This month we celebrate Tobias Areketa’s 31st anniversary since his death.
Areketa died on September 11, 1990 aged 30. He was so talented and life was cut short before he could show the world everything he was capable of.
I first met Areketa in November, 1984 during my time as a student in London. It was also the time of Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo’s first European tour. I had gone to the Zimbabwe Embassy at the Strand in London when I got the information that Mapfumo with his band, The Blacks Unlimited, were in town and Areketa was among them.
The Blacks Unlimited were recording the album Mugara Ndega at Addis Ababa Recording Studios situated along Harrow Road, London, under the guidance of People Unite Productions. This arrangement was made by a guy called Van Renen.
Chris Bolton, Poko and Duxie of Misty-In- Roots Band were at the mixing desk monitoring the production.
The next day after my visit to the Zimbabwe Embassy, I boarded the Number 21 bus from King’s Cross Station near where I lived to Harrow Road.
I had been to Addis Ababa Studios before to witness my friends, Aswad and later King Sounds recording there.
As I walked into the recording studio, I was confronted by billows of smoke before I saw anyone. There was a large crowd of musicians sounding happy together in that room. The group consisted of Everson Chibamu on trumpet, Charles Makokowa on bass, Sebastian Mbata on drums, Jonah Sithole on lead guitar, backing vocalist, Tobias Areketa, Leonard “Picket” Chiyangwa on rhythm guitar and Chartwell Dutiro on mbira.
There was also Lancelot Mapfumo and William Mapfumo (Thomas Mapfumo’s half-brother), Priscilla Masarira and Terry Mhuriro, who supplied the backing vocals on this European tour.
When Mukanya eventually saw me, he was excited and greeted me warmly.
“I hope you have come to help us. We are trying to record an album, which we will call Chimurenga For Justice,” Mukanya said.
Areketa was waiting to sing his part on the Mugara Ndega song.
When he saw me, he shouted: “Ah! This is the Fred Zindi I have heard so much about. Glad to meet you. Are you related to the Zindi in Southerton Harare, who used to sell weed?”
I told him that it was just a coincidence of names as we were not related at all.
I then sat down to watch the Blacks Unlimited recording. The band was not used to multi-track recording. They preferred to record all instruments live at once. Together with the Misty-In-Roots guys we advised Mukanya to lay down the tracks one-by-one, starting with the drums and bass until all instruments were recorded.
This would bring perfection to the sound as it is easily monitored track by track. Then the vocals would come last.
Areketa, who was waiting to sing his part on the Mugara Ndega song was in disagreement. “Does that mean I have to wait until tomorrow to do my vocals? In Zimbabwe we all record together at once!” he remarked.
I explained to him that Gramma Records do it that way because they want to record as many bands as possible in the shortest time in order to save money, but here you have the luxury of working without time pressure in a modern studio.
He seemed nervous about that, but I managed to convince him that this was the proper way of doing things if studio quality was to be achieved.
He was poised to chant the lyrics to Mugara Ndega in Jamaican Patois in front of people who knew the language better than him, but he did it. After Mukanya sang a few lines on the song, Areketa came in with the Patois lines, chanting or toasting just like the Jamaican musicians did.
He had not even written the words down. Everything came straight from his head as he chanted along. Areketa sang his part which went something like this:
“This song is dedicated to Thomas Mapfumo;
The only man who sang freedom songs during the struggle for Zimbabwe
Our motherland you know;
So me say, He is a true man African
I say the man is a Thomas
Dem a put him in Jail
Because He was singing culture
Culture for the motherland
One day the police came during the Smith regime. Dem a took Thomas and put him away
Just because him a singing culture
Let’s love one another.”
I congratulated him on his effort and we became good friends thereafter.
The song became massive and back home in Zimbabwe, it also became Mukanya’s biggest maxi-single hit as it sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
The Blacks Unlimited played their first London gig at the 100 Club, so-called because it is situated at Number 100 Oxford Street. It was a small venue, which could only accommodate around 500 people.
On that Friday night, the venue was so crowded that it was difficult for people to move about. Mukanya opened the show with Gwindingwi Rine Shumba, then Pidigori before going into three other tunes after which he sang the crowd’s favourite, Ndanzwa Ngoma Kurira.
It was now time for introducing his new song Mugara Ndega to the audience.
“We have just finished recording this song this afternoon and it is a reggae tune. You are the first crowd to hear it live tonight. I want to see how you feel about it”, Mukanya announced.
When Areketa came in with the Jamaican chant in Mugara Ndega, the whole auditorium went wild.
The following week, the band played at a larger venue, the Forum Ballroom in London’s Kentish Town. The audience’s reaction to Mugara Ndega was even more ecstatic as the crowd got used to this new offering especially the part where Areketa did the toasting/chanting.
Areketa is one of the undoubtedly most underrated yesteryear artistes to ever come from Zimbabwe.
Most will probably remember him for his part on that epic reggae song Mugara Ndega where he helped the living legend Hurricane Hugo Thomas Mukanya Tafirenyika Mapfumo to establish a monster hit.
Areketa did backing vocals for Mapfumo and played congas for the Blacks Unlimited in the 1980s. He toured Europe extensively back then.
When most people talk about Zimbabwean music history, especially Zim Reggae history, not many mention the Mufakose raised man Areketa, but I believe he deserves that mention.
On return from the European tour, Areketa riding high on his star after the success of Mugara Ndega, decided to sever ties with the Blacks Unlimited Band.
He formed his own band and called it Shazi with which he recorded Baba na Mai (Baba naMai zvamunoita pamusha pano, munogaro tukana mumba vana varipo hamuzivi here kuti zvinokanganisa mhuri? Ndati shuwa munotadza), Vanondituka and Ndazviparira.
There is still confusion on whether Areketa died from the injuries sustained in a horrific car accident for which he spent six months in hospital or he had other illnesses. This is the time when the Aids pandemic was rife throughout Zimbabwe and the rest of the world.
It was at his funeral that I met two white ladies who claimed to be Areketa’s lovers. One had come from England and the other was locally based.
I got to know the latter a little bit more. Her name was Lynde Francis. She was one of the first women in Zimbabwe to disclose her HIV-positive status and did this to support the people of in the country.
She started an organisation called the Centre in her own living room at home and this grew into community-based organisation that supported thousands of people and was run by and for people living with HIV.
Areketa’s daughter has since recorded an album to rekindle his legacy and Charles, his young brother who once led the Pied Pipers Band continued to do some Areketa renditions of his songs.
Areketa has long since died, but his contribution to the local music will live forever.
We will remember him for his short lived life and all the good things he did in the development of the Zimbabwean culture.
- Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org