Artist: Suluman Chimbetu
Label, Year: Cockpit Studio, 2016
Sulumani’s much awaited album is finally on the market. Released on the 6 December, this album will see Sulu gleeful jog into the ledgers of Zimbabwean legends. Jamboree is a conceptual gambit with a potpourri of musical influences all underpinned by the unmistakable dendera sound. The music is swinging and exploratory, but it’s on ‘Mhasuro’ and ‘Alice Mbewe' that Sulumani made time stop still in a transcendent moment that will leave many of us with a frisson. By any measure, this is album is a masterpiece!
‘Mhasuro’, a song against violence, comes at a time when Zimbabwe is experiencing protests, which often turn nasty. Protestors and the government alike have been accused of inciting and fanning physical violence. Captain Sulu implores the powerful in our communities to desist from violence, warning that respect and allegiance is not forced. In this very sensitive and soulful track he also speaks against belittling the ‘other’. As expected from the Chimbetus, Sulu exhibits a wonderful touch and dazzling musicality. If you loved classics such as ‘Saina’ and ‘Tenda’, this song will definitely find a place in your heart.
On ‘Alice Mbewe’, orchestra Dendera Kings take us back to the time of Sulu’s late father, Simon Chimbetu. This is a hardcore core Dendera, complete with harmonies and instrumental dialogue we have grown to associate with this band. This is the band that first introduced the use of two rhythm guitars, playing at the same pitch in Zimbabwe. They do not play anything for the gallery, but every note and strophe is there to compliment and complete a puzzle, creating an alluring and mystic musical force.
Of interest is that a few days ago, I came across a video on YouTube where Sulu played this song at his live show, announcing in song that Alice Mbewe had lost her child. The audience went delirium, singing along to the call and I am sure that was when Sulu realized he had composed a hit. The song also has an house remix. Yes you heard right! And the experiment worked. Perhaps, this is the damascene moment; Sulu is realizing that Sungura might never break into the regional market. His house mix is a refreshing effort as it brings something unique and distinctively Zimbabwean into the fray.
On ‘Chirombo’, Sulu slows down the pace with an Afro jazz groove. It is yet another brave musical experiment. The horn section gives the track a warm yet nostalgic feeling. This song is a tribute to exiled Chimurenga guru, Thomas Mapfumo, who has been domiciled in the United States for years. While, on surface the song is just encouraging Mukanya to return to Zimbabwe, the implied meaning can also be for Zimbabwe to get back to her glory days, when citizens were not forced into exile. It is unavoidable to reminisce of that past considering that the song speaks of a legend we miss and the sound is similar to the late James Chimombe’s music. The most luscious moments of the song are when the instrumentalists showcase their virtuosity, artfully weaving through and interlocking the music, giving individuals moments to shine albeit not at the expense of the band unit.
‘Tiringwe’ has the same melody with Tryson Chimbetu’s 2012 release ‘Sadza nemavheji’, which features Alick Macheso. This is not where all the similarity ends: the subject is also the same. Both artists sing about their loath of abject poverty. Sulumani’s delivery is however way ahead of his cousin’s effort. Many who toil day and night trying to make ends meet will identify with the song. It speaks to perseverance and the unbridled love for family that sees us work in even unfavourable environments and, at times, in places far away from our loved ones. Its currency is perhaps in that it’s prayerful. The social significance does not in any way take away the song’s potential to cause a stir on the dance arenas. The instrumentalists accompany the song excellently, making it a sincere and emotional prayer.