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Bring back Rufaro Marketing

It’s Christmas time again. Musicians are scrounging for jobs at the few available venues in order to have a decent festive season. In the past, there were more venues than there were bands available. At council beerhalls in Harare, each had a band playing in them. These were managed by Rufaro Marketing.

in the groove by Fred Zindi

Rufaro Marketing closed shop in 2012 after failing to service a debt of over $5 million. This loss was caused by poor management, rampant theft and maladministration

In order to pay off its debt, the then Rufaro Marketing acting CEO Daniel Mutiwadirwa and his team decided to lease out all the 86 Rufaro Marketing outlets with approval from Harare City Council.

Companies that took advantage of this opportunity included TN Holdings, Delta and PSMI.

Mutiwadirwa said six outlets had been offered to retrench under an empowerment programme that saw 27 former employees being granted the use of the beerhalls for free as part of their retrenchment packages.

The company sent its remaining 269 workers on forced leave pending their transfer to Harare City Council. Other employees received retrenchment packages. The musicians who entertained patrons in these beerhalls went empty-handed and became unemployed.

The incoming companies had different business plans.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, unemployment among musicians was not heard of as the majority of musicians were employed either in beerhalls or hotels where they entertained patrons on a daily basis. A good band would often be hired on a 12-month contract, while an average group would get six months.
Most musicians would raise families, pay rentals or even buy their own cars using the money they earned from contract employment. Almost every beer garden in Harare and Bulawayo had a band to entertain patrons. City councils believed that patrons stayed longer drinking when there was live music at the venue, thus increasing their profits.

However, the demise of Rufaro Marketing, which was a subsidiary group of Harare City Council, saw the end of beerhall entertainment and the bands that were comfortable working in one venue started to look for work elsewhere. Most of them began to tour the country giving performances in municipality halls and at growth points where patrons would pay to see them perform. Some of them, who were used to contract employment in one venue and were settled with their families in one place, could not stomach the tough new experience of uncertainty in showbiz. They chose to split up and dissolve their groups.
That marked the beginning of the present day unemployment for musicians.

Despite this, more and more school leavers are still seeking opportunities in the entertainment industry as the unemployment situation gets more and more desperate. Very few of them make real money from the manufacturing industry as did their contract employment counterparts.

Up to 1990, local authorities believed that there was need for entertainment of their patrons in every beerhall. When music was provided, the patrons tended to stay longer and spend more on their products. So there was demand for musical entertainers at every beer garden. All available musicians found this to be an attractive way of getting employment.

When the city councils began to call some of these singing groups to entertain patrons at their beerhalls, it was also their responsibility to buy them the musical instruments which they would use to play. With this revolution, everybody who thought they could play an instrument soon formed a band and sought a municipality contract as this was the answer to their unemployment problems. Although the musicians were only paid a pittance, the security of a “contract”, a regular wage and sometimes free beer and accommodation, attracted so many bands to such an extent that by 1960, there were over 200 well-known bands in the cities of Salisbury (Harare) and Bulawayo. With all sorts of external influences, names such as Capital City Dixies, De-Black Evening Follies, The Harare Mambos, The Pop Settlers, The Springfields, Tuttenkhamein, Jazz Crooners, The Echoes, and The Melody Makers began to emerge in the late 60s.

It wasn’t only the city council that sponsored the bands. As more and more township boys from Highfield, Harare (Mbare), Mabvuku, Mufakose, Mpopoma, Mzilikazi, Sakubva, Mucheke, Mkoba, Mtapa and Amaveni began to learn how to play musical instruments at their youth centres, they began to form bands and started looking for work on “contracts”. Firms such as BAT (British-American Tobacco) saw the need to use these youths to promote their products in the township ghettos. The Harare Mambo Band, The Pop Settlers and The Soul and Blues Union were some of the bands which emerged in the early 60s supported by such firms. Even the small town councils began to buy musical equipment for bands. Some musicians would leave their homes to settle in other towns where there were musical equipment owners willing to employ them as more and more private club owners, hoteliers, fashion shop owners, owners of clothing firms, skin lightening products firm owners and even missionaries began to buy equipment for groups to promote their respective interests. As a result, the early 60s saw over 500 bands on contracts employed in the country. One significant band which emerged during this time was the Jiri Kwela Kings sponsored by the late Jairos Jiri, founder of the Jairos Jiri Association, a charitable organisation looking after people with disabilities. They toured the whole country playing to large audiences in municipality halls in the townships. Blind people and people with physical disabilities formed the membership of this band and it was the sympathy coupled with the ability to play when so disadvantaged that drew the audiences. Other bands included Broadway Quartet, The All Blacks Limited, The Springfields, Otis Waygood (the only significant white band at the time), The St Paul’s Musami Mission Band, Wells Fargo, 2D Sounds, Eye of Liberty and the King Messengers’ Quartet. No single band went for a week without work as is happening today.

Some of these bands ventured into recording and were given further record company contracts by Gallo Records (later known as ZMC) and Teal Record Company (Gramma). Most of their debut singles were a success as they sold thousands of copies.

Gallo scored its major success with a band which had been around for quite some time, Zexie Manatsa and The Green Arrows. The album Chipo Chiroorwa sold in large quantities. Before that they had only concentrated on releasing singles and around 1971 a group called The Great Sounds, which was based at Magaba Beerhall in Mbare, found itself in one of Harare’s commercial four-track studios where they recorded what became a national hit Anopenga Ane Waya, which also sold large quantities. Songs around this time were centred mainly around social themes, excluding politics. The Harare Mambos, who were housed at Elizabeth Hotel in Harare on contract, were singing songs such as Tamba Suzana, the Tutenkhamen Band, which was based at Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield, recorded Itayi Cent Cent Vakomana, Ini Ndachona, a song about unemployment, and the Springfields, who had a contract with Mutanga Night Club also in Highfield, were playing copyrights of 12-bar blues, but sung in Shona such as Bhutsu Yangu Yapera Hiri. The St Paul’s Musami Band recorded Mvura Ngayinaye around 1972.

However, Teal Record Company found it inevitable to put revolutionary songs on record as popular musicians such as Thomas Mapfumo had already sold non-political records such as Murembo in their thousands. His live concerts were sold out wherever he went. The company realised that Thomas’s popularity was due to his “Chimurenga” songs. They took a chance with the album Hokoyo . It paid off.

From then onwards, Zimbabweans who had looked down on traditional Shona mbira music had to think again because this album swept the whole country like a veld fire. The company had earlier suppressed songs like I’m a Black Man by the Pied Pipers, who had to compromise and change the title to I’m a Country Boy, thus camouflaging all the lines which were meant to express the deplorable plight of the black man in Rhodesia.

Most of these songs were heard in Rufaro Maketing’s township beerhalls or in city hotels and they gave every other musician a job and income. This needs to be resuscitated to ease unemployment among musicians.

Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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