WHEN it comes to quality sound, Progress Chipfumo does not compromise. His newly-released album, Progress Check, proves that the man, together with his band and producers, put in a lot of work to come out with what could be one of the best grade music productions.
Although the lanky, dreadlocked musician seems to play the underdog in music circles — with his music rarely classified as the anthem of the day — he has not allowed that to compromise the quality of his productions. He has kept the bar high.
In a country where some of the top musicians have been criticised for rushing album releases and releasing half-baked productions, Chipfumo is a man who has demonstrated reverence for time.
He takes his time to perfect his work, although this has not always been received well by his fans.
Four years after releasing the underrated Hold My Hand, Chipfumo finally released Progress Check last month after several postponements.
“What is music if it is of poor quality?” Chipfumo once quipped — and the final release proved to be superb.
It is not just the great quality of sound that is exhibited here, but great diversity in the taste of the tracks underpinned by the consistent presence of the traditional Chipfumo sound.
For greater variety, Chipfumo employs the hands of two fine producers, who have different production backgrounds.
Clive Mono Mukundu is a veteran, who has been in the music industry for decades and has produced all forms of music, from jazz, through sungura to reggae and many other kinds, while Tapiwa “Maselo” Jera is relatively new in the industry, but has raised people like new kid, Andy Muridzo to fame and has done some dancehall productions.
The track that is likely to be a favourite is the opener, Chikuru Rudo.
This is a crowd favourite whenever Chipfumo does live shows, and was produced by Mono, who also played the rhythm guitar.
In Chikuru Rudo, Progress exhibits his prowess on the lead guitar, weaving it into the keyboard and acoustic rhythm guitar sounds in what others would call a slower tempo version of his chorus on Leonard Zhakata’s Madam Boss.
For those who love slow dance moves, the first three minutes belong to you and well, after that, the tempo picks up and it is time for killer jives.
Mono’s inclination to jazzy and reggae groove is seen in the other tracks that he produced and these are the renditions of Tokwe Mukosi, Dai Ndaiziva and Look Up the Mountain as well as I Say Yes and Siyai Vakure.
Tokwe Mukosi, initially produced in 2014, comes this time as a fast tempo reggae song that, rather disappointingly, fails to capture the mood of disaster.
The original version was produced after the Tokwe Mukosi flood disaster in Masvingo three years ago and what could have made the song a hit was how Chipfumo sounded more composed and rode on a softer beat unlike in the rendition.
Mono and Chipfumo’s experiment on the rendition of Look Up the Mountain, when they create a strong roots-reggae beat to go with the song, which was originally produced by Maselo as a dancehall reggae song and features on the same album.
Maselo, on the other hand, gives the album, what is undoubtedly his best.
On the track Vakarohwa Mai, he demonstrates that mixing and mastering runs in his blood, as the song is pleasantly smooth, getting the listener into the mood of the message.
The message is of a grown-up child, who is in a dilemma over the way his father abused his mother in front of him as a child: “Dzimwe nguva ndovada, dzimwe ndovasuwa baba vangu….ndovasuwa sei ivo vairova mai takatarira… (Sometimes I love him, sometimes I miss him, my dad… How do I miss him when he used to beat up our mother while we watched)”
The song speaks to some of life’s realities, where children are forced to distance themselves from one of their parents after divorce, or domestic issues, yet when they grow up, they realise the gap of not having the presence of both parents.
This is one song that has a message so deep and lead guitar riffs backed by a heavy elastic bassline and wailing keyboard sounds that flow over a pulsating drum pattern that tap into the soul of the listener.
Chipfumo’s steady and calm vocals add mood to the song. Maselo takes Chipfumo onto a new path with track 10, Vabereki.
Here, the traditional mbaqanga bassline and drum beat meet the traditional Chipfumo sound and the final product is a fine song with a message urging children to look after their parents.
And if message is anything to go by, all the 10 tracks carry social commentary — with greater focus on family issues — and Chipfumo has become known for that.
In one word, the album can simply be described as “balanced”.