musician - Salute!

12 April 2021

He was a legend who took township jazz to another level. He named his group Mbare Trio after Mbare township, which nurtured his talent -- music, dance and comedy.

Combining the two -- Mbare and jazz music brought an amazing energy into his repertoire -- township jazz.

"Just the name Mbare, it is synonymous to township jazz and having that name for a group like what Friday Mbirimi did, just lightened up the stage whenever they had shows, before they even started performing. I wonder if jazz festivals will be the same without Friday Mbirimi and the Mbare Trio," said Sam Mataure who has been at the helm of jazz festivals in different capacities until he became the chairperson/director of a number of jazz festivals.

Penny Yon, who was the secretary of the Zimbabwe National Jazz Festival, after Simangaliso Tutani passed away in 1995, had this to say about the Jazz Festival and Friday: "First met Friday Mbirimi back in the 1990s at the jazz festivals we would stage, and where he would always be featured, keeping township jazz on the big stage.

"I saw him then as a jovial old soul with a keen sense of jazz and a sharp sense of humour, but over the years, learned how he also played a role as teacher, adviser and encourager to many. On the face of it, he was this jovial old soul and behind the joking was a very caring, respectful and highly respected gentleman of jazz. What a loss. Gone, but he will never be forgotten."

How can we forget? When Friday got onto the stage, your eyes would be glued on the performance. He would include comedy and dance and whatever he was singing about would become real and one would travel into space with him.

Some of his songs that people will remember which are also on the Mbare Trios' first and only album titled Uru rufaro are:

1. We will make you fishers of men

2. Anodyiwa haataure manyepo

3. Sekuru ndipeyiwo zano rekuhwina Chipo

4. Chigaba chine manyuchi

5. Hamusati mazviona zvinoitwa kwaMutare (Composed by Sonny Sondo who was with the De Black Evening Follies -1950's; Mbare Trio rearranged the song --wow!)

6. Uru rufaro rwandakakuchengetera . . . tambira chisikana, tambira chikomana

7. Ngatipemberei awuya kumusha (Faith Dauti -- 1950'S)

8. Hona chisikana

9. Tisu vafana ndisu

10. Kughetto tinobva Mbare kughetto (Rock music -- which was influenced by the 60's, 70's rock music).

All the songs on the album are just pure magic, and I will discuss some of them.

When Anodyiwa haataure manyepo was performed by Friday and the Mbare Trio, one would see a person "achinyatsodyiwa" -- being a "blesser". Combined with the dance and comedy -- it was pure magic!

Chigaba chemanyuchi chinotapira sehuchi (honey jar, sweet as honey), a typical rabi (ravi) township jazz music, is one classic Friday and the Mbare Trio would make you see chigaba chemanyuchi. You would see patrons, some scratching their heads, and others dancing, this confirming the chigaba chemanyuchi (jar of honey). The energy would just feed into Friday's repertoire as he would really dance! Oh what a performance!

We will not be seeing the live performances again as Friday is only with us in spirit now. While writing, I consoled myself by listening to the first and only CD which was released by Mbare Trio, and I could see those performances in my head.

I will never see the real shows again. Friday is gone! When people from various sectors of life received the news of Friday Mbirimi's passing on, there was disbelief and sadness.

Some of the first people to break the news to me were Louis Mhlanga and Sam Mataure. We were all in pain and very saddened.

However, Friday's spirit would not have that. The real Friday quickly came into our midst, the Friday who walked into a room and lightened it up!

His humorous side is something that people will carry in their hearts for a long time. This is confirmed by how people started to remember him for what he was.

I called Louis and said I was writing an obituary on Friday Mbirimi, and asked him to tell me more about Friday as he grew up with Bright and Clancy the younger brothers to Friday and saw Friday as his big brother.

Louis started laughing and went back in time.

"I know Friday as a very learned person but would never show it. Very simple person and full of jokes. We gonna miss the jokes, the laughter and his love for people. He was a great musician and poet."

Louis' parents' shop Jabulani was near Friday's parents' house and Louis remembers how he ended up joking with Friday about his name.

"Each time he came to the shop; he would make jokes about me. It's so happened that one day on a Friday, he showed up. And I asked him if he knew what day it was. He laughed and said yeah! Wandipedza. And you know, it's never over with him. Jokes keep coming naturally."

