HomeStandard StyleIn the groove: Darram Kalanga: An unsung music legend

In the groove: Darram Kalanga: An unsung music legend

By Fred Zindi

Darram Kalanga, Philip Svosve, Ernest Jacko, Elisha Josamu, George Khumalo, Ebba Chitambo, Greenford Jangano, Handsome Mabhiza, Henry Peters, Isaac Banda, Jimmy Indi, Jethro Shasha, John Muyambo (Chibhodhoro), Jonah Marumahoko, Manu Kambani, Moses Zhakata, Robert Moore, Sam Nheta, Sebastian Mbata, Simangaliso Tutani, William Mhlanga, Jonah Sithole, Leonard ‘Picket’ Chiyangwa, Moses Kabubi, Robert Nekati,  Edson Mbaisa, Cannaan Kamoyo, Shoki, Joshua Dube, Patrick Kabanda, Abdullah Mussa, WilsonJubane, Robson Boora and Joshua Dube are all great instrumentalists and great names in the history of Zimbabwean music, but because they are/were not the lead singers in their respective bands, very few people will have heard about them.

I’ve always had a soft spot for people like these. They made tremendous contributions to the history of Zimbabwean music and that of the world but have never received the appropriate credit that they deserve.

We, as journalists, tend to spend all our energies concentrating on more popular artistes. Many of us think that it is the most popular artistes who give us our identity but this fallacy is not always true.

I regret and also apologise for not having written about some of these great people before their deaths. But it is through instrumentalists such as those mentioned above, who make popular artistes tick.

Chances are that you have never heard the name Darram Kalanga, but he could be the reason you enjoy all the music you hear in Zimbabwe today as he was one of the musicians that helped to shape Zimbabwean music as it is seen today.

Talk about an unsung hero, Darram Kalanga is one such hero. He played the trumpet: that tubular or conical wind instrument with flared mouth and bright penetrating ringing tone.

During my youth I tried to play this instrument and I literally found it breath-taking because of the amount of breathing in volved. So I abandoned it.  I said to myself, whoever decides to play this instrument, must be declared a hero.

Indeed most of the trumpet players I saw during my time, came from either the army or the Salvation Army church. I am sure this is where Kalanga learned to play the instrument. His two sons who also play the instrument must have learned the craft from their father.

Kalanga  passed away on the November 7, 2021 at the age of 80 years. He was a trumpeter and a music composer. He was a founder member of the original Great Sounds, who became famous for their hits Anopenga Anewaya and Koniin the late 1960s.

Later, he joined the St. Paul’s Jazz Band and The Acid Band. He was also instrumental in founding the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band (HCR Band) which was formed in Mhangura where he played the trumpet.

The Hallelujah Chicken Run Band was eventually joined by Thomas Mapfumo after Kalanga had persuaded Thomas to leave city life and come to Mhangura.

With Mapfumo, they co-composed popular songs such as Murembo. Kalanga was also behind the success of great artistes such as  the late James Chimombe. He also persuaded James Chimombe to sing traditional songs and together they composed popular hits such as Jikinya, Bindura and Jonah. Apart from his  soothing vocals, one thing that made Chimombe’s sound unique was the sound of his brass section and Kalanga, together with Phillip Svosve, were at the forefront of this.

If you don’t believe me, go on YouTube and listen to the brass section on either Jemedza or Cecilia. Other compositions by Kalanga  included Mai vaJennifer, Kumuzi Kwatu, Stembeni and Chitungwiza.  These bear testimony to Kalanga’s composing skills.

Tendai Chimombe, daughter to James Chimombe, who attended Kalanga’s funeral at Zororo Park in Chitungwiza had this to say:

“On November 10, 2021, we laid to rest one of Zimbabwe’s music icons by the name Darram Kalanga. He worked and played with my father James Chimombe. We used to call him Mdhara Daram. I also had a chance of playing with him in one of my shows. He was a great musician and a father indeed.

Rest in power (Baba) Mdhara Kalanga!!!” When Kalanga (founder of HCR band) and Robert Nekati (bass) started to think about who to approach as a vocalist for a new musical adventure, the first name that came to mind was that of Thomas Mapfumo, a rock ‘n’ roll singer and drummer in a band called The Springfields which was based in Harare’s high density suburb of Highfield.

Mapfumo, who was fond of city life, was initially hesitant to travel all the way to Mhangura,  which he referred to as “the bush”.

But after a night to think it over, he agreed, and the three men, Kalanga, Nekati and Mapfumo went to Matapi Beer Hall in Mbare to look for more musicians.

At  Matapi, they found Elisha Josam, master guitarist of the Limpopo Jazz Band, who immediately suggested that they should include Joshua Hlomayi Dube, the guitarist of the Hitch-Hikers.

The five members were a melting pot of different national origins: Darram Kalanga from Zambia, Joshua Hlomayi Dube with mixed Zimbabwean and Mozambican ancestry, Elisha  Josamu who originated from Malawi, Thomas Mapfumo and Robert Nekati both from Zimbabwe.

From the beginning, the five musicians agreed to share lead vocals, although Mapfumo and Josamu soon emerged as the group’s principal vocalists.

Featured artistes at the beginning of Hallelujah Chicken Run Band included Thomas Mapfumo — drums, vocals — Robert Nekati, bass, vocals — Patrick Kabanda, drums — Darram Kalanga, trumpet — Wilson Jubane, guitar — Abdulah Musa, guitar — Joshua Hlomayi Dube, guitar — Robson Boora, sax and Elisha Josamu on lead guitar and vocals.

It was at Mhangura Mine that Mapfumo who helped to form the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, for the first time, began to shift his music away from Western-influenced rock and explore the traditional music of his Shona people, transcribing the scale of the traditional instrument mbira  to guitar.

The HCR Band was one of the first to develop the staccato style of guitar for which Zimbabwe is known today, and was also one of the first modern groups to sing in the traditional Shona language – a major act of liberation and an act of protest against the Rhodesian government.

I had the opportunity of seeing Kalanga live on stage  with the Ocean City Band at Sanganai Inn near Dzivarasekwa in Harare way back in 1988 at a show headlined by James Chimombe.

When Chimombe belted out Jikinya, everybody in the venue got up on their feet and started to dance. Midway through the song, Chimombe gave the brass section consisting of Phillip Svosve, Darram Kalanga and Elias Bokosha a chance to individually show off their skills. After Svosve gave a sax solo, Kalanga came in with a trumpet solo which showed his burgeoining talent. It was the best thing since sliced bread.  It reminded me of Hugh Masekela’s 1987 anti-apartheid anthem, Bring Back Nelson Mandela.

I spoke to Kalanga after the show and I told him that I was impressed by his trumpet skills.   I asked him who had influenced him in his musical career. He told me that he had  listened to a lot of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Fela Kuti, but had cultivated his own sound after being advised to abandon any thoughts of imitating his Stateside heroes and focus on cultivating his own brand.

He said that he had embraced a diversity of influences and embarked on a musical pilgrimage that focused on Afro-rhythms.

Brass players may experience problems producing an optimal sound in their instrument, especially if their instrument is trumpet, like the one Kalanga played.

Rest in peace, Mdhara Darram. You and your music will be sadly missed.

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