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1996; Oh what a good musical year

…Honourable Thursday

Leonard Dembo pic youthvillage

1996; Oh what a good musical year

…Honourable Thursday

Once upon a time in 1996, barely a few years after the industry had lost talented artistes in the mould of Tobias Areketa, Biggie Tembo and James Chimombe local music was on somewhat a rebound and one of the biggest achievements in that year was the world release of Phil Stanton complied
The Rough Guide to the Music of Zimbabwe.

This is a compilation that included artistes like Stella Chiweshe, Thomas Mapfumo, Biggie Tembo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Machanic Manyeruke among others.

1996 was also special the world over with The Spice Girls, The Fugees, Mark Morrison, New Edition, Blackstreet all leading world chats with Wannabe, Killing me softly, Ready or Not, Return of the mark, I’m still in love with you and No Diggity respectively.

Spice Girls pic genius.com
Spice Girls pic genius.com

Back home it was a phenomenal year, all top artistes released scorching albums, a feat which was only attempted 20 years later.

Leonard Dembo released Hamungadaro, Leonard Zhakata was flying high with Nzombe Huru, Tuku went mellow with Svovi Yangu, Simon Chimbetu entered the year with Zuva Raenda and John Chibadura released Reggea Greats an album that carried the hit Mudiwa Janet.

Thomas Mapfumo rocked radio with his The Singles collection 1977-1986, an album that carried Joice and Ruva Rangu.

Andy Brown, Marko Sibanda, System Tazvida also had albums Let the Children, Matsotsi Hagerane and Wadenha Mago respectively on the chats.

Marko Sibanda pic youtube
Marko Sibanda pic youtube

It was a rare year for any music lover. For starters it was arguably the year that had the most releases to date.

Twenty years down the line, it seems the same feat has been repeated with all top artistes releasing albums in 2016.

Of note are two artistes that have survived from the class of 1996, Tuku and Zhakata released Eheka Nhai Yahwe and Mutunga Dzose respectively adding their albums to the largely youthful market.

In 1996 Alick Macheso was on the fringes of mainstream music, but by 2016 the bassist had established himself as one of the country’s best. Macheso released his long awaited Tsoka Dzorwendo at the Harare International Conference Centre, a first for the fiery former Khiama Boys bassist.

The year also saw albums from Jah Prayzah, Winky D, Sulumani Chimbetu, Romeo Gasa, and Killer T among many others.

Debutant Tatenda Pinjisi also released Saina.

Tatenda Pinjisi pic i.ytimg.com
Tatenda Pinjisi pic i.ytimg.com

The events of 2016 might mirror those of 1996. Both were phenomenal years as far as music is concerned, but the big question is, of the two generations, which one can rightly be claimed as the golden era?

Which of the two classes made music that we shall speak of in the same mold as Mike and The Mechanics hit The Living Years?

Is music still the same?

Music has surely evolved over the years, in 1996 all music was produced using the analogue system, a system that producers of today have since dumped in favour of the digital system.

Analog refers to audio recorded using methods that replicate the original sound waves whilst digital audio is recorded by taking samples of the original sound wave at a specified rate.

The shift has cut production time and might have allowed producers to experiment with sound producing beats that could not be produced years ago.

In 1996 most of the artistes that released albums were produced by one man, Bothwell Nyamondera.

Bothwell Nyamhondera pic musicinafrica.net
Bothwell Nyamhondera pic musicinafrica.net

It is no secret that in term of originality, analogue recording produced some of the best original musical sound as compared to digital record.

One could hear the drum roll as it is; the sound was authentic as compared to the digital era.

The current dispensation of the digitally programed drums has taken away the rattle of the snare drum and the thunder of the kicker and one can tell that the sound is not authentic.

One needs to listen to the instrumental of Dembo’s Hamungadaro in comparison with Jah Prayzah’s Mdara Vachauya, especially the drum play to understand the difference.

In terms of quality, digital recording seems to have the best sound quality of the two despite lacking in authenticity.

The role of the gate-keeper has since been ignored in music today. Back then artistes had to knock on many doors with their demo tapes before the producers agreed to record.

The system allowed for the best product to be produced eventually unlike the case today, a lot of backyard studios are recording “musicians” without any regard to talent resulting in way below par music.

Music has changed over the years, genres have emerged, evolved, mashed together, language and lyrical depth have since deserted our music. It seems musicians are now a lazy lot. Someone will make a song out just a few lines and bars then repeat them till the end.

Case in point Killah T’s Bvunzai Tinzwe where some of the songs are made up of just two verses.
Musicians in the era of Leonard Dembo did poetic justice to their lyrics both in meaning and depth. The songs took you on a thrilling journey through their lyrics and stories told in song.

