WHILE many people have embraced Nicholas Zakaria’s former protégé Alick Macheso as the new torch-bearer for museve, few know the real story of the farm labourer and unsophisticated pin-up boy in the farm compound who attracted girls like flies to honey.
Like the shroud of Turin, Macheso the man remains unexplored. His story untold, the hymen to the history of Macheso lies intact. A virgin story.
The Macheso fairytale starts way before the multitude of crowds at the Chitungwiza Aquatic Centre and the signature Borrowdale Dance craze. Several years even, before the epic days with Zakaria. His is a story of humble beginnings.
It was no royal birth, no noble arrival. Nobody imagined that this was the boy who would be king.
Despite farming being the motivation for emigrating from Malawi and Mozambique by his parents, young Alick had a secret passion for playing music which was being nurtured by the young man as he spent time alone.
“I knew the road would be a long and winding, but always had a hunch that it would end up at the top of the podium. But I was under no illusion about how tough the road would be,” Macheso remembers.
Alick Macheso was born on June 10, 1968, at Bindura Hospital – quite a distance away from the farm where his immigrant parents toiled on the land as farm labourers. The union between his parents was brief as the family intervened and broke up the marriage of young Emilia to a drifting mariachi.
He reminisced: “My father Hudson would always play music in the compounds after work, entertaining in pubs and at drinking parties hence people said he was a bum.
“You will appreciate that people who did music were always seen as directionless people and my mothers’ family would have none of it. Their daughter was not going to be married off to a musician. He was perceived to be promiscuous by my mother’s family and he had to go.”
With his father out of the picture, young Alick was then named Alick Silva-Macheso, his immigrant Mozambican mother’s surnames. His father’s surname, Chisale, was erased from his name.
Although Hudson Chisale was banished from the young Alick’s life, he had sown his royal oats and a personal gift of music.
“My mother remarried and I was raised on the farm by my uncles. I am was the only child from the Chisale-Macheso union and the rest of my family are step-siblings,” he said.
“At an early age, I started doing music. I was taught how to play the two string banjo by my maternal uncles Julius and Rogers Macheso, who are sadly both late.”
Macheso was a natural. He surpassed his mentors. Soon, he started challenging himself by adding more strings to his guitar. His mentors were dumbstruck.
With no hint of self doubt, he boasts: “Ndaitokwachura banjo ini! (I would play the banjo remarkably well). I was a natural at it, and even those who taught me soon accepted that I was without peer in the village. I aced it.
“At that time I was still at Enterprise Primary School, going to the fields and tending to the vegetables at Hereford Farm when I got back from school.
“After work, I would sit on some rocks with my uncles practising with the guitar.
“Ndakanga ndaipa mukomboni mandairidza. Vanhu vaiziva kuti ndiri shasha chaiyo (I was bad news in the farm compound in which we lived and people actually knew that I was a master guitarist). That urged me on. The attention made me work even harder.”
Aged just nine, Macheso was becoming a magnet for young girls whom he serenaded with his guitar strings. But he insists that while he “enjoyed the attention, I never did the whole girls thing really.”
“We were raised well and courting girls on the farm was considered to be naughty, to say the least. As a result, my uncles and I kept our eyes on the prize at hand, playing music and being the best we could be.”
His favourite uncle was Silver Silva Macheso. “In fact, the nappies I wore; the toys I played with and the wire cars I drove were all hand-me-downs from sekuru Silver,” he jokes.
When his mother remarried, Macheso soon found himself with four half-brothers – Partson, Harrison, Mike and Jones – and a sister, Hilda.
One of Macheso’s biggest regrets is his limited education. He was forced to drop out of Mashambanyama Secondary School at Form 2 for lack of funds.
He ruefully recalls: “We were a big family at my uncles’ house. They also looked after orphans who came to live with us, some not biologically related to my philanthropic uncles.
“The strain on the family finances was enormous and sadly, I had to drop out of school.”
Confused about his future prospects, Macheso’s appetite for performing would find renewal after visits to Juru Growth Point (popularly known as KwaBhora) to watch the likes of Mbada Jazz Band.
Like many before him, Macheso knew one fact: in the performing arts in Zimbabwe, you can never make it until you make the arduous journey to the nation’s capital Harare.
In search of fame and the ticket to fortune and success, Macheso arrived in Harare in 1982 and settled in Dzivarasekwa township.
After failing to find a job, Macheso founded the Seaside Band together with a small group of friends.
Now in his third glass of water, teetotaler Macheso adds: “The Seaside Band was not successful. I was unemployed and could rehearse but others were not equally committed because they had day jobs and often said they were too tired to rehearse. I had to move on.”
