Gweru musicians celebrate Independence Day in Zimbabwe

Zviri Mudeze, a mbira ensemble comprising of Midlands State University lecturers, staged a memorable performance at Club Eclipse in Gweru, Zimbabwe on Friday 15 March.

Yulesis Katoto (right) and Deep Roots performing in Gweru. Photo: Innocent Tinashe Mutero
Yulesis Katoto (right) and Deep Roots performing in Gweru. Photo: Innocent Tinashe Mutero

The ensemble was supported by the very talented yet unheralded Afro-jazz musician Yulesis Katoto and his band Deep Roots.

From the onset, this concert - conceived as an early celebration of Zimbabwe's Independence Day on 18 April - had all the makings of a great show. First on stage was Zviri Mudeze, and as usual they opened their set with totemic greetings to their fans. Fans took turns to outshine each other when their totem was called out by Elijah Chikomo, the lead singer. The praise poetry has its own way of stroking the ego of fans, as well as getting them in the party mood.

Other songs they played include ‘Sabhuku’, a song which speaks to how we as a people should uphold our sense of community, and ‘Zirume’, which warns of the dangers of polygamy. Arguably their best song for the night was ‘Mhondoro’, which saw fans, including university professors and young men and women just past their teenage years, dancing with wild abandon. Their performance was top notch, setting the bar high for Yulesis.

In the past I have raised my worries about the rift or the lack of cooperation between music academics and musicians. I am happy that Friday’s show was a move in the right direction, although I am not sure what triggered this move (I secretly hope that they read my work).

On many occasions I have watched Zviri Mudeze performing without a supporting act and they never showed signs of fatigue. In a way, one can never be faulted for thinking they do not need a supporting act. However, the team of Music and Musicology degree lecturers who make up Zviri Mudeze decided to enlist the services of Yulesis to support them. This move is important, particularly considering that shows are hard to come by for Gweru musicians. Often they have to wait for shows headlined by big artists such as Jah Prayzah, Alick Macheso, Tuku and Sulumani Chimbetu when they come to perform in Gweru.

The immediate disadvantage of such a situation is that the under-resourced local bands will always under deliver, due to a lack of exposure to large sound systems. In addition, they will be relative strangers to local audiences, who wait impatiently for the Harare-based stars. The Zviri Mudeze and Deep Roots show therefore has the potential to grow the fanbases of both bands. More importantly to the young band, it was an important opportunity to assess their sound, perfect their stage act and get used to big public address systems.

Yulesis proved that he came prepared for the opportunity. His band did not waste time tuning their guitars, as is the case with many inexperienced bands. Deep Roots’ repertoire for the night had a mix of cover versions of songs by late greats such as Sam Mtukudzi and James Chimombe, as well as music from high-riding Jah Prayzah and the legendary Oliver Mtukudzi.

The band managed to capture the attention of revelers, many of whom were tempted to leave after Zviri Mudeze’s set. The dancefloor was once again fillled with men and women of all ages dancing with youthful gaiety. Part of the audience included musicians such as the affable SaMukoko, Jazzy Jazz and Shadreck Dzingai, who is also a lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University.

Worryingly, there were no female musicians in attendance. This is sad, considering how often ladies complain about the lack of support, yet on this occasion they did not pitch up to support their male colleagues. However, one major positive is that the solidarity shown at the concert can be the pedestal to develop efforts to unify Gweru artists, as well as mobilise resources for their collective use. One hopes that the collaborations go beyond music production and performance to include sharing ideas and knowledge on all aspects of showbiz.

Speaking after their set, Elijah Chikomo of Zviri Mudeze said: “We are ready to take mbira music to all places in Zimbabwe and abroad. Ours is a different mbira sound, which borrows from our musical traditions yet inspires the future.”

Indeed Zviri Mudeze’s mbiras are different as they are all hybrid mbiras created by Perminus Matiure, taking ideas from the nhare mbira and nyunga nyunga mbira.

Before belting out his last song, ‘Mukoma’, which urges children to take care of their parents, Yulesis thanked Zviri Mudeze and Club Eclipse for affording him an opportunity to share music and love with his fans. His choice of last song was excellent as it took revelers into ecstasy, in celebration of the spirit of independence.

Happy Independence Day Zimbabwe!

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