Yesteryear musicians dared to be creative and the trick worked. Marko Sibanda, Paul Matavire, System Tazvida all had refreshing products that spoke of their creativity.

Paul Matavire pic youthvillage
Paul Matavire pic youthvillage

The music industry has evolved a great deal benefiting many artistes. Music has become global and multimedia platforms have helped artistes to market their music even to audiences across the world. It’s no doubt that the class of 2016 has taken music to the world.

Jah Prayzah’s collabo with Tanzanian Diamond has put Zimbabwe on the music map and that is indeed a positive thing. The journey has also been rewarding both financially and most artistes have been awarded a number of international awards something the class of 96 would only dream about.

That said, yesteryear musicians still hold some of the biggest achievements to date. In a world that had no social media and mass marketing, Dembo’s Chiteketete found a place on the playlist at the Miss World Pageant in 1996, The Bhundu Boys opened for Maddona at Wembley in Stadium in1987, Andy Brown’s Tomato Sauce rose to number 5 on South Africa’s Radio Metro just a week after being released.

Many artistes today are taking advantage of the digital era to market and hype their music when in actual fact it will not be worth all the noise. Who will forget the much hyped April 2016 “introduction” of one Sam Dondo.

Artistes have also been obsessed with era of self-praise. They speak of their greatness in song while the song itself suggests something else. Albums are being named to suggest greatness that they cannot offer. The class of 1996 let their music spell their greatness.

For all the claims it took it was Zhakata who by the way rocked in 1996 and unknown Tatenda Pinjisi who dominated the chats at the end of 2016.

20 years on, Smoko is still a hit at parties, Zhakata’s Nzombe Huru will have you all emotional, Mtukudzi’s Svovi Yangu will win your love anytime and Matsotsi Hagerane will have you in bouts of laughter.

Leonard Zhakata pic thestandard
Leonard Zhakata pic thestandard

It’s not all gloom for class of 2016 as Sulu exhibited his ability on Jamboree; Winky D also showed some poetic prowess on Gafa Futi but other than that, the rest is just tasteless bubblegum.

As we prepare for the much hyped Mathius Mhere’s New Testament, which is the first launch of 2017, one wonders if the current crop will ever produce music to last for generations. Only time will tell!

If time has ever been a good judge, then surely, in our living years 1996 was a good year.
20 years on, we still dance!

One Comment

  1. Correction…. Most songs were produced by Tymon Mabaleka back then, albeit engineered by Bothwell Nyamhondera.

    On another note: while I agree with the writer that times have changed; having dabbled on the music scene myself either as an instrumentalist or engineer, I will not hesitate to commend the originality and creativity of Marko Sibanda, Leonard Dembo, Paul Matavire & baba Manyeruke.
    Although Zhakata & Chopper’s music obviously had other influences, still they added much of their own and their own creativity led them to establishing recognisable music.

    The problem today is that: ORIGINALITY & CREATIVITY!

    I am not against a certain dread locked tall artiste who is doing well, but if you listen to 2 or 3 albums from him you might not know they are from different recordings/years. While his lyric prowess carries the day, there is AT TIMES little creativity shown in instrumentation. Those with musical ears and are not partisan fanatics will agree. Maybe instead of just featuring vocalists, our artistes should consider featuring instrumentalists too. I once suggested this to another artiste who gave a non convincing answer about “maintaining identity.”
    Let me give an example:
    Zuva raenda (1996), Survival (1997), Lullaby (1998) & African Panorama Chapter One (1999) are from consecutive years & from the same Chopper; but the introduction of Allan Chimbetu on lead guitar in 1998′ Lullabye (on Window & Tenda, the rest were by the late Never Moyo) after a 1997 Survival that largely had Shepherd Mhandu on that same lead guitar DID NOT change Chopper’s identity. 1999’s Panorama had Never Moyo as the main lead guitarist, with Allan recording Ndima & Ndaremerwa. Though Shepherd Mhandu returned as main lead guitarist on Panorama Chapter 2, again that DID NOT change Chopper’s musical identity.

    He even had different rhythmists from 1997-1999 ie Chris did survival (1997), Vivian Ndlovu did Lullabye (1998) & Nodza Nodza was introduced in 1999’s African Panorama Chapter 1. Still that DID NOT change Chopper,s musical identity.
    Add to that the fact that Brian Kabengera & Thompson Chauke exchanged drumsticks on Survival (1997), and though the fiery Silas Chakanyuka revolutionalised contemporary sungura drumming from Lullaby (1998) onwards; Chopper’s musical identity DID NOT change!

    Creativity of 1996 for me takes the prize!

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