The Zimbabwean town of Gokwe was set alight with musicality and energy by eight competing groups during this year’s Midlands Province edition of the Chibuku Road To Fame contest, which took place on Saturday 9 July at Mapfungautsi Bar in the bustling Gokwe Centre.
Chibuku Road To Fame (CRTF) is a music talent search show by National Arts Council of Zimbabwe in partnership with Delta Beverages. The programme was launched in 2005 and since then it has managed to identify and promote young music talent in all of Zimbabwe’s provinces. The CRTF competitions are done at two levels: provincial and national, with the winners in each province going on to compete at the national finals. where the first prize winning group receives a prize money as well as a recording contract.
The competition attracted musicians from three districts, namely Kwekwe, Gokwe and Gweru. The host district provided three bands, Gweru had one and Kwekwe was represented by four bands.
From these, Murinye Express, a Gweru-based sungura music band, was awarded the first prize. They were followed by two Kwekwe-based bands, Afro-jazz crooners Union Band and And One Band, who placed second and third respectively.
The winning band, Murinye Express, exhibited an excellent display of showmanship. Their set was well planned and unlike most groups competing, their vocals and instruments were not competing for prominence. One could hardly miss a word from their songs as they lowered instruments every time they sang. This aspect of live performance proved to be a challenge for all the other groups, including the runners-up.
What really set Murinye Express apart from other competing groups is the originality of their music. Of course sungura is not new to Zimbabwe, but Murinye brings something new. Today most sungura groups follow closely in the footsteps of Alick Macheso or the late Tongai Moyo, creating a somewhat redundant and monotonous sound. But that is thankfully not the case with Murinye Express. If one is to put a finger on their main influences, it will probably rest on yesteryear’s chart-topping Farai Brothers, who released the hit ‘Spero baba’ (also known as 'Chikende' from the lyrics of its chorus).
It is sad, however, that several of the groups copied note-for-note the music of the late Leonard Dembo. In particular, the rhythm guitarist from Ayoma Stars did a copy-and-paste job replicating Dembo’s ‘Chengeto’, much to the chagrin of some knowledgeable fans. In the same vein, Kwekwe-based groups presented almost similar sets. There is no doubt that their musical influence stems from one source, probably Kwekwe-based artist Terry Migi, who won the CRTF provincial and national finals in 2012. However, most the Kwekwe bands were composed mainly of young people, many of them no older than 20, so there is hope that they will find themselves musically and be able to present who they truly are on stage.
For taking the first spot Murinye Express went home US$1000 richer, while number two and three and four were awarded $500 and $300 respectively. The monetary prize is obviously welcome, as musical shows with decent pay are hard to come by for unknown bands. Murinye Express will now proceed to the national finals, to be held in Harare later this year. At the grand finals winners will walk away with $5000 and a recording contract for one album, which is intended to launch the winners to fame (unfortunately, winning and recording is not all that one needs make it in showbiz in Zimbabwe).
Speaking at the prize handover, Catherine Mthombeni, spokesperson for the National Arts Council, thanked Delta Beverages for their role in championing arts development in an otherwise moribund economy. She implored artists to use such opportunities to network and create business with fellow musicians, promoters and venue proprietors in attendance.
Popular Zimbabwean act SaMukoko played at the event as a special guest and had Gokwe eating from the palm of his hand. His was a flawless act that all the competing groups no doubt learnt a lot from. Speaking on the sidelines of the show, the dreadlocked artists was confident that Murinye Express were very strong contenders for the national title. He suggested that the group might need to add a sub-rhythm guitar to complement their trio of guitarists, although personally I’m not sure if such a move would not clutter their otherwise simple and easy-on-the-ear sungura sound.
Whatever happens at the finals, Murinye Express looks set to have a place in Zimbabwe’s music industry for years to come.