HomeArtsSecret behind Sulu’s dendera success story

Secret behind Sulu’s dendera success story

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By Fidelis Manyange

A NUMBER of departed yesteryear music greats have bequeathed their legacy to children, some of whom have successfully followed in their illustrious fathers’ footsteps while others are still struggling to fit in the gigantic shoes.

The musicians’ heirs who instantly come to mind are the likes of Lincoln and Tendai Chimombe, Agga Nyabinde, Ndux Malax Junior, Simba, Knowledge and John Chibadura Jnr, Sulumani, Tryson and Saiwe Chimbetu; Bruce Mpofu (now late), Biggie Tembo Jnr, Elijah Madzikatire, Peter and Tongai Moyo Jnr, Faheem Somanje, Morgan and Tendai Dembo, among others.

But it has not been a stroll in the park as some of them have found out. For one thing, it is not enough to bank on fans’ sympathy for their late fathers or having an identical voice. The fans will only turn up for live shows or snap up CDs if they can see talent in the heirs.

It’s, therefore, not surprising that not all those who have picked up the guitar to follow in their fathers’ footsteps have made it.

A notable exception is Sulumani, the second son of the late Simon Chimbetu, who has done exceptionally well to keep his father’s legacy alive. Prodigious talent combined with professionalism has undoubtedly given Sulumani the edge over his peers.

Since taking over at the helm of Orchestra Dendera Kings in 2004, he has successfully juggled his various roles as singer-songwriter, guitarist stage and businessman. Needless to say, the ‘Batai Munhu’ hitmaker never disappoints when he goes on stage.

Educated at Nyahuni Mission School in Murehwa and Ellis Robins High School in Harare’s Mabelreign suburb, ‘Sulu’, as he is known to his legion of fans, enlisted for the National Youth Service before joining the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ). The two institutions instilled discipline and laid the foundation of his current professionalism in handling his band’s affairs. He has become his own man whose bold decisions have helped him keep Orchestra Dendera Kings intact long after the demise of its founder.

Thanks to his discipline, he is now the Brand Ambassador of the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS). It also contributed in no small measure to his bold decision to quit his full-time job with the AFZ,  which he enjoyed so much, to take up music on a full-time basis.

Since 2006, he has managed to keep a tight leash on a band comprising seasoned professionals like Moffat Nyamupandu (bass guitar), Knowledge Nkoma (lead), Solo Makore (rhythm) and seasoned dancer and backing vocalist Philip Dzivike. 

In 2014, the Orchestra Dendera Kings revolted against the young Sulumani by boycotting live shows in a bid to force him to succumb to their outrageous demands. The go-slow started in earnest during the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Kariba South Power Extension Project. With then-President Mugabe the guest of honour, the quartet refused to go on stage. This was the last thing Sulumani wanted to happen on such a big day in his fledgling career.

As if that was not enough, the culprits were at it again a year later. But for Sulumani this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He immediately fired Dzivike, the long-time dancer and vocalist who had been with Simon Chimbetu since 2002, as a warning to his fellow ‘rebels’.

“I will not hesitate to replace anyone who tries to present himself as bigger than the Dendera brand,” declared Sulumani to the wayward band members. Ironically, the veteran guitarists had embraced Sulumani with both hands when he split with Allan Chimbetu possibly in the vain hope that they would be in a position to call the shots by manipulating the inexperienced artiste.

 

But Sulumani is in good company when it comes to taking disciplinary action against band members who grow big-headed. 

The late Oliver Mtukudzi did not hesitate to let go of his long-time friend and dancer Picky Kasamba and versatile guitarist Clive ‘Mono’ Mukundu, among others.

Not to be outdone, sungura maestro Alick Macheso offloaded several of Orchestra Mberikwazvo key band members, notably Franco Slomo, Elton Muropa, Jonas Kasamba, Noel Nyazanda and Obert Gomba, who went on to form the ill-fated Orchestra Kwazvose. When their so-called rival project hit stormy waters, they pleaded with the ‘Madawu’ hitmaker to take them back. He did and the former rebels have stayed in their lane ever since.

Obviously taking a leaf from his late father, the younger Chimbetu now has reserve band members for every position in the group to guard against would-be rebels and to keep complacency at bay. When it comes to his band members’ remuneration, Sulumani says: ‘‘We have (above) minimum pay scales for our members which are also subject to upwards variation depending on the turnout at our shows. I also make sure that my band members are paid on time.” 

A self-taught guitarist, Sulumani used to take one of his father’s old acoustic guitars without his permission to their Dendera Farm in Chegutu when he was sent to supervise tobacco workers during the school holidays.

“I owe my success to my father who showed optimism in me from an early age. During holidays he would send me to oversee the day-to-day running of our farm in Chegutu,” he told The Patriot Arts in an interview.

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