“I AM coming to Marondera tomorrow. I have a show there. I will see you before the show so that we talk face-to-face for the first time this year.”
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
That was the message I received last Friday morning from Munyaradzi Nyemba, a few hours before he breathed his last. The posters of the show were littered all over Marondera, with reggae enthusiasts already in the mood.
But that was never to be as fate played a cruel trick. The sad news got to me via social media platforms around lunchtime on Friday that Elder Munya — as he was popularly known — had joined his ancestors. At first I thought it was a hoax, but one of his sons confirmed the report when I phoned him.
I had last met Elder Munya late in 2015 after he had suffered a mild heart attack that had him hospitalised at Parirenyatwa for a while.
All the memories of how I first met Elder Munya were revived. It was in January 2010, when I joined the media industry as an arts reporter. Being the inexperienced scribe, I had an opportunity to befriend actor Tawonga Mafundikwa who subsequently became virtually my “tour guide”. Mafundikwa knew who was who in the arts industry. One day he took me to the then vibrant Redfox Hotel in Greendale.
I was introduced to the joint’s owner, Robert Zhuwao, who was in the company of Nyemba. That was my first time to meet the pint-sized artiste and to witness a Transit Crew show.
“We are among the pioneers of reggae music in Zimbabwe and we have contributed a lot to the genre, but we are not honoured much. I hope as a media practitioner you will write something on reggae and Transit Crew,” said Munya after the introductions.
Nyemba, who was also known as Bhudhi, was an excellent bass guitarist. His combination with lead guitarists Samaita Zindi and keyboard player Antony Liba (they called themselves “Elders”) was a marvel. They played renditions by great Jamaican artistes Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Gregory Isaacs with finesse.
With the University of Zimbabwe lecturer and arts critic Fred Zindi being the manager of the group by that time, Nyemba and his troops worked hard to carve a niche in the genre, creating their own fan base in the process. He and the other two Elders did not take alcohol and their stock on the music graph gradually rose and their maintained a tight friendship and unity to the end.
Munya had love for the young artistes. He was not pompous. His philosophy remained the same that Transit Crew is like a bus — anyone boards and disembarks upon arriving at their intended destination. By this Munya meant that the reggae ensemble had an open door policy to any young people and lead vocalists who wanted to get exposure or wanted to be shown the ropes.
“Transit Crew is a train. They come and they go. We are an oasis of knowledge as far as reggae music is concerned. The youngsters are the future of reggae and we are glad that we have released a number of young talents in to the world. We boast of that,” Nyemba told me some time back.
Transit Crew has groomed a number of reggae and dancehall artistes.
Some of the youngsters who were nurtured and weaned include Emmanuel “Mannex” Motsi, (who later returned to Transit Crew), Mike “Mic Inity” Madamombe, Jefrey Sithole Tinashe “Cello Culture” Gamure and Solomon “Rootsman Spice” Tokwe.
The experience saw the group turning into a resident backing group to a number of notable Jamaican artists who performed in the country. During his musical life, Nyemba experienced some ups and downs. He was hit hard by the closure of popular entertainment hunting grounds Mannenburg and Book Café.
Transit Crew was formed in 1988. The following year, they had the privilege of playing alongside Culture, Eric Donaldson, and Ijahman Levi, who were all backed by Rough Cuts Band, here in Zimbabwe.
The group has toured South Africa, Japan, The United Kingdom and has been a supporting act for numerous international artists such as Misty in Roots, Dennis Brown, Luciano and Mickey General in Jamaica, UK poet Zephaniah Benjamin, dancehall sensation Sizzla Kalonji, Jamaican dub poet Yasus Afari and the late Lucky Dube.
Nyemba will always be remembered for his unique style in playing the bass guitar with his eyes closed, as if he was locked up in his own world, swinging the instrument up and down rhythmically.
History will judge him well even as his remains lie in that grave at his rural home in Bhasera, Gutu for the great work he did in taking reggae music to greater heights in the country.
Rest in peace, Munyaradzi “Bhudhi” Nyemba.