Zvembudzi: tale of Majaivana’s little-known chiShona song

Source: Zvembudzi: tale of Majaivana’s little-known chiShona song | Sunday News (Entertainment)

Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter 

Around this time last year, there was a very public outcry when some of Lovemore Majaivana’s songs seemed to have, overnight, suddenly acquired titles in chiShona. 

A song that people had always known as Stimela was now Chitima, Mkhwenyana was now suddenly Rondedzero. To many, this did not seem like merely an act of translation. To many artists, the making of music is a deeply personal and even spiritual experience. When one makes a song, they are bringing to life something that did not exist when inspiration drove them into the studio. Thus, some can compare the process of making a song to giving birth. Finding your song, renamed, without your knowledge or permission, decades later, is therefore like finding out that your child has been renamed by the person whom you left as their guardian.  To the legions of Majaivana fans, this seemed to be the work of fraudsters, hell-bent on making a quick buck at Majaivana’s expense.  But before long, a defence dedicated to the repealing attacks from these vultures had emerged. 

“Majee has no Shona titled songs and Ndebele speaking people love Majaivana the way he is singing in IsiNdebele and his songs titled in Ndebele just like the Ndebele speaking people love Mtukudzi and his songs sung in Shona. Possibly this is the way to steal his music and cash in on his works,” thundered veteran broadcaster Ezra Tshisa Sibanda. “Genuine Shona people are angry with the changing or renaming of Majee songs and are condemning such sickening and barbaric behaviour by the company selling his music on-line. Such behaviour is divisive, and has no room in the modern world.” 

However, what was little known in music circles was that Majaivana tried a hand at singing in Shona. In 1985, after a brief hiatus, Majaivana returned to music, two years after he had quit following a disagreement with Jobs Kadengu, the erstwhile businessman who ran Jobs Nightclub where his former band, Job’s Connection was based. A further two years later, Majaivana found himself in England on tour, where together with renowned Zimbabwean music scholar Fred Zindi. It was while in England that Majaivana recorded Zvembudzi, a song in chiShona.

 It is unclear if the song was the only one in Shona that Majaivana ever recorded, but what is certain is that he drew on chiShona traditional storytelling to make the track. On this particular song, he used zvirahwe, traditional riddles that are used to impart wisdom. This was a technique that Majaivana used in his songs in IsiNdebele, particularly early in his career. 

“Scots music is traditional, they have traditional instrument to create modern music. Thomas (Mapfumo) is traditional,” Majaivana once said in an interview with Themba Nkabinde.

“I play traditional music. But I spice it up. To make old wine you don’t have to use old grapes. I did not choose to sing this music. My elders (ancestors) thought I should sing this type of music. And so I see myself as just a link in a long chain that must discharge the duty of teaching our youth their culture. For example, I don’t know Njelele myself, but when a child hears that song, he will ask what it is. Njelele is an important part of our culture.”

One man who was there throughout the making of Zvembudzi is Zindi, who played guitar on Jiri, the album on which the song is found. 

“Yes, it was in 1987 that I took Lovemore Majaivana to Britain on a tour. We ended up in Wolverhampton where we met Chris Sergeant a record producer and recorded the album titled Jiri which was dedicated to the late Jairos Jiri for his humanitarian work in helping persons with disabilities. I was playing guitar throughout the album with Bee Sithole. Peddle Ndlovu was on keyboards, Lovemore on vocals and his brother, the late Anderson Tshuma also on vocals. Bhikiza Mapfumo was on drums. 

“Another Mapfumo, Frank was playing the trumpet and the late Yutah Dube was on bass. The tour was a success and it helped Lovemore to pay off the mortgage on his house in Braeside, Harare. One of the songs on the album included Zvembudzi taken from Shona traditional songs. It went something like this: Zvembudzi zvandishamisa, Murume ndebvu, Mukadzi ndebvu, Zvandi shamisa.”

Proving the old age adage that music is a universal language, Zindi said Zvembudzi was the only song he understood at the time, as his Ndebele was poor. Despite this, he played the guitar fluently throughout the project. 

“The album sold very well during the UK tour and it was during this period that I interacted with multitudes of Ndebele-speaking people based in Britain who came to support Majaivana’s concerts. I also regret not being able to speak Ndebele because way back in 1987 I had an opportunity to learn to speak the language, but was too lazy to do so. In that year I recorded and produced “Jiri” although I did not understand the lyrics behind most of the songs we recorded.” 

It is not clear what motivated Majaivana to sing this particular song in chiShona. He was, after all an advocate for singing in one preferred language, as he believed that something was lost in translation whenever they crossed over to another tongue. 

“You sing in the language that best expresses your feelings. Things are not as serious when you say them in English than they really are,” Majaivana told Nkabinde. 

In making the song, Majaivana might have been driven by the desire to crossover to “outgrow” Bulawayo and crossover to other audiences in Zimbabwe and across the globe. 

“Majaivana and his fellow Zimbabweans are after all also looking for international stardom. Their success may be boosted by the ability to fuse the many different forms in order to cross over cultural boundaries that frustrate many African artists. Jiri was one such attempt. The album featured such musicians as Walla to provide the bright punchy brass and organ to give it a jazz tonic and liberate it from the constraints of mbaqanga,” wrote Nkabinde about the album.  

While his motivation remains unclear, the song struck a chord with those that heard it, particularly in live concerts.  When Majaivana joined South African music in a series of concerts seeking to raise funds for the liberation of the country, the song was noted as a highlight by critics. 

“The album was good “Zwembudzi stood out as well as the remix of “Ukhozi.” The tour was a success by all standards, raising about $500000 for the South African struggle,” revealed Nkabinde.