BY ADMIRE JAMU-MLAMBO SUNGURA musician Joseph Garakara (52) has revealed his humble musical journey where he started off as a mbira player. It all began when he was still in primary school as a very young boy in family traditional gatherings.
The Mbama Express frontman, Garakara, poured his heart out about how such traditional gatherings shaped up his journey to music stardom.
“I started long back when I was in Grade Five at Benhura Primary School in Mhondoro-Ngezi district, Mashonaland West province when I could play mbira in a bira as a family ensemble member. I was taught to play the instrument by my late elder brother Lovemore. I never looked back from then.
“An interest to learn more instruments seized me and I started learning to play a makeshift guitar. From a homemade instrument I got the chance to learn to play a guitar from an uncle who had one. That’s how everything started and developed from there,” he said
A teacher by profession, Garakara, started off as temporary teacher and saved the little he was earning to buy an electric guitar.
“After completing my Ordinary Level I was employed as a temporary teacher. I bought a guitar with the savings from my first salary. With the instrument on my side, I could practise until late hours of the day until I was satisfied I had the skill.
“I joined the teacher training programme at Morgan Zintec College and left a record of playing musical instruments there. After I graduated, I was posted to a rural primary school to teach there. After two years I joined the Zimbabwe College of Music for a Diploma in Ethnomusicology. During my final year at the college I formed my band (Mbama Express) in 2004 and recorded my first album called Uineni (When you are with me) That’s how all started,” Garakara told Standard Style.
Just like every other sungura musician who start from painful and scratch beginnings, Garakara faced numerous challenges that derailed his career since he had no equipment of his own.
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“My first album was called Uineni meaning (When you are with me). As a student at the Zimbabwe College of Music, I was financially incapacitated to do enough practise for a successful album. So I did what I could afford then and the album did not perform well in the market,” he said.
Two years after the formation of Mbama Express, Garakara struck the right cord after releasing Tapinda Tapinda, which carried a hit song Idya Banana in 2006.
“Of course, there were much gains financially after the release of Tapinda Tapinda. I got awarded three accolades by the Zimbabwe Music Association that year. I performed for the first time at the then popular music galas at Chinotimba Stadium in Victoria Falls and many others countrywide,” he said.
“I was receiving quarterly royalties from Gramma Records and many other shows we did gave us more than we were expecting. That’s when I started buying some music equipment to easy the going. By that time piracy had not caused havoc in realising the fruits of our hard work.”
However when Garakara’s project seemed to have been well-received and getting the much-need publicity both on television and radio after the release of Tapinda Tapinda, he was hit by an accident after a successful show which destroyed his band instruments.
Garakara said: “In 2015 I was coming back to Harare from our last show at Beatrice Motel. The accident happened just after Charter Grade when the truck carrying the instruments overturned and all our equipment was destroyed.”
The Idya Banana hit maker, got his inspiration from the late sungura maestro Richard Mapfuwamhandu of the Nyaminyami Sounds. Garakara draws his music from day-to-day issues which the people face.
“I was inspired largely inspired by Richard Mapfuwamhandu of the Nyami Nyami sounds. I compose my music by singing day-to-day issues although I dreamt once the song Keep up the pace,” he said.
With a career that spans over 18 years, Garakara has nine albums under his belt, namely Uineni (When you are with me) (2004), Tapinda Tapinda (2006), Kuchi’one’ neZai (2007), Chamboko Che‘wire’ (2008), Forever Mine (2010), Kuti Zvityise (2012), Pfuti Yerudo (2015) and Mbama yeMambunge (2020) and Farirai (to be released soon).
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