In the groove: Three prominent musicians have died this year

Fred Zindi

ANOTHER horrific disaster has struck the music world in Zimbabwe.

The shocking news of veteran gospel musician, Diva Mafunga’s death in a traffic accident reached me on Tuesday, the 4th of July. I was devastated.

Diva’s death has robbed us of a sincere, serious, dedicated, talented, real and ernest artist.

Diva Mafunga rose to fame when his first album, Endai Naizvozvo, was released in 2003. He struggled to make this phenomenal release. After consulting several producers and other people in the music field, including me, on how he could get his music to reach the people, because Gramma Records had rejected it, I advised him to look for finances to self-release his music. I said to him: “ Your music sounds good, Diva. If you get the necessary finances, go and record your music in a reputable studio then market it yourself. You begin by marketing it among your friends, fellow church-goers and eventually the public.” He listened.

 Despite facing rejection from Gramma Records, who deemed him not marketable, Mafunga persevered with unwavering determination.

Undeterred, he utilized his own resources to record Endai Naizvozvo at Shed Studios. When the album was finally released, it received an enthusiastic response from his church-mates and fans at large.

Eventually, Gramma Records recognized the album’s potential and decided to take on its marketing.

Mafunga’s musical expedition commenced in the 1980s in rural  Mount Darwin.

It was during this time that he and his companions would convene for impromptu jam sessions, strumming their banjos while tending to cattle.

Eventually, he ventured into singing at church gatherings, and in 2003, he decided to have a selection of his songs professionally recorded.

Following the success of Endai Naizvozvo, Mafunga continued to captivate audiences with a series of subsequent albums. We have now painfully lost him.

Condolence messages are still pouring in.

Pastor Charles Charamba, another veteran gospel singer had this to say:

“It comes as a shock. Indeed we have lost a good and dependable companion, someone who candidly demonstrated his love for God. May the Lord comfort the children and family at large. Rest in Power our own compatriot Diva Mafunga.”

Another Pastor, Dr. Noah Pashapa, author of Fake Prophets, Money and Youth said that he was saddened to hear this news. He loved Diva Mafunga’s music and this news came like a bolt from the blue.

Mono Mukundu, musician and owner of Monolio Studios had this to say:

“Just learned the sad news that musician Diva Mafunga has passed away. It's another huge loss for the sector.

“He called me every now and then for the past 3 years to say that he was now serious about working with me to create a reggae album, and I always responded by saying, "You said the same thing last time.” Both of us were not aware that it was never going to happen. Rest in peace my friend.”

Another musician and pastor, Emmanuel Thomas (ex -Frontline Kids) expressed his sadness at losing a friend and fellow gospel musician. He also ended with: ” These roads are eating away all our good people. May his dear soul rest in eternal peace.”

 This is not the first time Zimbabwe has lost a prominent musician this year.

In January we lost Mbuya Stella Chiweshe.

Stella Chiweshe, who died aged 76, was a rebel musician who transformed the music scene in Zimbabwe. in the 1970s, when the country was still white-ruled Rhodesia. She did so by daring to play the mbira which at the time was a male dominated instrument. A lot of women were found in the gospel arena because it was a safe platform from which to land oneself onto the music scene. Because even men fear God, it is difficult for male chauvinists to stop their wives or daughters from singing about God in church. This is why it is easier for a woman who wants to venture into singing to start off with being a member of her church choir. Worse still, playing mbira was considered to be a taboo.

As the late Stella Chiweshe, one of Zimbabwe’s leading mbira players put it: “It does not have to be like that. A woman can do most of the jobs that a man can do. I counted the number of fingers on a man’s hand and saw five in one hand. I then counted the fingers on my hand, and they also came to five. So, I said to myself, what the hell, if a man can play mbira, I can too.” She defied all odds by declaring herself equal to men.

Stella Chiweshe was a compelling performer, and a great musician who had the aura of a priestess.

.Born in Mujumi Village, Mhondoro,  Chiweshe grew up listening to American country music and rock, favouring the Everly Brothers and Jim Reeves over traditional music. She was unimpressed when her grandparents invited mbira players from another region to play an overnight ritual, but two years later she said the sound of the mbira suddenly started ringing in her head “loud and endlessly”.

From that point onwards she was desperate to learn the instrument, but found that no male musicians would teach her, while mbira makers refused even to build an instrument for a woman. A great-uncle finally agreed to give her lessons, and after three years training, from 1966 to 1969, she began to play in public. She risked imprisonment by performing at all-night sacred ceremonies, while also developing a commercial  side to her work. Her first single, the gently hypnotic Kashahwa (1974), demonstrated her instrumental skill and the range of her relaxed vocal style, and she became a bestseller on the local market.

After independence in 1980, Chiweshe rose to be one of the stars of the new Zimbabwe. In 1981 she joined the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe, bringing her mbira skills to an international audience. She was also an actress, playing the title role in the film Mbuya Nehanda, which told the true story of a spirit medium who was executed after leading a rebellion against British occupation in the 19th century.

 Further recordings included Chava Chimurenga, Mbuya and Tribute to Samora Machel.

Although many of her songs were inspired by her ancestors and the spirit world, there was also a political side to Chiweshe’s compositions, which included a tribute to Samora Machel, the first president of independent Mozambique. She said that  a lot of things came to her in dreams or from the spirit world.  Most of her songs came through her dreams.

Unfortunately, we also lost Stella this year.

Come  the month of May, only two months ago, we lost another prominent musician, Kelly Rusike, Jazz Invitation frontman. The veteran music producer singer-songwriter and bass player, Kelly Rusike was aged 59.  He died from diabetic complications on Wednesday the 17th May 2023.

 In 1980, Kelly was part of this pop band which came from Zambia to Zimbabwe with a big bang. They called themselves the Rusike Brothers .

One young bass player who was inspired by Kelly summed up his experiences with Kelly this way:

“Growing up as a young bass player, I looked up to this man and I was inspired by him in many ways than him just being an amazing bass player. He was truly one of the real kings of the low end from Zimbabwe. You can’t mention top bass players in Zimbabwe without mentioning Mukoma Kelly. I used to watch him at Book Cafe playing with Jazz Invitation and he was our very own Marcus Miller in the flesh. Thank you for the music Mukoma and thank you for always being a great example in your humbleness and your willingness to teach others this craft, I for one am grateful. May you rest in peace and we will forever remember your good work and for sure.”

The Rusike Brothers were a family band made up of five brothers, just like the Jackson Five. They were very popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s and  were famous for their their jingle titled Ngwerewere Sadza, dazzling dancing styles and also for their weird sense of fashion as evidenced by their donning saggy and baggy gunshot jeans with holes in them. They were one of the first Zimbabwean pop groups in the 1990s at most night clubs as well as dance halls such as Arcadia Community Hall in Harare. Kelly later went on to form his own group called the Jazz Invitation. We also lost him this year.

His death devastated a lot of people.

To the three prominent musicians who died this year we say. May your souls rest in peace.

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