Delight Makotose, director at International Expo was recently delighted to hand me a refreshing and soulful album from Ditswi. I must say this was the first time I had heard of this group, but wasn’t I delighted? Thanks to you Delight!
in the groove with Fred Zindi
Bulawayo-based Ditswi is a big Afro-jazz band, whose composing skills are rooted in the cultural diversity of Zimbabwe. The band embraces a multiplicity of languages such as Shona, Ndebele, English, Tonga, Nyanja, Nambya, Bemba, Kalanga and Chopi, representing their discreetly ingenious work, as the album reveals on this impressive six-track set, featuring virtuoso guitarist Shepherd Hlongwane, Raymond Langa on drums, Lennon Tauro on bass, Blessing Sikhosana on keyboards and Patience Tauro on lead vocals. Jazz’s traditional call-and-response techniques rise to levels of teeming melodic inventiveness here, with the staccato chord-riffing of Hlongwane met by fast-changing streams of rejoinders, before Tauro’s trademark top-end squeal and agile freebop vocal phrasing which gives rise to a tonal and melodic assurance. The first track on the album, Bwelanso, is a song about basic love experience where the singer is pleading with his lost love asking him to come back. Meanwhile, the second track, Ndambakuudzwa, is based on Shona idiomatic expression which refuses to condone stubborn behaviour. The song slowly burns an upwardly winding melody, supported by a keyboard hook and a superb break of slewing stratospheric and sonorous exclamations. Tauro naturally wants to hurl all her newly absorbed knowledge in, and the set could have used a little more patience to let good stories take their time. But that skill can’t be far away. It is evident in Ichanini (What Is This?), a song condemning the sexual abuse of women, followed by Ngingowakho meaning “I am yours”. My favourite track is Nichinavela, which is based on one’s craving and yearning for someone. The last track is a Tonga prayer of praise, simply titled Tata Wesu.
Ditswi is one of those bands that can amaze you if you allow them to. You don’t hear them on the radio much. You don’t get to hear about them often, but once you download their tracks into your CD player, or ask Makotose for a copy, you will be delighted to listen to them all the time, and never get tired of their music.
Meanwhile, it looks like the spirit of Comrade Chinx is coming back to haunt us forever. Mazowe-born lawyer-cum politician-cum musician and former deputy minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Fortune Chasi, who attended Thomas Mapfumo’s April 2014 concert held in South Africa before embarking on a music career, has just released an eight-track album simply entitled Mdhara Chasi, which begins with a remix of Chinx’s Roger Confirm and Havana Kukanganisa. Other tracks on the album include Tivake Zimbabwe Yedu, Simuka Tiende , Ndinotenda, Daidzai VaChasi, Nako Yakwana and Gumi Nevaviri. It is full of political messages and a pleasure to listen to.
Now let us turn to Zimdancehall, music which has now been embraced even by its Jamaican originators as evidenced by the endorsements coming from the likes of Jah Cure, Busy Signal and Beenie Man who have accepted that Zimbabweans are doing a good job in improving this genre.
Next, enters this youngster who exudes a lot of energy and confidence. He calls himself “The Prodigal Son” (real name Gift Frederick). “Here Prof”, he says. “You will enjoy this one. It’s full of riddim and wicked lyrics”.
“I will listen to it in my own good time”, I responded. The next day I took time to listen to Frederick’s offering. Tracks laid down include Vanonditi Buddie, Candidate, Ngavafe, Ryfor, Maid Yenyu and Magitare. Indeed, it is typical Zimdacehall with nothing new, so I thought. However, it wasn’t until I listened again to a track titled, Maimbonyatsoimbei that I began to take The Prodigal Son seriously. Although many of his tracks are dynamic and technically sound, it was this one track which blew my mind. Its minimalistic sounds and deep, low frequencies are especially great if you listen to it on some decent headphones. Maimbonyatsoimbei hit me hard. It starts off with very simple lyrics where Frederick questions his dad about his past as a musician and wants to know what exactly they were singing about during those days. For someone who was born on October 11 1996, at age 20, he has every right to know what was happening in the 1980s. It was as if he was asking me. I asked him to explain this tune and this is what he had to say; “I don’t think that past musicians have anything to gloat about. Our generation has got the real music. I began to notice this when I started to sing at the age of 12 while doing Grade 7 in Chitungwiza at Pfumo Primary School. I listened to some Winky D tunes and I thought to myself, this is the real deal. Later, during my secondary education at Ridgeway 1 High School in Chitungwiza, I was also inspired by Freeman. But now that I have started my own recordings, I am now aiming at toppling Winky D from the number one spot. There are those who have tried, but have failed. I will do it. Soul Jah Love is a small fish. My hope is to be the best and top Zimdancehall artiste before I reach 21 and I am already working on tunes that will inspire the whole world”.
Yes, The Prodigal Son’s music is definitely the kind of music you can shake your body to. I would say, it is also suitable for intelligent contemplation, meditation, or creative occupations like writing or painting. And I especially enjoyed this music. Just listen to it — the motives of solitude and something higher pour out in a goose bump-inducing finale as tender and gifted vocals from Frederick come out pouring in a Zimdancehall style.
I applaud the effort put in by this youngster and I pray that his dreams will one day come true. However, some of the lyrics coming out on this album are things I have heard before and this makes these generally nice tracks sound like they were taken from another artiste’s album. This is, perhaps, my only qualm with the album.
Frederick is definitely worth listening to. If you are all alone, and feel like simply letting yourself be, turn The Prodigal Son’s Maimbonyatsoimbei on.