By Fidelis Manyange
THE Kasongo Band, fronted by Ketai Muchawaya, was a popular outfit before and after independence.
The band’s songs chronicled the story of the liberation struggle and other social issues that resonated with the masses.
The outfit was made up of seven former freedom fighters Ketai Muchawaya, Dhembo Kenyatta, Rex Moto Moto, Stalin Organ, Fainos Mapurisa, Jack Ncube, Marko Sibanda and a war collaborator, Knowledge Kunenyati, who is the only surviving member.
Knowledge ‘KK’ Kunenyati was born in Buhera’s Muzokomba area in 1958 and joined Kasongo Band in 1979 as a doorman.
By that time, most of the liberation war bands and ZANU choirs were operating under the umbrella name ‘Recreation Band’.
Recreation Band was made up of Ujamaha Jazz Band, People’s Choir and individuals like Cde Dick ‘Chinx’ Chingaira.
In December 1979, a Ceasefire to the raging war between Rhodesians and the freedom fighters was announced and comrades started trickling in at Dzapasi Assembly Point in Buhera.
This is where Kunenyati met the former guerillas who later became his bandmates.
Kasongo Band was born out of the ZANLA People’s Choir.
Kasongo members left Buhera and moved to Goromonzi District in Mashonaland East where they stayed at Base One.
The band decided to become independent from the party in order to record and hold their own shows.
Kunenyati takes us down memory lane with the band.
“In 1980 with Gallo Records, we managed to record songs such as ‘Mapambani Makali’, ‘Sisi Mwakuu’, ‘Kuongozi Wasekela’, ‘Asante Sana’, ‘Ndiwo Baba Mugabe’ and ‘Chitepo’, among others,” said Kunenyati.
“I didn’t take part in those compositions or do the vocals as I was then the doorman then.”
Years later, Kunenyati took the microphone and became a vocalist to Mukoma Ketai, as band leader Muchawaya was affectionately known.
His debut album as a singer was on the album as a vocalist was Kuguta Kushanda which was recorded in 1983.
The album became a household hit.
“Those days we used to rehearse at Rex Moto Moto’s place in Chitungwiza in a cabin behind his house,” said Kunenyati.
The group began holding shows at Kambuzuma Garden Party Hotel.
The hotel was one of their most lucrative venues at the time.
The band was also in demand at Jobs Night Club owned by the late ZIFA boss, Job Kadengu.
“Lovemore Majaivana and Fanyana Dube used to play at the same venue, hence the name of their band, Jobs Combination,” said Kunenyati.
Kasongo then took on national musical tours as their songs got more airplay.
“Most of our crowds consisted of war veterans and war collaborators such that the venues which were normally halls became small,” said Kunenyati.
“We had a hectic schedule which could see us perform every day of the month.”
The affable musician confessed that many artistes were womanisers, which derailed their careers and cost the health of many.
“During those days, band members had so many girlfriends and the funny part of it was that there were ladies who preferred lead vocalists, others loved bassists only, while some were obsessed with dancers or drummers, that is why most band members died from one infectious disease from one person who could not resist other members from various bands,” he said.
In 1989, due to misunderstandings over royalties, Muchawaya left Kasongo to found his own group the Simba Brothers.
“The problem lied with us because we were ignorant as we did not understand the distribution of royalties,” said Kunenyati.
The arrangement was that the composer would get all the composers’ fee and the band would get the artistes’ fee.
Kunenyati felt the composer, Muchawaya, was fleecing them.
He sweet talked the other band members not to take part in any of Muchawaya’s activities.
“My real aim was to take over the leadership of the band and get composer’s fee which was the greatest chunk of the royalties which I eventually did,” he said.
Under Kunenyati’s leadership, the band recorded albums such as Gejo, Kuwirirana Pamabasa and Sadza.
After Muchawaya’s departure, Kunenyati wrote a song ‘Ngatiwirirane Pamabasa’, which chronicled the poor relations that led to the split of the band.
Ketai hit back by producing the popular song ‘Zuva neZuva Rine Zvaro’.
He said the friction between the two continued even after the split.
“The guy who was organising shows and doing posters for us was also secretly doing it for Muchawaya’s band because we consecutively played at the same venues throughout the country, hence there was so much competition between Simba Brothers and Kasongo,” Kunenyati said.
Kunenyati’s believes Kasongo was the better band as it had superstars in the mold of the members he retained.
The supremely talented Rex Moto Moto and Sibanda played for Kasongo.
“The problem started again when Sibanda wanted to be the leader of the band because of royalties again, but kuimba kwaimunetsa manje as he came from Filabusi, being a Ndebele, he was not fluent in Shona,” said Kunenyati.
The issue of juju arose with Marko accused of bringing potions from Filabusi to ouster Kunenyati as band leader.
Knowledge, with the help of his father, went to consult a n’anga from Chipinge to fight his rival.
“After seeing that I had stronger juju than his, Sibanda decided to stay put as an ordinary band member,” he said.
However, noticing deteriorating and a tense relationship with Sibanda, Kunenyati left Kassongo Band, to form Muzokomba Movers, a name derived from his home area.
With Muzokomba Movers, he recorded albums that include Paradzai, Passport, Maisiri Muvhimi and Zvirango.
No sooner had he left Kasongo, members came begging him to come and lead the group again.
Kunenyati left Muzokomba Movers in the hands of his young brother Edmore.
“Sibanda, on noticing that I was back at Kasongo, left the group and formed Insiza Brothers,” said Kunenyati.
After so many years in the music industry, the ‘Baba Handishayi’ hit-maker decided to quit secular music and became a man-of-cloth as he joined the ZAOGA Church in 1999, the church in which he is an elder to date.
That was the demise of the Kasongo Band.
“I did my last show with Kasongo in Muzarabani in 1999,” said Kunenyati.
Kunenyati, however, hasn’t left music completely.
He has recorded three gospel albums, Kudanwa, Rudzikinuro and Vakakomborerwa.