THE name Wallace Hartley might not captivate many modern day music fans, but the bandmaster and violinist, is one of the most iconic musical figures in world history.
He led his youthful eight-piece orchestra in song even when the mighty Edward Smith-commanded Titanic was slowly giving in to the unforgiving waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. To date the story of the British vessel is one of the most astonishing stories from the past.
Daring stories of how the ship was unsinkable were told, with courageous love stories witnessed as it sank, claiming 1500 souls. But one band bravely played in full glare of death, their last song, Nearer My Lord to Thee, signifying the last they strummed before perishing.
The Titanic survivor, Lawrence Beesley, righty summed, “Many brave things were done that night, but none were braver than those done by men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea”.
It was indeed a show of bravery and love for music, that puts a bitter sweet end the legacy of The Titanic and if this writer can be allowed, such is the legacy of one local artist, who proved beyond doubt to be, like the tales on the Titanic, an inspiration to generations.
When Chris Matema discovered Simon and his brother Naison Chimbetu singing in bars around town, little did he know that he had unearthed a gem that would serenade music fans for generations and establish one of the most celebrated musical families known to the country.
Simon’s journey was not one given on a silver platter; it is his story of bravery and determination that saw him rise and establish a music career that still sings from beyond his grave.
Simon first tried out with Zex Manatsa, joined Joseph Ngoyi’s OK Express before catching a break with The Sungura Boys. Finally, he linked up with siblings Allan and Brian in forming The Marxist Brothers releasing the chart-topping single, Nherera, before their debut 1983 album, Mwana Wedangwe. The man can claim to have seen it all, even the infamous walls of jail.
In 1990, Simon Chimbetu announced his solo career backed by his new ensemble, Orchestra Dendera Kings, with the album, Nguva Yakaoma. This was the beginning of the iconic kanindo-influenced dendera sound that has inspired many a music fan for generations.
Simon Chimbetu might have breathed his last on August 14 in 2005, but his music and band have played on. A true musical legacy and as this writer might want to woolgather that can be equated to The Titanic and the band that played in face of adversity.
Sulumani Chimbetu, heir to Simon’s legacy has not had it easy as the new captain of the dendera outfit, from splits, strikes, troublesome relationships with his cousins. But one thing for certain, the family has been kept together by music, managing a befitting tribute for a man whose multitudes of fans lavishly called, the master of song.
The family has dedicated the month of August to remember the icon and will see performances at La Rouge in Westgate on Friday, before they are joined by dancehall star Boom Beto at Chegutu Arms on Saturday.
The weekend will close with founding Marxist Brother, Allan leading the second generation Chimbetus; Sulumani, Tryson and Douglas at Extra Mile in a concert titled Ndarangarira Gamba.
The Sunday fete will see Progress Chipfumo, Gonyetti and Sarah Dee joining the Chimbetus in remembering the master of song. The event will mark the 12th anniversary of Simon’s death.
Simon is indeed a musical hero and legend. The family has gone through their fair share of troubles, so has the band but they have remained committed in making sure the music and unique sound of dendera lives on.
Older members of Orchestra Dendera Kings like bassist Moffat “Mhofela” Namupandu, who served the dendera ship for a good 30 years have been the core, guiding youthful Suluman and in all making sure the good old Dendera sound survives.
Suluman might not be compared to his father, if apples fall close to the tree, he is just maybe a short distant further, he might be poetic as a composer like his father but he is his own man.
Despite the comparison, highs and lows – Suluman has worked tirelessly to preserve his father’s legacy, he has stood firm in the face of numerous challenges like the famous Titanic bandmaster and has led Orchestra Dendera Kings successfully against all odds.
To date the band is one of the most sought-after outfits in the country, in an eight-album career that has seen him win numerous awards. Suluman is already a legend in the making, together with his uncle Allan, they have made sure despite differences that the dendera sound plays on and Simon is not forgotten.
As we remember Simon Chimbetu this weekend lets all spare a thought for the Chimbetus and the members of Orchestra Dendera Kings that have made sure that THE MUSIC PLAYS ON!