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Vambe: The drum goes silent


DOUGLAS Vambe (76), the drummer renowned for providing the nation with its main news bulletin soundtrack, bowed out yesterday after a fairly long, colourful life.

Vambe is popularly known for the Jerusarema/Mbende drumbeat that is used as a signature on ZTV and radio news bulletins.

The man was so popular in Marondera that each time he drove around town, people would frequently stop him for a chat.

He drove slowly, and on occasions disembarked the car and forgot to close the door, only to be alerted by the many people who adored him.

“I am getting old my child, thank you for reminding me to lock my doors,” Vambe told me with a chuckle back then.

The veteran Zimbabwean drummer was well known for his Jerusarema/Mbende drum beating skills and said only ‘death’ would stop him from performing at public functions.
“I am getting old, I admit that, but this will not stop me from performing at public functions. Zimbabwe still needs my services. My hands are still strong. I am still able and will retire when I breathe my last.”

Death has finally done its part.

Rewards for his contribution to the national cultural consciousness came late in life when he was offered a 100-hectare farm by the government.

Prior to that, he had not received any material reward since the drumbeat was recorded at the then Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC) Mbare studios, Harare, in 1962.

The drumbeat had been on the airwaves ever since then until in 2009 when the government finally gave him a 100ha farm as compensation for his prowess.

His efforts to engage authorities at the RBC and its successor, ZBC, for royalties, failed.

He said he was hurt whenever he heard the drum beat on radio or television while he had nothing to show for it.

At one time, the late Vambe demanded Z$5 million from ZBC as compensation without any success.

He brought the drum from Chimanimani in the early 1960s. It is the same drum that he still played across the globe before his passing on.

The drumbeat is so popular that when the ZTV removed it from introducing and concluding its news bulletins for just a few days in 1999, there was an outcry from viewers across the country.

The late Vambe also had plans to establish an academy that would accommodate at least 50 young artistes he had wanted to personally teach the Jerusarema/Mbende drum-beating skills.

In addition, he was also honoured with a 4×4 Shogun vehicle and, at the time of his death, he was a Jerusarema/Mbende dance consultant in Mashonaland East province while also teaching drum-beating skills in schools around the farming town of Marondera.

He was the man behind Murewa-based Dombodzvuku Primary School’s success, which won the Jerusarema dance competition on four consecutive occasions.

Some of the popular Jerusarema/Mbende groups that have passed through Vambe’s hands include Ngoma Dzepasi and Jerusarema Crew, among others.

Born on August 2, 1942 in Magunje village, Uzumba district, Vambe fell in love with the traditional drum at the tender age of four. In September 2008 he went to the United Kingdom after being invited to perform at the Birmingham International Arts Festival.

He represented Zimbabwe with distinction during the 2010 Fifa World Cup finals in South Africa where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of renowned R&B artiste R Kelly and Colombian sensation Shakira.

His drumbeat was heard at almost every State function. Mbende/Jerusarema dance is a popular dance style practised by the Zezuru/Shona people living in the Murehwa and Uzumba, Maramba and Pfungwe districts in eastern Zimbabwe.

His skills on the drum saw him flying to the United Kingdom in 2008 after being invited to perform at the Birmingham International Arts Festival.

Vambe was a fearless man. After regularly performing at most Zanu PF functions, he recently pulled a shocker after he attended an MDC Alliance Street rally in Cherima, Marondera. He played his drums and without being asked to address, the ever smiling drummer stood up and poured out his heart.

He revealed that he was not happy about how both Zanu PF and government had abused him for their own benefit.

The State broadcaster played his drum tune for a number of years and when former President Robert Mugabe gave him a farm some years back. He felt it was not enough and thought he would receive more money in the form of royalties.

At the time of his death, the veteran drummer was mulling hosting a Mbende cultural festival in Marondera. Vambe contributed much to the growth of the popular annual Jerusarema/Mbende festival that is held in Murehwa.

As a young boy, the soft spoken drummer said he dreamt that he had seen his grandfather in a dream handing over to him the traditional drums.

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