And move on he did, joining the Vuka Boys after a chance meeting with Shepherd Chinyani, a key member of the 1980s band.
It was while performing with Vuka Boys that Macheso would catch the eye of Nicholas ‘Madzibaba’ Zacharia. He took the young guitarist under his wing and together they formed the Khiama Boys.
“We decided to become session artists for other musicians, while also working on our own original material. Although I played the bass guitar, and Shepherd Kamushanga did lead vocals, I often did vocals also.”
You could hardly imagine it, even if you tried but around this time, Macheso found himself caught up in the 1980s craze: the permanent wave, or simply perm. The hairstyle had oil dripping from heads onto shirts and blouses. If Lionel Ritchie, Chaka Khan and John Chibadura did it, so could Macheso.
“It was hip then, and we were caught up in the mood,” he says.
In 1986, Macheso met his wife Nyadzisayi Butau, and suddenly the thought of starting a family crossed his mind.
“She was beautiful. She was actually meant for me. I had to make her my wife. I knew my life would never be the same after I asked her out.”
Later that year, he married his sweetheart. The couple was to have their first child, a baby girl named Sharon. The good times were about to roll.
In 1989, Khiama Boys released the epic Mabhauwa which propelled the group to instant stardom shortly after they met another musician with a strong farm background: Fanuel ‘System’ Tazvida.
Says Macheso: “He was a good artist and we lured him to our group. He liked the fact that we had recorded seven-singles and were touring the country with relative success. His own group was struggling and he envied us.
“At that time, he lived in Epworth and we would meet at a place called Kumaramba (the Catfish area). He would do reggae chants and played reggae music, but we converted him into a museve (sungura). That is when he also started doing vocals with us.
“I sang on the ‘B’ side of Mabhauwa along with Cephas Karushanga, while Tazvida did the lead vocals.”
Macheso admits he was not prepared for the fame that came with Mabhauwa’s release. Everyone wanted a piece of the group and they were constantly on the road touring.
“I am grateful that Nyadzisai was very supportive and we managed to maintain a healthy life and marriage. We were blessed with another child, a son called Ernest, who is late now.
“I had a further four children with Nyadzisai after Ernest – Melissa, Esau, Monalisa and Stacey.”
In 2000, the couple lost another son born prematurely.
While he is generally happy talking about all aspects of his life and career, the shutters come down when Macheso is asked about the months and weeks leading up to his fall-out with Zakaria.
Going solo was a challenge, he admits.
“I formed Orchestra Mberikwazvo in 1998 and the birth pangs of the group were terrible often. However, Marko Sibanda would help me with instruments and we would rehearse at his place. The reception was great from his neighbours and passersby.
“When we were rehearsing, people would throng his house and Marko ended up saying we needed to rehearse shorter hours to help control the crowd.
“Marko was very helpful and soon we started doing shows before we had even recorded a track. We would play original compositions, but we also played Khiama Boys music. Our shows were well attended.”
Then Macheso dropped his debut album, Magariro. The track Pakutema Munda explored his now strained relationship with Zakaria, and it got the town talking.
The story, told through music, was that Zakaria had become selfish and was hogging all the Khiama limelight as if he was the sole contributor to the project leading to the split.
“I was shocked by the reception. We needed a follow-up album to confirm that it wasn’t a fluke. I was now working with Zacharia Zakaria, who still plays alongside me today,” said Macheso.
Macheso followed up Magariro with more than half a dozen other albums with similar success: Vakiridzo, Simbaradzo, Zvakanaka Zvakadaro, Zvido Zvenyu Kunyanya, Vapupuri Pupurai, Ndezvashe-eh and Zvinoda Kutendwa.
Macheso has courted his fair share of controversy. A former Malawian MP and reggae musician, Lucias Banda, alleged that he had pilfered his ideas on the song Mundikumbuke (Remember Me).
“We just thought alike,” Macheso explains. “When I wrote my song, I did not even know that there was a man like that who played music. It was a coincidence pure and simple. I started listening to him after the whole furore and that is when I was enlightened to his existence.”
Macheso also found himself in the middle of a media storm when he married his second wife and subject of one of his popular songs - Tafadzwa. He gifted Tafadzwa a child quite early into the union.
His home – dubbed the HNU [House of National Unity] by an unforgiving press – has been rebuilt to accommodate both women, and they both appear keen to get along.
From the seed of a Malawian and the womb of a Mozambican, a wretched upbringing on a farm in Mashonaland Central – few could imagine Macheso kicking on be the star he is today with hundreds of thousands of albums sold and tours to South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom under his belt.