IF you are a connoisseur of the authentic traditional Zimbabwean sound, where do you go these days to minister to your passions? What with this all-engulfing ZimDancehall fog (literally too, for there is a lot of smoking of things in that business).
It’s difficult to find new talent treading the paths well beaten by legends such as Oliver Mtukudzi. Harare-based Munyaradzi Nyamarebvu (MN) is one of the few; he has guitar skills that remind you of the master who also happens to be his mentor.
Munya talked to NewZimbabwe.com’s Gilbert Nyambabvu (GN) about his journey in music – the past, the present and the future.
GN: Who is Munyaradzi Nyamarebvu? How has he come to be where he is today in life and music?
MN: Munyaradzi Nyamarebvu is a Zimbabwean singer/ songwriter, guitarist, mbira player and mbira innovator. Nyamarebvu and his backing band ‘Roots Kalimba’ bring a genre of music that is firmly rooted in African folk tradition with most influences coming from the rhythm of his home-made instrument – the mbira. His music advocates for culture and ubuntuism.
GN: As a little boy all those years ago, I never quite saw any sign that there was music in you. When and how did it start?
MN: I have always been a musician ever since childhood. As a boy, l made music out of disposed empty tins and plastic fuel cans in the streets with my childhood peers. I later on developed more interest in playing actual instruments in junior school where l learned to play percussive instruments and, later, marimba and mbira. From then on, l grew musically and took the initiative to learn to play the guitar when l was much older.
GN: Where do you draw inspiration from when you write your music?
MN: The entire process of songwriting is a mystical progression. I like to believe that I draw inspiration from all forms of story-telling, personal experiences, societal influences and the shared experiences of other people.
GN: What do you expect people to take from your music? How do you expect it to impact them?
MN: My music is aimed at spreading peace and love to the people. My music is aimed at touching and healing the broken souls through engendering positivity. Advertisement
GN: You look like Oliver Mtukudzi – just as trim, I mean. Not only that; you also sound like him. Can you tell us how Tuku has influenced your career and your music?
MN: Oliver Mtukudzi has greatly influenced me through his music and mentorship. Moreover, I have grown, musically, through interacting with his arts centre called Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton where there is a platform to rehearse and showcase live music. I am currently recording my debut album at his studio (Samanyanga studios) at Pakare Paye Art Centre.
GN: Do you see yourself taking his legacy forward; his potential successor in music?
MN: No, I don’t see myself as his successor in time musically. I have a sound of my own that is unique in its own way though our music share some distinctly similar genre elements. However, I admire that he is a living legend who has transformed the traditional live music genre together with other big names like Thomas Mapfumo. In that regard, l will always be keen to perform a few songs he composed that are my favourites in honour of his legacy.
GN: Talking about influences on your music, you spent some time in Germany? Can you tell us more about that trip and what you learnt from there?
MN: I went to Germany in 2014. We went there as group of individual Zimbabwean artists under a platform established in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Germany Society, and it was through that facilitation that we got to meet a band called Jamaram. Jamaram had come to Zimbabwe to perform at HIFA and that is where we managed to interact, again through the Zimbabwe Germany Society. We then had workshops which led to discussions about collaboration on an album involving Jamaram and Zimbabwean artists contributing individual songs.
So, that is how we ended up travelling to Germany to put together that album with Jamaram. We also took the opportunity to have a sabbatical in Germany. Basically, I learnt that it’s important in a collaboration to value the views of everybody because the way the Germany band works is that they consider the views of each and every member of the band; during the arrangement of the song, be it the ideas or whatever. At the end of the day, there is one music director, of course, but then they do give room for everybody’s idea to be considered.
So, it’s not just about the songwriter doing all the arrangement and everything; everyone is involved and you end up with a beautiful piece of work. That is one really important thing which I learnt. I also learnt about management of the band; these guys have been in the industry for 24 years and above. So, I took time to engage with the manager and learn from their experiences; how to approach festivals, how to deal with ABC – you know the general managerial side of the business.
GN: How was your music received in Germany?
MN: Actually, we toured several towns in Germany and in Austria as well; but mostly in Germany. We went back in 2015 for some shows together with Jamaram. And, after we had recorded the album we staged a stream of concerts … it was amazing. About my music, the Europeans readily accept African traditional music. For them, it’s like a treat – something different from their normal fare of heavy metal and whatever else. They have several festivals there and my music was received very well wherever we played because my music has African traditional influences which is what the European audiences are curious about.
