The Green Arrows: The first Zimbabwe band to record an LP

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By Jordan Potter | Far Out Magazine

IN the 1970s, Rhodesia, the unrecognised country north of South Africa now known as Zimbabwe, was a land of sociopolitical upheaval amid the Rhodesian Bush War.

Spanning 15 years and five months between 1964 and 1979, the conflict saw three forces collide: the Rhodesian white minority-led government of Ian Smith; Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, led by Robert Mugabe; and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union.

In the eye of this storm were The Green Arrows, an enigmatic pub band that brought a progressive, politically orientated edge to traditional African music.

Harnessing the spirit of their home nation, this remarkable five-piece transformed the prevailing chaos into a melodic fusion of hope, rhythm, and political consciousness.

The Green Arrows’ music, often labelled ‘wha wha’ (‘beer’ in English) music, became the rhythmic backbone of wartime debauchery, usually enticing audiences to consume copious amounts of beer at their gigs. Crucially, their distinctive sound was discovered by South African producer West Nkosi in the early 1970s, who endeavoured to bring the music to the masses.

Comprised of Zexie Manatsa, Fulton Chikwati, Givas Bernard and Raphael Mboweni, the band travelled across Zimbabwe spreading their central message: “Forget your troubles for a little while and dance with your fellow human beings – something great might come of it.”

At the beginning of the ’70s, The Green Arrows were revered as one of Zimbabwe’s most beloved bar bands. However, by the end of the decade, when the white minority government was toppled under the Internal Settlement, they had achieved a level of fame unprecedented in the region’s history.

This pioneering stature was evident in the group’s effervescent music but consolidated in 1976 when they became the first Zimbabwean band to release an LP.

Titled Chipo Chiroorwa, this landmark album encapsulated the defiant spirit of The Green Arrows’ legendary pub performances: rapturous and danceable yet pertinent to contemporary affairs.

When Manatsa, the band’s bassist and lead vocalist, got married in 1979 at Rufaro Stadium in Harare, the event drew an estimated 60,000 guests.

The celebrations featured performances from fellow musical heroes of Zimbabwe, including Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo. A year later, during Zimbabwe’s 1980 Independence celebrations, The Green Arrows played perhaps their most legendary set as a supporting act for Jamaican reggae hero Bob Marley.

Through the remainder of the ’80s and beyond, The Green Arrows continued to wave the revolutionary flag, amassing many subsequent studio and live recordings. In 2007, the digitally remastered compilation album, 4​-​Track Recording Session (Analog Africa Nr. 1), collated some of the band’s most beloved tracks, including ‘Chipo Chiroorwa’, ‘Bambo Mwakwatila’, ‘Vaparidzi Vawanda’, ‘Mwana Waenda’, and ‘Chechule Anavala Bottom’.

The first part of the compilation includes material from the landmark debut album, Chipo Chiroorwa, and several highlights from 1974-75. Meanwhile, part two, subtitled Waka Waka Selection, comprises singles recorded between 1976 and 1979. Listen to the album below.