Godwin Muzari Memory Lane
Philip Svosve has seen it all in the music industry.
At 68, the Jabavu Drive leader is one of the most experienced saxophonists in the country, having worked with many big names in the industry since 1970s.
Talk of names like Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Simon Chimbetu, James Chimombe, Safirio Madzikatire, Greenford Jangano, Mechanic Manyeruke and Biggie Tembo. Svosve has been with these artistes in the music trenches and the list is longer.
Beginning as a bass guitarist and later falling in love with the saxophone, he has had interesting experience with different generations and has been in studio with younger singers that include Suluman Chimbetu and Alexio Kawara. He is like a messenger who was sent to preach the music gospel through generations while his saxophone does the singing.
And he blows it with unmatched expertise that catapulted him to the land of legends. He has memories of the competitive years in music gone by. The years when creativity and passion superseded desire for fortune in local music.
As he went down memory lane at his house in Budiriro 1, Svosve relished his decades of toil with different characters in different bands. He also shared interesting experiences with some of the big names.
“The journey started in Highfield in 1968 when I joined hands with other young musicians and formed a group — All Saints. We did well with our shows in Highfield as a new group and Greenfrod Jangano of Harare Mambo Band was impressed with our art.
“He incorporated us into his group and we were sent to Rusape where he had secured a new contract for the band,” recalled Svosve.
“My experience grew as I got more exposure with Harare Mambo Band and I thought of weaning myself to return to Harare for more challenging exploits.”
Safirio “Mukadota” Madzikatire
After returning to Harare, Svosve met Safirio “Mukatoda” Madzikatire and other guys and they came up with a new band called Delight.
“Mukadota was coming from another group he had initially formed called Venus Direction. Very little is known about that band. I was a bass player all these years and I did not know I would be a saxophonist for the better part of my career.”
Svosve said they had many shows in Harare as Delight, but things changed in 1978 when new faces joined the group and Mukadota decided to name the band Ocean City.
One interesting thing about Mukadota is that he named his bands after horses because of his penchant for horse-betting. Svosve said the late comedian seemed to change band names to reflect horses that were regular winners of a certain period.
The other bands he led in his career were Sea Cottage Sisters and Brave Son.
So, Venus Direction, Sea Cottage, Ocean City and Brave Son were all horses. A lot has been said about Mukadota’s gambling addiction, including his passion for pinball game popularly known as flipper, and the horse-band names make another fascinating tale.
As Ocean City Band’s popularity grew, they began touring many parts of the country until a Bulawayo show of 1981 brought a major split. Svosve remembers the incident.
“We were supposed to perform with Oliver Mtukudzi and Pied Pipers at Barbourfields Stadium but the other two groups did not come. They were more popular than us and it meant we had to perform for fans who had high anticipations and entertain them to the level of Mtukudzi and Pied Pipers.
“We went on stage with that spirit and we were up to the task. We did a good performance. However, when Mukadota joined us on stage for his segment of comedy, people became violent. They started throwing objects on stage saying they did not want any “sketches” that night. They only wanted music.
“Mukadota went off the stage and we continued with music in a peaceful environment.”
Then the bomb that split Ocean City Band blew after the show.
“We had made a lot of money because of the big crowd. In the morning we asked for payment from Mukadota and we were expecting him to show appreciation for the night we had covered his back. He had been chased off the stage and we had performed alone the whole night, but he wanted to take a bigger chunk.
“We quarrelled until tempers flared and the road together had to end. Mukadota went away with his son Elijah and Abigail Dhliwayo who played the role of Mai Rwizi then. Myself and John “Chibhodhoro” Muyambo remained with the other guys”
After the split, Mukadota unsuccessfully tried to stop them from using his band name. His horse, Ocean City, gulped away. However, Chibhodhoro was to rejoin Mukadota after a few years when he also left Ocean City Band.
Besides Svosve and Chibhodhoro, other members of Ocean City Band were Nicholas Mugona, Kidwell Mafolo, Adam Maliko, Edson Mbaisa, Elliot Bokosha and George Pada.
As Ocean City band continued with its shows without Mukadota, they met Mtukudzi at another show in Bulawayo
Mtukudzi was having problems with his band and his manager Jack Sadza recommended Ocean City Band to back them for a recording.
“We met Mtukudzi and Jack Sadza saying their band had boycotted a recording that was scheduled in South Africa. They were only with their drummer. We agreed to back them in studio and we went to South Africa. His album ‘Please Ndapota’ and single ‘Ghetto Boy’ were done by Ocean City Band,” said Svosve.
As the album and the single made waves in the country, royalties at Zimbabwe Music Corporation caused a conflict between Mtukudzi and Ocean City Band. Because they were an independent entity that had been hired for the project, they needed their share from the sales.
“We had a disagreement over the sharing of royalties and I remember there was a heated argument as our band members confronted Mtukudzi demanding their dues. The matter was eventually solved and Ocean City Band got its royalties, but we cut ties with Tuku that time.
“However, we resolved our differences with Tuku and we have been good friends for a long time. We work well together.”
James “Bindura” Chimombe
Svosve recalled how Chimombe became part of Ocean City Band and recorded his successful hits like “Bindura” and “Siya Wawoneka” with the band. In 1984 we were invited to perform at Club Hideout where OK Success was a resident band. We did well and owners of the club decided to fire OK Success to give us the permanent slot.
“Chimombe was part of OK Success, but he was not happy with leaving the Club Hideout contract. He decided to leave OK Success to work with us and that is how we began recording with him.”
Ocean City Band worked with Chimombe from 1984 to 1988 when another fight over the name ensued. All these years, Svosve had remained administrative leader of the group and musicians who were backed by Ocean City Band got composing rights.
“After massive success of his hits, Chimombe began complaining that we could not have two heads of an establishment. Akanditi mudanga hamuite mabhuru maviri and suggested I should resign as leader or leave the group. We argued and I told him he would be the one to resign. He realised he would not win the battle and he left to form his own Huchi Band in 1988.”
For some years, Ocean City Band continued doing their own music specialising in live shows. Then Svosve received a call from Biggie Tembo who was in the UK and had problems with his Bhundu Boys.
“He called and asked if the band was still intact and I said ‘yes’. He told me he had had a problem with Bhundu Boys and wanted a backing group. We travelled to UK and worked with him for about a month.
“But some of his shows also became problematic because other members of Bhundu Boys were still in the UK and conniving with other people to disrupt his shows. They were really after him.
“He became stressed and always asked why they were tormenting him. I believe the stress heaped on other problems until he committed suicide.”
Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo
After some years Ocean City Band split and Svosve moved to Two Plus Two that also later separated into two groups.
The legendary saxophonist teamed up with his other boys from Highfield to form Jabavu Drive. That was in 1997. Jabavu still does shows in the capital with the main one being their Bar Rouge slot every Friday at Longecheng Plaza.
However, Svosve still gets hired to work with other musicians in the studio and on stage. That is how he has come to work with Mukanya. They had known each other in the 1970s, but he began going on stage with him in 2004 in UK.
“He wanted a saxophonist for a festival in UK and he sent his manager to engage me. I rehearsed their song from here and met them in UK for the festival. It went well and he was happy.
“In 2010 I also went back for another festival in UK with Mukanya and I have been part of his many shows in South Africa.”
At Mukanya’s homecoming bira recently, Svosve was one of the legends on stage with Blacks Unlimited at Glamis Arena in Harare.