Growth of music in Zimbabwe: Part Two…Harare Township lit up in the 1950s

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

THE Golden Rhythm Crooners took the region by storm with their energetic hits, particularly with Dorothy Masuka’s masterpiece, ‘Hamba Nontshokolo’.
With Duncan on the string bass and ‘Tim’ on the lead guitar, the smooth-voiced Masuka and her Crooners landed at Francistown in the then Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) in September 1953. They held a mammoth concert in the Mimosa Hall which was bursting at the seams with screaming fans.
After the Crooners’ departure, every Francistown black resident was not only talking about them, in particular Masuka, but was also crooning or humming ‘Hamba Nontshokolo’.
The writer of this article was, incidentally, at that time, a teacher at Francistown African School and was a correspondent for the African Newspapers-based weekly, the Bantu Mirror.
However, they had joined a prodigy, Josia Hadebe, on the country’s black entertainment scene.
A troubadour of the Nguni cultural mould, Hadebe was a very good guitarist and gifted vocalist, but some of his songs tended to offend a few women of the socio-economic community, now ‘respectfully’ referred to as ‘commercial sex workers’.
At that time, they were called whores or prostitutes, derogative terms translated as ‘amahule’ in Ndebele.
In one of his pieces, Hadebe asked: “Lihule elinjani eligeza ngamanzi asale emnyama kangaka bantu?” (What is the matter with this whore who bathes with some water and leave it so black, people?).
Hadebe was soon joined by another Ndebele troubadour, George Sibanda, whose songs were relatively culturally acceptable although they highlighted the male chauvinism prevailing in the country’s black community at that time.
In a song about a woman named ‘Lizah’, Sibanda narrated how deeply he loved her and then ominously warned her: “Ungakhomba omunye ngikutshaye, uLizah ngowami.” (Should you fall in love with another, I’ll beat you up, Lizah is mine).
At the height of the popularity of, and rivalry between, Hadebe and Sibanda, was heard another Ndebele troubadour, Sabelo Mathe, whose skills on the guitar was undoubtedly wonderful.
He was arguably the last of that type of individual entertainers whose works were recorded and played on either gramophones or radiograms in shebeens or at weddings or some other social parties.
It was a matter of much interest that the three troubadours were all said to be originally from the Ntabazinduna area.
Some people said, however, that Sibanda was from Nyamayendlovu.
In addition to these individual singers, bands and choirs, a few other entertainers featured on the radio and left their vocal footprints on the country’s sands on the stage of performing arts.
There was one, a Mugabe, based in Gwelo (Gweru), who played the Hawaiian guitar and recorded a Shona song: ‘Chikuru ini mari nemwana? Chikuru mari mwana anofa…’ (What is more important between money and a child, money is more important because a child dies).
He died in the mid-1950s, and his parents thereafter requested the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC) not to play his record on the air any more because they reminded them of their beloved son.
Rumour had it that he was originally a Mugabe of the Morgenster Mission area in Masvingo, not from the Zvimba Mugabe clan.
In Salisbury (Harare), meanwhile, two quartets, one called De Black Evening Follies and the other named The Epworth Theatrical Strutters invaded the black townships recreation halls with quite a bang.
Led by the vocally volatile Moses Mpahlo and supported by a rib-cracking comedian, Albert Ndindah, stage-named Magaisa, De Black Evening Follies were the talk of Harare Township (now Mbare), Highfield and Mabvuku for several years.
The Epworth Theatrical Strutters comprised two Kanyowa brothers.
That quartet had a reasonably large share of the entertainment market.
It was not long before another Harare Township quartet, the Milton Brothers, burst onto the scene.
Comprising two brothers, Chase and Canisius M’hango, their cousin William ‘Bill’ Saidi, plus their clan-sister Faith Dauti, the Milton Brothers’ afternoon concerts known, as ‘Teen Time’, appealed very much to teenage audiences at Harare Township’s Stoddard Hall and Highfield’s Cyril Jennings Hall.
At the very end of the 1950s, the Salisbury black community was pleasantly introduced to a type of Shona blues by a new quartet, The City Quads, the leading vocal rendition of whose songs were by Sonny Sando.
He was certainly a couple of notches better than what other groups could offer.
His squad’s composition titled ‘Lindy’ was rendered with heart-touching expression reminiscent of the romantic fables of Arabian nights.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email: sgwakuba@gmail.com

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