In the Beginning
This article the first in a series I wish to publish on my blog.
I believe I was partly made by music and I want to share my raw experiences from as early as I can remember, with regards to interaction with organised noise. It is raw in the sense that I share what I actually experienced as opposed to some researched stuff. I kept no diary at most material times and I depend on memories and whatever comes to mind as I write.
Born in 1963, I grew up in a rural peasant setting as part of a large extended family that included parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces all in one household at one time or another.
My earliest contact with music reminds me of one of my brother, Lameck Farai, glued very closely to the small radio, which we called a wireless or wairosi. My eldest brother Raymond had bought it for himself and later left the radio to my father. Raymond was a teacher and could afford to buy another one. He also kept a constant supply of batteries to my father who was an “addict” of news. My father’s love for news always brought about conflict with Lameck who liked music and would not bother about the batteries which my father said were supposed to be for news only. The conflict was never resolved. Sometimes the batteries would be so out of power, with the new supply not yet in; we would warm them in the sun put them back and they would work again for a short while. Whether alone, or with friends who joined sometimes to listen to specific programmes, my brother would always sing along songs from The Beatles, Credence Clear Water Revivals, The Hurricanes and many more contemporaries. He had one scrap book after another fully stuck with pictures of The Beatles. On the walls of his bedroom were also pictures which I presume he got mostly from magazines brought by relatives who worked for white families in nearby Fort Victoria and mining towns of Mashaba and Shabani or even as far as Salisbury (now Harare) and Bulawayo. Later he also went to Harare to look for work and whenever he came back he came with a fresh supply of pictures.
The radio station we listened to with him was the African Service of the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC). It was the same that provided the news that my father so liked, although he always claimed they were lies. My father would also try the BBC once in `
while but with limited understanding of English, spoken through the nose he rarely ventured there unless there was something very topical he expected, especially about his favourite politician then, Joshua Nkomo. He also held long discussions on politics which we innocently listened into, with his cousin, Nehemiah Mhere Zivhu, who was reputed for having seen the pioneers passing through our area. I rue my lack of
appreciation of the stories Zivhu told which would have been a good source of oral history. He died in the 1980s and one opportunity after another to record his stories had passed me. He was more than 110 when he died.
The RBC it seems, initially, had limited choice of local music. For African music there was South African which we called Simanjemanje, Zairean music which we called dzamaKasaai, something called Chachacha mainly from Zambia and unplugged recordings from the likes of Epworth Theatrical Strutters, Sinyoro Jackson Chinembiri, Ngwaru Mapundu, Safirio Madzikatire, Jordan Chataika, John White and others. Some of them could be bought on vinyl records and I remember Sekuru Takaidza, whose sister was married to my uncle bringing a gramophone to our village to play the records for us. Because ours was a wireless with no facility to play records we always marvelled at the few who had. We had a few families in our area that had gramophones.
The social setting for dancing to gramophone music was called the tea party. It was a concert for both elders and young. It was a late-night feast hosted by any villager who had the means. The local brew was for sale to the elders. Non-alcoholic drinks and homemade deep-fried buns (or Vetkoeks), mafetikuku were served to the young. A gramophone was hired and people would take turns to pay for music of their choice and selected who to dance with. It could go all night and it was an occasion to look forward to. It was during the simanjemanje fad that I was at an age where I was sometimes allowed to attend a tea party under strict guidance of my elder brothers or sisters. Brother or sister meant anyone who was in our household, as in our culture, we do not have a word for cousin. In fact, it is deemed discriminatory to call someone in any way that suggests cousinship relationship.
There were no live band performances in our area. The only live band performance could be found in mining and peri-urban areas where the Jairos Jiri Band sometimes came. Mr. Jairos Jiri was a philanthropist from Bulawayo who had set up various centres where people living with disabilities learnt various skills including arts such as music. Most of the centres had bands that would raise money for the charity through live performances. In my early life I attended a Jairos Jiri Band gig once in Triangle Sugar Estates where my brother Raymond worked. They could play anything from pop, rock to simanjemanje and it would sound original to my young ears.
The music on the radio was sweet and “modern” in terms of instruments yet I clearly recall a consistent drumbeat that came from various directions depending on the chosen homestead of the day. It was youngsters playing during the full moon. I am talking of people from around fifteen years of age to their thirties. Normally, participation in these activities which they called “jazz” was by marital status. These were events for the unmarried where dancing prowess could win you a future spouse. They were staged in various neighbourhoods and occasionally one group of village youths would meet another to compete. The main instruments were the drum accompanied by clapping and sometimes percussion from dried pumpkin rattles or hosho. The high-pitched fast singing in riddles of lyrics, that ranged from praise to taunts, from a poetic lead singer provided the thrill. They would be accompanied with fast dancing that was done in pairs, boy to girl, while others watched in a circle. The pairs received cheers according to their performance. It is during this noise that a boy could draw near the girl he fancied and throw a word or two. The groups had leaders who would monitor that this does not become a distraction and also that everyone goes to their home after the event. It was very orderly but there were sometimes spoilers who could start a fight and cause the group to disperse early. The spoilers were normally those who could neither sing nor dance and would not have any way of attracting the opposite sex.
Back to the radio, a certain fusion of simanjemanje (which was basically Zulu/Xosa/Sotho South African traditional) with acoustics and wind instruments that did not have lyrics had earlier on been popular. It was based on a lead flute which we corruptly called furete. It also included a penny whistle. In our setting, the instruments could be improvised from reeds that were plenty in river Tugwane near our village. The penny whistle, in particular brought about the improvisation of reed instruments that herd boys played everywhere. We particularly copied South African kwela/marabi songs and entertained ourselves immensely. More skilled boys played the homemade banjos and a band could easily be formed amongst banjo players and those with reed penny whistles. They were sometimes invited to play at tea parties. We particularly tried Johannes “Spokes” Mashiyane’s music. The dance was dubbed tsavatsava which was mainly some form of twist. In later years this music fusion with improved instruments became what is now commonly known as Afro jazz. Simanjemanje fused with South African traditional as well as what was called marabi gave rise to mbaqanga. This was my early musical experiences in the rural setting I grew up. Let’s meet next week for a glimpse of how elders in my area entertained themselves musically.
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