HomeLife & StyleAll that Jazz: History of Zimbabwe township music

All that Jazz: History of Zimbabwe township music


The title of the book, Zimbabwe Township Music reflects the subject matter of this extraordinary work.

The book is well researched and well written.

It is a treasure trove of knowledge and a must-read for all jazz music lovers.

It is a major contribution to the body of knowledge in which Joyce Jenje-Makwenda takes the reader on an exciting musical journey.

The author traces the colourful history of Zimbabwean township music from the 30s to the present.

She explores its dynamics, profiles the musicians and personalities, the promoters and the venues at which the music was performed.

Township music is essentially the Zimbabwean interpretation of jazz. It has its origins in the townships (high-density suburbs) of Harare (now Mbare) and Mzilikazi in Bulawayo that were created for African residents upon Rhodesia’s urbanisation.

Africans from rural Zimbabwe converged with those from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique in the townships and an urban culture evolved in the 30s.

At the same time, township dwellers were exposed to American and South African jazz through township loud speakers, radio, gramophone and the bioscope.

Zimbabwean township music was spawned when African jazz innovators found new ways to redefine jazz music.

Musicians of the day were easily drawn to jazz because of its African characteristics and influences.

With total dedication to the music, they created a uniquely Zimbabwean sound, weaving a new pattern that was coloured by local influences.

Early township music found expression through Makwaya music (choral music) and Omasiganda, a genre that was similar to country music and performed by solo artists accompanied by the guitar.

Notable innovators and musicians of the era include Kenneth Mattaka and The Bantu Actors, Remmington Mazabane, Josaya Hadebe and John White.

In the 40s musicians started to fuse American jazz with African musical traditions and styles.

This created the genre we now call township music.

August Musarurwa, the composer of the internationally acclaimed song Skokiaan, was very influential from the 40s right through to the 60s.

His song went on to be recorded by international greats including Louis Armstrong, Hugh Masekela, Nico Carsten, Robert Delgado, James Last, Sam Klair, Joe Carr, Nteni Piliso, Herb Albert and Tanhatumarimba.

Dorothy Masuka, Sara Mabhokela and Ruth Mpisaunga emerged in the 50s.

These trailblazing women became some of the most popular and prolific musicians at a time when society frowned upon women who performed outside church or traditional ceremonies.

Live performances were normally held at Mai Musodzi Hall in Mbare and Stanley Hall in Bulawayo.

A notable institution of the era is the Boys’ Clubs that were organised by the City Council Department of Social Welfare.

This is where talented boys were trained and groomed to become polished musicians.

The Harare Mambos, Broadway Quartet, The City Quads, Pat Travers, Da Black Evening Follies, Epworth Theatrical Strutters are some of the musicians that were prominent during the 50s through to the 60s.

The late 60s and the seventies was a low period for Zimbabwean Jazz as other genres and musical influences dominated.

This was mainly through the influence of kwela, the Cha-Cha-Cha (from DRC), rhumba, the simanje-manje (South Africa) and rock.

The OK Success Band, The Mahotela Queens, Safirio Madzikatire, Susan Chenjerai, Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo, Tutenkhamen, Gypsy Caravan and Gideon Neganje rose to prominence during this period.

Zimbabwean township jazz survived and underwent a revival after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

That come-back has seen it flourish through the years.

A crop of fine musicians, the majority of them passed through the Boys’ Clubs bounced back onto the scene, setting a new artistic trend.

Simangaliso Tutani, Dorothy Masuka, Jethro Shasha, Paul Lunga, Andrew Chabuka, Jona Marumahoko and Elish Josamu are some of the outstanding jazz musicians of the revival era.

Popular groups of the time include The Cool Crooners, Harare Drive, Jabavu Drive, Mbare Trio and Luck Street Blues.

Live performances at various hotels, nightspots, festivals and corporate functions kept the genre alive.

The current crop of jazz musicians includes Dudu Manhenga and The Colour Blu, Jazz Invitation, Tanga Wekwa Sando, Blessing Mparutsa, Rodger Hukuimwe, Sam Mataure and Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana.

The list is too long to exhaust it in one article.

The relevance of the book Zimbabwe Township Music is aptly captured by Dr. Herbert Murerwa in the foreword to the book.

He writes: “. . . Joyce’s book is a challenge for today’s youth to expand and further develop our understanding of Zimbabwe’s musical legacy.

It is an excellent source-book and essential reading for enthusiasts of Zimbabwe township music.”

Jenje-Makwenda is a proud daughter of Mbare, the cradle of Zimbabwean township jazz.

She was born and grew up at a time when the genre was flourishing.

In 1993, she produced a documentary, Zimbabwe Township Music.

She won the Best TV Producer of the Year 1993 (Reuters-National Media Awards), Second Best TV Producer of the Year 1994 (Reuters-National Media Awards), Freelance Woman Journalist of the Year 1999 (Unifem – Federation of African Media Women of Zimbabwe) and Population Development and Gender Writer of the Year 2002 (UNFPA – Zimbabwe Union of Journalists).

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