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Today’s Artist: John Chibadura

Obituary With the death of John Chibadura, a year after two members of his group, the Tembo Brothers, the handful of Zimbabwean popular musicians who brought their country’s music bouncing and jiving on to European stages in the Eighties is further reduced. Chibadura was a true working-class entertainer. His job, unlike that of Zimbabwe’s most famous musical ambassador, Thomas Mapfumo, whose political lyrics and messianic air gave him a strong intellectual feel, was to make people dance, and for much of his career he did this from a little stage in the beer garden of the hotel Nyamutamba in the popular suburb of Chitungwiza in the Zimbabwean capital Harare, where his band would start in the afternoon and play solidly through until 4am. Chibadura was nicknamed “Mr Chitungwiza”, after the suburb, which is heavily populated by musicians, and he never left his patch when he started to earn big money, although his house began to sprout extensions and an array of new cars outside. He was born John Nyamukokoko – Chibadura was a nickname meaning roughly “the man who can do”, or “the best” – to a couple of itinerant labourers from Mozambique in 1957. Though most of his life was spent in Zimbabwe, Mozambique regarded him, once he was famous, as a long-lost son and when in the country he would be ferried to concerts by the presidential helicopter. Chibadura’s mother died when he was five and he attended primary school while moving between the houses of different relatives. He left to work first as a goatherd, then as a tractor driver, finally progressing to lorry driver. During this time he learned to play electric guitar and then found employment at the end of the Seventies in two groups, the Holy Brothers and the Mother Band. In 1982, he was recruited into the newly formed Sungura Boys, a group which rapidly became popular playing sungura music, a cantering rhythm which mixed East African styles with Zimbabwean jit jive. With his excellent guitar playing and dynamic stage dancing Chibadura rapidly became a key attraction of the group. In 1985 he left to form his own outfit, John Chibadura and the Tembo Brothers, taking two of the Sungura Boys with him. The new group was immediately successful, Chibadura’s charisma augmented by a flair for writing songs which described the lives and touched the imaginations of the ordinary people – miners, gardeners, street sweepers, lorry drivers – who flocked to buy his records. A great hit, “$5000” lamented the practice of fathers demanding excessive dowry prices for their daughters. In his first reggae song, “Zuva Rekufa Kwangu” (“On My Dying Day”), Chibadura begged to be allowed to see in his dreams how people who had known him would react to his death. In 1988, Chibadura and his band visited the UK for the first time, and was immediately invited as a guest on Andy Kershaw’s BBC Radio 1 show. He was to tour several more times over the following three years, and two British record releases, The Essential John Chibadura and More of the Essential John Chibadura, date from this period. He played successful dates last year in Liverpool and at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London. Many musicians attended Chibadura’s funeral. He was popular with those he employed, unlike many African bandleaders, who can be ruthless taskmasters. His colleagues remembered that his first expenditure on earning serious money had been new, fully paid-for equipment for the band, rather than rented borrowed gear, and higher wages. John Nyamukokoko (John Chibadura), singer and guitarist: born Bindura, Rhodesia 17 February 1957; married (six children); died Harare 4 August 1999. – Philip Sweeney (The Independent)

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