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How Zimbabwe’s urban grooves hits brought social backgrounds together



JIRVAS GWANZURA in Luton, England

THE legendary broadcaster Kelvin Sifelani, my mentor and friend, during one of our many music conversations, once said to me: “Jirvaldo, you know, the most difficult crowd to please musically is that of our own people.”

For a minute I thought it was so unlike the “Soul Supreme” to be negative.

The eloquent and seasoned radio perfectionist further explained that Zimbabwean audiences are never to be taken for granted, as they have depth and music knowledge – unequalled by other nationalities.

So, from that appreciation context, I derive the notion that music in Zimbabwe is a commodity and art that partakers love in the form of a mélange regardless of background or age. Usually influenced by backgrounds, dreams and aspirations. Such was the packaging of what was to be called “Zim Urban Grooves.”

I grew up in Chitungwiza where I spent most of my childhood in Zengeza and then later moved to Seke. For my high school, I started at St Mary’s Anglican School and then transferred to Churchill School in Harare through football.

It was during that time I found myself in a period of finding a way to manage and/or conform to two different identities. One being of my ghetto upbringing and the other where I found myself in what we called former Group ‘A’ Schools that time.

A lot has changed at Churchill now. Back then, most of the boys at the school came from “better backgrounds”, middle-class families. I and others were from the “locations”, so we were seen as different.

But it was a beautiful mix of diversity, and we all respected each other. The school’s nickname is “Bulldogs”, because it was the nickname of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who gave his name to the school.

The school is located on Nigel Philip Road, a name we remember with both nostalgia and pride. I was a boarder.

However, at Churchill, some were quick to identify me as ghetto boy, which was never a problem at all as I have always been and still proud of my background, particularly Zengeza.

When I went home some weekends or during the holidays, my identity to some changed as they began to perceive me as a “Salad”, which is colloquial of a snob. It got to the very core of my identity, as a ghetto youngster, that when I returned home, locals thought I was different, just because I went to Churchill.

Although music was recognised in both settings in similar measures, as I can remember, it was rarely mixed.

This, in my humble opinion, affected the ability of the youth to dream or pursue their musical dreams as they steered away from stereotyping and possible mockery.

It was a time when it would make more sense for an uptown hopeful to sing in English or deliver material of a rhythm and blues nature. The ghetto was often

associated with sungura, museve and to an extent reggae or dancehall/ragga. I am not saying this was always the case, but I am saying it was generally viewed that way.

For me it all started around the time the late Fortune Muparutsa, who shot to fame particularly with his album titled Wheels Of Fortune.

There was also The Bhundu Boys who were liked both at home and abroad before Muparutsa, but it was the urban grooves movement that changed the game in Zimbabwe, I firmly conclude in my observations.

I am yet to converse with the likes of Delani Makhalima, who played a huge role in building this kind of music, which the people have often mistaken for a genre. I absolutely respect what they did together with the likes of Take Five, as I am informed by my other mentor Bridget “Bubbling Bee” Gavanga.

 I really feel that they deserve a huge gesture of recognition and appreciation for coming up with this beast that triggered versatility, opportunity, confidence. It is urban grooves that later gave birth to the likes of Zimdancehall and Zim hip-hop, genres that have unearthed big artistes who will forever be remembered.

Urban grooves was a collection of urban sounds sung and produced by Zimbabweans with very humble equipment. Artistes collaborated and, backed with modern sound, contributed traces of our own identity. An uptown prospect can now go for dancehall and a ghetto hopeful like Trevor Dongo and Takue can go for slow jams without being put down for imitating a foreign influence.

When I left Zimbabwe, the movement was fast changing our mindset. I for one even retracted my initial stance on sungura and started appreciating the art behind the stereotype. Here in England, I suffered from identity crisis in my early days.

But my national pride and identity was resuscitated by the sweet sounds of the urban grooves. I today sense that kind of atmosphere prevailing in Zimbabwe, although I am far from home.

Seeing the young crossing borders, through their efforts at their age, is such a beauty. Some are now feeding families with what could have been rubbished before the wave of urban grooves.

Zimdancehall is a baby birthed fully through this movement, so is Zim hip-hop.

I say this without dismissing the great job the likes of Chillspot did for Zimdancehall, for example. My wish is that the old and the young adopt the urban groves movement approach so that we show the world how proud we are of our music and musicians. Remember, Zimbabwe, together we rise!

NOTE:*The NewsHawks contributor Jirvas “Jirvaldo” Munyaradzi Gwanzura of 263Rise was a budding footballer in his younger days and played alongside some of Zimbabwe’s best footballers. He is also a showbiz promoter, and good friend of this publication.

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