Humour and Friday were hand and glove. He had a thing with days. Here is what Comfort Mbofana posted on his Facebook page: "I would sometimes drive Friday Mbirimi home from jazz clubs or festivals. As he jumped out on arrival at his Prospect home, I would shout "see you later, Sunday!'. He would perfunctorily laugh at this not-so-ingenious joke.

"He once came early one (Sunday) morning, to collect some of my late dad's old vinyl albums. He refused the breakfast I made saying he hadn't come to be poisoned. As he left, he turned to me and said, "Sunday will see you later."

"He was great friends with Oliver Mtukudzi and one night at Jazz 105 (he had just gotten off the stage with his band Mbare Trio), I heard them joking with one another behind me about what day of the week it was. It was a Sunday. We have lost another one. RIP."

Sam Mataure added on the humorous side of Friday.

"I used to call him Notorious BIG. You know, Friday was full of jokes nekungotsvinyira kwaaita vanhu. He made people laugh."

I interviewed Friday Mbirimi sometime in 2002/2003 for the Zimbabwe Township Music Book. He was still with the University of Zimbabwe as Senior Registrar and he chronicled his musical journey.

I would talk to Friday whenever we met about music and more. I also worked with him at the Zimbabwe College of Music where he worked briefly as Registrar. Let me share with you his musical journey.

Friday Mbirimi started his musical career at an early age. In the early days, he nearly abandoned school to pursue a musical career. He quickly learnt how to pursue both, music and school in a complementary manner. "If I can remember anything, I remember being a musician, and I think I am just naturally a musician," said Friday.

Growing up in Mbare exposed Friday to a hectic musical environment. This was confirmed by Gibson Mandishona who grew up in Mbare with Friday.

"I grew up with Friday in the old Mbare township, where we were subjected to the same influences -- jazz music being one of them. It was then that I learnt to play guitar and piano. In the mid-nineties I was chairman of the Zimbabwe Jazz Festival and Friday was my right hand man. The Mbare Trio sang at my 70th birthday at which I also featured. Friday was a serious and disciplined jazzman."

Mbirimi was educated in Harare, Goromonzi High School and at the University of Zimbabwe, where he read for an honours degree in English.

Born in 1943 on a Friday, he got his befitting name from a social welfare officer of Mbare, Edith Opperman. It is fitting that he named his vocal group Mbare Trio, to honour the township which groomed and nurtured his musical artistry. The Trio consisted of William Kashiri, Friday and Lovejoy Mbirimi (who predeceased him).

Friday remembered friends at Mai Musodzi Boys' Club, who influenced his musical appreciation: Danny Bakasa, William Chigoma, Chris Chabuka and Simangaliso Tutani.

He treated the latter as big brother who taught him a variety of genres in the musical field. Some members of the De Black Evening Follies worked with his father, who was also a singer. An uncle, Jonah Mbirimi, played saxophone for the police band and often backed the Follies group.

Friday's first group was Shelton Brothers, which imitated black American musicians -- Joelson Brothers, Louis Armstrong; South African groups, including some Zimbabwean popular artistes at the time.

Mbirimi was good at imitating, as he could sing in different roles. He later joined Capital City Dixies, then led by a white man, Eric Williamson. They were fifteen in number, and often sang and danced to large audiences.

The Dixies included Chris Chabuka, William Kashiri and Sam Shonhiwa. Friday later featured with the Presley Kids, which was made up of Misheck (Doctor), Clement Gatsi and Mabel Pindurayi.

He remembered Mabel well -- a serious musician who tragically died in a car accident. He later performed with the Crazy Kids, which was a junior counterpart of The City Quads.

They sang at the inauguration of the Stodart Hall, including fundraising for the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU). Friday featured with almost all local eminent artists, including Dorothy Masuka, at the Rainbow Theatre.

When Louis Armstrong visited Zimbabwe in 1961, Mbirimi was in the welcoming party with the Capital City Dixies. It was a momentous event for Friday, as he recalled shaking hands with the great trumpeter.

Later, they attended Louis' show at the Glammis Stadium, where Friday was part of the exclusive audience. He remembered too the Cliff Richard/Shadows concert at Stodart Hall, which attracted mostly young people, in contrast to the Armstrong show, which brought crowds of people of all ages.

Whilst at school, Friday jammed with the Broadway Quartet, and would often appear on local TV. His father encouraged him, otherwise to concentrate more on school work, and not on music. At Goromonzi High School, he belonged to a staging group. During his University of Zimbabwe days, he regularly performed with the Harare Mambos, which was then based at the Art Gallery - in the basement.