GN: I especially liked your collaboration with Elisa Von Wallis on the song ‘Ngatidanane’ – beautiful piece of music. Can you tell us how that came about?
Actually, I composed the song a long time ago and I just thought that it would be nice to collaborate on the song with her. The way it came about is that we met at a train station close to where I was staying during my sabbatical, just outside Munich. So, Elisa and a friend were carrying their instruments and I noticed that she had the cello while the friend had something smaller, perhaps a violin. I approached them and suggested that it would be nice to jam together some time. I explained that I was looking for cross-cultural interactions and collaborations.
So, we started the whole thing as jam sessions. Elisa visited me where I was staying and it was during one of these sessions that I suggested we collaborate on ‘Ngatidanane’ because it represents the themes I was trying to bring out there that – let’s love one another, let us give peace a chance. So yeah, the song is actually going to be on my debut album but I thought it would be nice to collaborate with violin because I have always wanted to merge classical music and traditional rhythms – the music that I do.
So, what happened is that the Zimbabwe Germany Society who sponsored the sabbatical gave us a videographer to document the entire visit for us. So, that is how I took the opportunity to film my collaboration with Elisa; that’s not an official video you have seen – it’s just a sit-in-the-park sort of performance. The whole thing marked the start of a healthy relationship with Elisa and all the other people I met while in Munich. We are now in constant contact and plan to do more collaborations during my next visits.
GN: Can such brilliant cross-culture and cross-genre collaborations work in the Zimbabwean market?
MN: I actually think that cross-cultural collaborations work anywhere in the world. And I think they would work in Zimbabwe too because we have healthy relations with countries from Europe and elsewhere around the world. For example, we have the Harare Munich partnership and it is through such fora that artists come to Zimbabwe. I believe the American embassy has similar cultural programmes as well. But artists have to be proactive to know which doors to knock in order to find these opportunities. There are local institutions which are involved in similar initiatives as well such as the Zimbabwe College of Music and Pakare Paye Arts Centre where I have met the likes of Ringo from South Africa.
I have actually met a lot of internationally recognised artists from the continent through some of these platforms. Despite the economic situation in the country, international artists still come here and local artists should use these visits to make collaborations with them. I am definitely looking forward to making a lot of collaborations because I think they are healthy for any artist.
I have learnt through experience that collaborations elevate you to another level musically because you get to learn from other cultures, other genres of music. Actually, when I go back to Europe for my shows I want to do more collaborations, especially with classical musicians because I feel that genre is rich in its own style and fusing that with our own traditions through mbira should produce something really beautiful.
GN: Do you think the traditional Zimbabwean sound which is what I think you play is being crowded out the explosion of superficial formats such as ZimDancehall for instance?
I don’t really think that the kind of music I play is being crowded out by dancehall as such. The point is that the level and amount of resources that are needed to engage in traditional live music and performances … it’s much more expensive, especially the equipment and instrumentation. So, it’s not so popular for people who are looking for a quick profit. You find that dancehall artists find it easy to record because all they usually need is an instrumental. There isn’t much required in terms of financing; they can just use a backyard studio and so forth. That’s why you find that there is, now, not so much serious traditional, live performing musicians at the moment, compared to the numbers that we see in the dancehall arena. Like I said, the kind of music I do is much more challenging; it needs much more in terms of resources – much more commitment in that respect.
Even so, I think that traditional music has got its own circles as well. It’s more popular in certain places but the media is not one of them because there are fewer artists, to begin with, and so there is not a lot of material that is being pushed out to be showcased on air. So, to some extent, that is what’s making traditional music not so popular because it needs a lot of investment and the serious artists can’t just push out a new video every week; they have work on projects that are sustainable.
Of course, we have artists who are trying to take the dancehall way of doing things and fuse it with traditional live music, but we don’t have too many trying that kind of format. So, it’s not that traditional music is being crowded out by dancehall; it’s that the one requires more in terms of financial resources than the other and the two genres are also showcased in vastly different for a and platforms.
GN: Lastly what are your plans for 2017 in terms of music? What can your fans expect?
MN: This year, I am expecting to release my debut album which I’m recording under Pakare Paye Samanyanga Studios. So, yeah, I hope to be releasing it this year; it’s called and it’s a solo debut album. It’s just going to be me and my guitar and some songs I’m going to record with my mbira. I’m also looking to travel outside the country for some collaborations, but the main thing that my fans should expect is the release of the album through Samanyanga Studios which is Dr Oliver Mtukudzi’s establishment.
GN: Munya, thank you for talking to us.
MN: Thank you for having me.
Munya can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org