The good old days …township jazz from the heart of Mbare


MUSIC throughout the history of mankind has been the medium by which the pains and triumphs of the soul have been recorded. Jazz has probably the longest history of all genres of music. It inspires music lovers with an appreciation for musical history. Jazz has been an integral part of African American tradition for over 100 years. Its roots can be traced back to the days of slavery when the work gangs sang spiritual songs that expressed their strong religious beliefs and desire for freedom. In Zimbabwe in the 1940s, the musicians started to fuse American jazz with musical traditions and styles hat became known as township music. Township music was the African interpretation of their lives in the highdensity locations of Rhodesia. The shared history that exists between the African Americans and the African led to the growth of jazz from the 1950s in Mbare and Mzilikazi. It is the history of displacement and labour in the black man’s history. The Patriot’s Melinda Chikukura interviewed Joyce Jenje-Makwenda, author of Township Music on her personal journey with jazz growing up in the heart of Mbare and gave her the leeway to explain her love for the genre. MC: When did your love of jazz begin? JJM: My love for jazz began when I was young. My father used to play jazz music in the morning and between 5 and 6 am, he would tune to classic jazz and progressive jazz, and play music by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane and many other jazz artistes. In the 70s I was very much into rock music as I was growing up, my father was worried and he would ask me whether I was not having problems with the loud music. He would ask me if it was not affecting my ears and would compare this music with the music he grew up hearing — classic jazz, progressive jazz, and township jazz music — he eventually asked me to listen to. What I did not know is township music which was played at Mai Musodzi Hall which he used to talk about. Most of the music was nowhere to be found and what remained were just the stories. Every time my brother and I asked him for money, he would first lecture us on how he would go to watch a concert which was only two and six pence. He was a good dad, I miss him. I was very musical when I was growing up and my father would encourage me to take up music when I grew up. Whenever he heard me singing he would say, “When you grow up, join the Mahotela Queens”. My mother would concur “You have to go to the College of Music if you want to be in music”. I love music and it is amazing that everything that I have known in my life has been through music. I interviewed Will Musarurwa about his brother August Musarurwa who composed ‘Skokiaan’, which my father had told me about. I didn’t know when l was listening to Hugh Masekela’s ‘Skokiaan’ in the 70s that the song was composed by August Musarurwa, a Zimbabwean in the 50s. I did not believe it then, but since I started research on township music, I have collected about 25 different versions of ‘Skokiaan’ by different artistes throughout the world. Louis Armstrong was the first to do his own version of ‘Skokiaan’ when he came to Zimbabwe in 1960 and among his entourage was August Musarurwa. I am proud that one of the best jazz songs in the world was composed by August Musarurwa and his family is still getting royalties. When I interviewed Sam Matambo, I realised that music — which was started by the early urban settlers — was just not music, but a social history. It was that time that I thought of documenting it properly in a more dynamic way, so that it could be passed on. MC: Tell us what was happening at that time in the community? JJM: Black people had just come to the township and were still finding their feet. We would play music as a way to entertain ourselves in the township. Some played at the market place, different tribes would play their music at the market and at night they would play in the halls. It was in these places that they would play ‘jazz’. At first, they would copy it as it was and with time, they fused it with traditional music and came up with township jazz music. There were other types of music like the one-man band musician, but jazz music was more popular. They wanted to accommodate other genres of music and the music came to be known as township music. MC. Any changes that you can say that jazz has had from the 50s to date? JJM: We can go back to the 30s, it started off as slow jazz then it became fast. During the times of Kenneth and Lina, Evelyn Juba and Simon Juba in the 1930s, it was slow jazz influenced by classic and Negro spirituals then in the 50s. It was fast as it was being influenced by musicians of that era, even Louis Armstrong’s jazz had changed, it was a little bit fast. Also the 50s jazz music was faster compared with the 30s and the 60s borrowed from other rhythms like ‘chachacha’. Traditional music and jazz musicians of today such as Tanga wekwa Sando, Louis Mhlanga and Mbare Trio among others also mix their township jazz music with rock. Township jazz has taken many forms from the 30s to date and is still going strong. Today we have the likes of Ava Rogers, Kundisayi Mutero, Prudence Katomeni- Mbofana, Dudu Manhenga, Rute Mbangwa and many others. MC. What memories does Mbare hold for you? JJM: I cannot help smiling. Mbare holds a lot of memories for me, a lot of memories. It nurtured many successful people not only musicians, but also academics. People in Mbare are associated with early urban culture, yet many people viewed Mbare and other townships like Makokoba as promoting illegitimate culture. Now everyone wants to live in the city. I salute early urban settlers who lived in Mbare, Makokoba and Dangamvura townships for paving the way for black people to live in the city with their families. The present generation should know that if it was not for those who decided to live in Mbare, maybe we would not be talking about black people in the urban areas today, because it was not easy. I am the third generation in Mbare. My paternal grandparents came to Mbare in 1931 from Chishawasha, our home when my father was about six months old. He grew up in Mbare and saw the development of music which he passed on to me and I would also want to pass it on to the next generation. Our family today has been in Mbare for 81 years, my grandparents’ house is still there in Zata Street and my parents’ house is still in Mbare in 7th Avenue. Township music is still alive in Zimbabwe and recently the Harare Jazz Festival honoured the pioneers of Township Jazz music — Lina Mattaka, Dorothy Masuka and The Cool Crooners. From humble beginnings, Joyce Jenje-Makwenda remains an icon in jazz music and said it was her desire to pass on the genre to future generations. Your comments on this article are welcome on joycejenje@gmail.


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