Soundtrack: Tapiwa Zivira
DURING the colonial era, Harare’s Highfield and Mbare townships were the melting pot of entertainment. And as the war against white minority rule raged in the bushes of the then Rhodesia, musicians were educating and entertaining the mostly black communities of the two suburbs — not that there was no war effort in the areas.
After the country gained independence from white minority rule in 1980, some blacks migrated to the affluent northern parts of the city, and became part of the new black bourgeoisie, but Highfield and Mbare, among other western suburbs, continued to harbour the largely penurious masses, which relied on the same entertainment spots as before independence.
For Highfield, places like Mushandirapamwe Hotel located at Machipisa Shopping Centre, Mataure and Maombera night clubs at Gazaland, Spaceman Bar across in Glen Norah, became key spots for arts and entertainment, and for those who were there during that era, these places carry nostalgic memories.
Interestingly, Spaceman was a Harare City Council venue, while Maombera, Mataure and Mushandirapamwe were privately owned, but these places complemented each other in hosting and providing space for popular and rising musicians. It was from those places that some of the popular artistes in Zimbabwe started doing liveshows and eventually making a name for themselves.
The trend then was that such venues in the suburbs where the majority of people lived, attracted huge crowds seeking entertainment, and this translated into public-based popularity as musicians were judged based on their performance on stage and not necessarily on the airplay they received on radio.
The scenario was the same in other communities, particularly the farming communities and rural service centres, otherwise known as growth points. The masses were the judges. This natural trend, somehow, got disrupted when the country’s economy began its unabated slide into abyss.
Nightclubs scaled down operations and others shut down as the country experienced its worst economic crisis characterised by shortages of basic commodities, including alcohol.
And as the economy recovered in 2009 when Zimbabwe had a Government of National Unity, the traditional entertainment spots in Highfield did not want to expose themselves further, so they did not invest much into infrastructure renovation or hiring of expensive bands to perform.
The economy was just too tight for that. And as new spots opened, the old ones remained subdued.
A visit to Mushandirapamwe Hotel will confirm how this hub of Zimbabwean entertainment, which groomed the likes of Simon Chimbetu, Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi and Leonard Zhakata, among many others, is now a pale shadow of its former self.
At some point Maombera Night Club had to shut down and was converted into a church premises.
This has happened to other key entertainment spots like Katanga Bar in New Canaan area, which has been turned into a college, while some other spots have been totally shut down.
But it is not all gloom. What was formerly known as Maombera Night Club has reopened under a new name, Ganya Night Club, featuring a fresh look, and renovations are going on to restore the night club’s high chair in the entertainment of the ghetto folk and beyond.
The club consistently hosts artistes such as Nicholas Zakaria, Progress Chipfumo and Faheem Somanje, among others as a way of bringing back the good old times.
Milton Muganda, who is running the place, is optimistic that his strategy would transform the entertainment hub to give it a modern, yet classic feel.
“That can only make it the choice hub for all arts and entertainment activities. If you know well in the good old times, this place was known for hosting big names in the arts industry, the likes of the late John Chibadura and Leonard Dembo, among others,” he said.
“In addition to that, we cater for those who love sport as well. We have a pool club and we have hosted many social pool tournaments.”
For Muganda, achieving this vision is like a mission to give back the place its role in history, considering there are not any more public spaces to nurture talent.