David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
If my memory serves me well, there used to be a place in Kambuzuma’s Section Six that everybody called “The Garden Party”. The Garden Party was a popular music venue where you could hang out over a drink and have a good time with friends.
Kambuzuma is a high-density suburb in Harare known for its many speed bars.
In those days I was one of the many young men with thick Afros groomed the Soul-Brother way, like Percy Sledge of “When a Man Loves a Woman” fame. I had an aching dream in my heart and an unfulfilled desire for adventure.
Not many these days will know what a speed bar is. Speed bars were unlicensed open-air beer outlets.
These “bars” sold wares from places where you could see anyone approaching while they were still quite some distance off.
For that reason, as you partook of your waters of inebriation, you had a clear view of the surroundings. Of course, sentinels were posted at intervals around the perimeter of the area.
The idea was to drink your poison as speedily as you could. That was the only way you could, in the end, have your fill before you were disturbed.
Speedy drinking enabled you to flee the venue quickly if you saw the police coming. It was amazing just how quickly imbibers became law-abiding citizens at a flash.
Speed bars attracted unsavoury characters like the infamous Kondeni, a deceptively fragile, lean and mean-looking character. I say deceptively because many a pugilist found out too late that the man had dynamite in his fists.
A brother of mine who fancied his street-fighting skills lost a tooth to Kondeni!
The last time I spoke to Tanga WekwaSando he was gathering information about Kondeni. I don’t know what happened to Tanga’s brilliant idea.
At the time I was quite sure he was thinking of doing a musical based on the life of Kondeni. Hey there, Tanga, is the project still alive? Come on man, give us a masterpiece.
If Tanga had made his project on Kondeni come alive, it would most likely have really been something – a work of beauty I am sure.
Zimbabwe needs productions to rival such phenomenal productions as “Sikhalo”, a Gibson Kente production whose vibrant portrayal of township life in Soweto and other such places in South Africa was truly remarkable.
I remember watching “Sikhalo” at Bulawayo’s MacDonald Hall in Mzilikazi Village. Most of us “born-location” boys were fans of gangster types like “Boy Faraday” and others. So we packed the hall to enjoy the production.
The nearest Zimbabwe got to something like “Sikhalo” was with Arthur Chipunza’s “My Spirit Sings” at the Kambuzuma’s Rainbow 1000 theatre.
A South African theatre company performed “Umabhatha” (Macbeth) in Zulu at the Rainbow 1000 and was received with great enthusiasm by audiences.
Dumi Maraire’s passion cantata, “Mazuva Ekupedzisa”, depicting the life of Jesus in the period before, during and after his crucifixion was a masterly musical of exalted quality. Maraire’s cantata gained world-wide recognition. We need to get back there!
Arthur Chipunza, the son of an Anglican Church priest and a teacher at some point in his life was a lyricist of note, and no mean vocalist either.
His creative genius combined with the expertise of the St Paul’s Band gave us the ageless classic, “Mvura Ngainaye”.
In recent years, Dudu Manhenga and her Colour Blue outfit recorded a version of the song. The melody is haunting and beautiful, and the lyrics are introspective and evocative. The song conjures lively pictures of the hills of M’sami during the rains. “Mvura Ngainaye” went something like this:
Lord, let the rains fall
Over the hills in M’sami
We have cried an ocean
My little patch of land
Is smiling now
The birds and the animals too
Are cooled and their thirst is quenched
I have taken a few liberties with the translation, but this was always going to happen because transliteration is pedestrian.
It tends to obscure the art and would most definitely obliterate the sweet epigrams in Chipunza’s song.
Chipunza’s “My Spirit Sings” was a bold venture. Regrettably, however, it was nowhere near the lyrical appeal and vivid images of “Mvura Ngainaye”.
Back to The Garden Party! The St Paul’s M’sami Band and other iconic musical outfits of the time did gigs at The Garden Party.
I have fond memories of the place. One Friday evening I went there to take in whatever was on offer. Imagine my joy and excitement when I got there to find Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits belting away.
Mtukudzi was riding the wave of “Dzandimomotera”, done with the Wagon Wheels and now had an album on which his maestro credentials were already in evidence.
Bouncy tunes like “Ziwere” were rocking the airwaves. Mtukudzi was a lean energetic singer in six-inch high platform shoes. He had a soulful sound and a cultured voice. On this night, Mtukudzi was at his very best. He and the band did what for me became a “gold-nugget” memory in later years.
Robert Mtukudzi, Oliver’s younger brother and a gifted instrumentalist, was on keyboards. The other boys, together with Robert were the original Black Spirits outfit.
The band began to play a soulful piece that I recognised as the instrumental accompaniment to “Ndinotenda”, a song in which Mtukudzi sings a soulful eulogy to his parents.
To this day, I still wonder what it was that made Mtukudzi break down on stage and weep as he did his eulogy.
The band kept playing, but he was unable to continue. I saw him withdraw from the stage to a secluded spot where he sat down, furiously smoking a filer-tipped cigarette.
The smoke rings rose into the Salisbury night as Mtukudzi let the mighty feelings take over his persona.
A lovely thing happened. Jordan Chataika (a celebrity in his own right even then) was in the audience. When the band stopped playing, Chataika took one of the guitars and began to serenade the audience with a few of his own popular songs.
This is the man who should be credited with the first attempts at fashioning what later came to be accepted as a new musical genre called Zimbabwean Gospel music.
Freedom Sengwayo, Brian Sibalo and The Family Singers came much later.
Chataika’s piece about Moses and the burning bush was hugely popular with township audiences.
That night the audience sang along with him.
Many remember Jordan Chataika’s heart-rending “Ndopatigere Pano”, done with The Green Arrows at the height of the liberation war.
Stanley Manatsa’s unique wailing guitar sound is as distinctive in “Ndopatigere Pano” as it was in the inimitable “Chipo Chiroorwa”, Zimbabwe’s first gold disc record.
The guitar in these two songs is reminiscent of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. Stanley Manatsa too could play the guitar like ringing a bell.
After Mtukudzi had composed himself, he came back to finish his set. All in all, it was a wonderful night. I was convinced that Mtukudzi was, without doubt, a loving son, grateful to his parents for the gift of life and wondering what he could do to thank them and make them feel good.
In my view, his song does so admirably, even these many years later.
It could not have been easy for Chataika to do what he did on the night.
It can be devastating for a star to go on stage to do his set and to bond with an audience that probably knows his name, only to discover that it does not recognise him.
This shattering misfortune, according to Jays Marabini, terminated Lovemore Majaivana’s career.
On a night supposed to have put the icing on the cake at White City Stadium, things went horribly wrong for Lovemore Majaivana.
Arriving at the stadium, resplendent in his stage wear and expecting a bumper crowd, he was shocked by the emptiness of the stadium.
The lyrics and melody of Rick Nelson’s classic, “Garden Party” must have been on Majaivana’s mind as he left the stadium, never again to be seen on stage.
In his warm evocative voice, Rick Nelson sang:
I went to a garden party to reminisce with my old friends
A chance to share old memories and play our songs again
When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name
No one recognised me, I didn’t look the same.
Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party”, done with the Stone Canyon Band resuscitated his career for a while. His career had been stalling. What with the Beatles and the Stones!
Rick’s “Garden Party” became his swansong as well as his epitaph. Sometime down the lane, he perished in a plane crash much to the consternation of those who were into “old skul” music.
We each have garden-party moments when no one recognises us and no one remembers the stuff attributed to us.
Imagine George Shaya, or Peter Ndlovu walking into a soccer academy and not being recognised by anyone.