The Director then was Frank McEwen. Simangaliso Tutani played bass, Jonah Marumahoko (guitar), and Green Jangano (keyboards). The same group would also perform at Machipisa Night Club in Highfields.

Tanga wekwa Sando who later joined the Harare Mambos and played with Friday had this to say, "Although I grew up with the Mbirimis within the Salvation Army family, it was in the early seventies that I interacted with Friday Mbirimi when I played with him in the Harare Mambo band, when he would sometimes play drums for the band.

"Friday was always on stage in his life i.e. he had a purpose to fulfil or advice to give; always dispensed seriously, but spiced with humour. We clicked because He was also very Afrocentric in philosophy and always wanted the best for Africans. MHSRIP".

Some of Friday Mbirimi's recent shows were with the Zimbabwe Jazz Community, and Filbert is saddened by his death and talks about how Mbirimi contributed to the Zimbabwe Jazz Community.

"What a loss to the music industry in Zimbabwe. I am particularly saddened as I had the opportunity to work with Mr Mbirimi, more so in recent years. A founding member of the Zimbabwe Jazz Community Trust, he came on board when the Trust was still just an idea. He provided wise counsel as we sought to establish a Forum to promote jazz music as well as jazz artistes in Zimbabwe. His dedication, in the absence of monetary rewards, contributed to the successful launch of the Trust and subsequent projects . . .

"His enthusiasm as a musician saw him as one of the first performers at the first back2jazzics concert held at Theatre in the Park in 2016. As always, his performance was outstanding.

"The Zimbabwe jazz fraternity has lost a real giant. I take comfort in that for many years, he dedicated his time to sharing his experience and skills with young and upcoming jazz music. Jazz music will live on! My deepest condolences go to Clancy, the children and the entire Mbirimi family."

In her condolence message, reggae musician, actress and administrator Eyahra Mathazia says, "Mdhara Friday was patient, kind, humorous institution of a being. I interacted with him at Zimbabwe College of Music when I was studying there. When I was having troubles with my scales and practicals, I would often grumble to him and he would give practical sound advice that was extremely helpful. He always had time for young people. He was affectionately known to us as "headmaster" . . .

"He often spoke of his brothers and his experiences with the band Mbare Trio and his musical journey during the Rhodesians times . . . He had a big family, not just his biological family but his music fraternity. We would talk amongst ourselves in my band about how we admired the brotherhood and togetherness of the old timers in their time . . . We will miss his charming voice and alluring stage presence and seeing the sheer transformation to joy on his face as he performed his songs. Most musicians today have him to thank for his contribution to their art by way of education. He will be remembered with respect, admiration and love."

Pablo Nakapa a Jazz Musician had this to say, "Mdhara Friday was a humorous person, exciting person, one person one would love to spend the whole day with. Together as Mbare Trio, they would leave people in stiches. The few times that I played for them were times that I would cherish. We used to laugh on stage. Mdhara Friday was a father figure to all young jazz musicians. His departure has left a void not easy to fill. I could go on and on talking about Friday. May his soul rest in peace."

Rute Mbangwa a Jazz musician had this to say: "I must say it's a huge loss to the jazz fraternity, the music industry and Zimbabwe as a whole. I first met Friday Mbirimi in the first year of my professional music journey and being the humorous, free spirited character, I found myself warming up to him and his brothers and shared the stage numerous times; learnt my first jazz oldies from him as well as the rest of his team. He was a wealth of knowledge, always ready to impart and share with the young ones in the industry. I will always remember his jokes and corrections whenever he had watched me performing."

Clancy Mbirimi, younger brother to Friday said, "He was my father, brother, mentor, idol, hero, anchor, teacher and giver of all the jazz in me."

To the Mbirimi family: thank you so much for sharing Friday with us. His only brother Clancy, his sisters and children and the Mbirimi family be consoled.

Friday Mbirimi we will miss you. I will miss you! Mukomana weku Mbare, Mbare township jazz musician, teacher, adviser, idol, hero, mentor and encourager. Friday, till we meet again! Salute!

People are gathered at 131 Montgomery Drive in Prospect Waterfalls. Friday who died on April 6 will be laid to rest on Monday, April 12.

- Joyce Jenje Makwenda is the author of Zimbabwe Township Music Book (2005). Some of the information in this article came from the book. She can be contacted on [email protected]

- The writer has been granted permission to upload Friday Mbirimi's music on Joyce Jenje Makwenda Collect Archive (JJMCA) Facebook page for two days.

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