HomeLife & StyleAll That Jazz: Coffee with Penny Yon

All That Jazz: Coffee with Penny Yon


Jazz musician Penny Yon (PY) is one of Zimbabwe’s most active arts managers of our time. With a life-long commitment to music and the arts, her contribution to the sector is outstanding.

Penny has got the much-needed vibe and savvy required to make wheels turn in Zimbabwe’s growing music industry.

Busy as she is with her work at Pamberi Trust, she took a coffee break to speak to NewsDay’s Munya Simango (ND) about her musical journey. Excerpts from part one of this wide-ranging interview:

ND: Thank you for taking the time to speak to NewsDay readers. You have been in music for some time. Tell me more about your background.

PY: I was born into a musical family in Mutare, where there was always live music. My dad was a phenomenal musician who played six instruments, and inspired us all. My three brothers play several instruments each, and I started “piano lessons” at the age of 7 years, moved on to guitar at 10, and to bass guitar at 35.

Performance-wise, I play bass and sing in the worship team in my church in Arcadia, and enjoy jamming with my brothers Richard and David in our spare time. I always promise myself to dedicate more time to playing music, but time is the thing . . .

ND: You have been described as a musician of exceptional and unique talent. Do you acknowledge that?

PY: I am honoured to be so described! I think music is one of those things where the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know! I would hesitate to say “exceptional”; I wish I could play more. Everyone is unique.

ND: What kind of work are you currently involved in?

PY: Since 2005 I have been working with an arts development organisation called Pamberi Trust as an administrator. We promote the development of Zimbabwean artistes.

As arts administrator, I do a lot of writing, including music articles and promotional material, and I am also involved in the graphic design department for Pamberi’s huge “publicity machine” for over 900 events every year.

At home, I am working on a novel based on the diverse origins of the mixed-race community in Zimbabwe and its rich music and cultural heritage.

ND: As an artiste what are the highlights of your career?

PY: In 1993 I joined newly formed women’s a capella group Big Sister, along with Ava Rogers, Biddy Partridge, Kundisai Mtero and Bente Stolberg.

In 1997 I joined the Afro-jazz group Mhepo led by Nigel Samuels and Biddy Partridge, and graduated from backing vocalist to bassist, performing with them up to the release of the CD Mapapiro in 2000.

ND: What is your view of the current jazz scene? Is it vibrant and creative enough?

PY: It is very vibrant and creative. There are amazing things going on, and Zimbabweans naturally lean towards a jazz “feel” with the cross-cultural elements of music from different corners, and a great ability to improvise freely.

Some are reaching out into the region (recently Jazz Invitation to Zambia and Malawi) and into world as far as Europe (recently Dudu Manhenga and Color Blu, and Patience Musa, among others).

The jazz programme at the College of Music has also helped the cause of jazz, and many talented people are emerging from there.

Sadly many of the older musicians have moved away or passed on, but the spirit is still strong, and jazz-lovers are always hungry for “real jazz”!

ND: When you are not on the music scene, how are you as a parent and partner?

PY: Tough! I have three sons ranging from 32 to 11 years old, and one has to be tough! I have a very supportive partner who also loves and plays music, thank God for that!

ND: What advice or words of inspiration would you give to aspiring musicians?

PY: If you have a God-given gift, you must use it! Keep working, every day. They say we “play” music and people think it’s all just getting up on the stage and having fun. We have to know that for us “playing” is the same as “working” music.

All the big Zimbabwean musicians today have put in endless hours and hours of work, blood, sweat and tears, sometimes hunger and exhaustion, to be where they are. That’s what it takes to do anything that’s worth anything.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading