Zim beat is my heartbeat — Kunonga

HARARE - Rising music star Victor Kunonga (VK) has just released an album titled Kwedu which has won the endorsement of South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela.

Daily News on Sunday’s  Dakarai Mashava (DM) spoke to the 40-year-old musician on his career and the general state of affairs in Zimbabwe’s music industry.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

DM: Who is Victor Kunonga?

VK: This is a question that I have found easy to answer in recent years. Victor Kunonga is an Artist. I am an artist in so many ways — I am a musician, painter, fashion designer, graphic designer etc. I am an artist whose values are home-grown and original.

DM: Given that 12 years ago you were just a mere graphic designer who couldn’t play the guitar, how did you end up as a musician?

VK: Graphic designing is a very difficult and a painstaking job for it to be referred to as mere. I went through three solid years at college and it was not a stroll in the park contrary to what people may think.

In fact, no product, no matter what it is, can be known without work done by designers. Knowing how to use Corel Draw, Adobe illustrator or Photoshop does not necessarily make you a graphic designer and neither does knowing how to read and write music make you a good musician.

I was fortunate to be introduced to the college of music by a friend who knew the late Dumi Ngulube who was a lecturer at the college at the time. I attended my first session and was put in the bass guitar class that was being taught by Filbert Marowa. It was an exciting experience and could not wait to purchase my own guitar. When I got my guitar, there was no looking back.

DM: Which artistes or people in other spheres inspired you to take up music and why?

VK: Inspiration was from what I grew up listening to. The great Zimbabwean bands and musicians of the 80s. The likes of the Pied Pipers, the Bundu Boys, Thomas Mapfumo, the late Robson Banda, the late Marshall Munhumumwe, the late James Chimombe,the late Susan Mapfumo, the late Simon and Naison Chimbetu just to mention a few. I personally felt the need to express myself and to also contribute to the Zimbabwean music’s golden pot.

DM: What kind of music do you play?

VK: Contrary to the belief that I play jazz music, I consider myself far from it. I am heavily influenced by mbira-derived rhythms that shine through the guitar work on my music. I have a huge tint of our traditional drum ngoma patterns that also influence my music. I would call my music Afro beat or a traditional contemporary fusion. That’s still not up to me to define it though. One writer simply put it as Victor Kunonga music.

DM: Some critics have accused you of being too heavily influenced by Oliver Mtukudzi and Mathew Kaunda, is there any substance in these claims?

VK: Sounding like these great musicians is a huge compliment. They inspire me because they have home-grown Zimbabwean roots in their music.

The identity we cannot deny ourselves is that we are Zimbabwean and our traditional patterns influence our music. Just as the Jamaicans play reggae music, we play Zimbabwean music; we are all bound by that identity. Some will argue that my mbira songs have a Thomas Mapfumo influence. Indeed these great musicians have inherited from our rich traditional influences to create something unique for themselves. Needless to say you borrow a thing or two from the very best and in my case, Tuku’s acoustic guitar influence. But believe me, the more you listen, the more you will discover how different we are.

DM: Are you happy with the way you have evolved as a musician from Such Is Life-Ndanyengetedzwa (2003), Uyo (2006), Handinete (2010), up to your latest album Kwedu (2014)?

VK: I am absolutely delighted with the way I have evolved. The journey has been exciting in that I began walking on my own and have picked other influences that shape the music differently with each stage. I would have loved to have produced more than just the four albums, but the spacing infact has helped me to mature and I feel Victor Kunonga and Peace are at their very best.

DM: Do you write all your songs and if you do, will you be willing to sing songs written by other people?

VK: I do write all my songs and I am very willing to sing songs written by other people. In fact I am working on a song inspired by a writer whose poem will be the backbone of the lyrics of the song.

DM: How do you write songs?

VK: There is no single formula on how to write songs but what I can say is I do not sit down to write or to think about how to write a song. Mind you, writing a song and composing music are two different things. You can compose a song today, whose written lyrics may emerge three years from now.

DM: Who do you regard as the best ever Zimbabwean musician and why?

VK: I do not judge musicians on who is the best because you get good songs from a whole spectrum of musicians.

What I like in a song may not be to the taste of others, but I can safely say we have heard outstanding songs from a lot of musicians. Good songs have been composed by Zimbabwean artistes since the days of Augustine Musarurwa of the Skokiaan fame whose song has been renditioned by many musicians all over the world.

DM: Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo have generally been the most dominant forces on the Zimbabwean music scene over the last four decades. Who among the current crop of local musicians have the potential to dominate the coming decades?

VK: It is not fair to judge musicians using the same yardstick because they respond to different realities.

It is important though to realise that the musicians you mentioned have come a long way, since the days of the liberation struggle to date. Their music has influenced and continues to influence people today. Every musician has the potential to influence people in the same way and if the music resonates with the listeners, that is, the best achievement any musician can have.

DM: How do you react to South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela’s view that you have the potential to be an international star?

VK: That is the greatest compliment I have ever received from a man so huge in the world music fraternity and I certainly hope I will realise that potential.

I will again dwell on my values being home-grown and original. What I want to drive through as a musician is the Zimbabwean beat, because that is my heartbeat. If it comes from my heart to the world, the world will feel it.

DM: Do you think you are now ready to go international?

VK: Victor Kunonga and Peace Band are ready for any stage and we are looking forward to the journey on the international scene.

DM: Why did you dedicate your latest album to the late Sekuru Kunonga, the late Thomas Deve, Paul Brickhill as well as the late king and the queen of Zimbabwean mbira, Adam Chisvo and Chiwoniso Maraire?

VK: These are my mentors and they are among the greatest influences in my musical journey. Their voices and advice will continue to urge me on for years to come.

DM: Do you agree with the view that your guitarist Norman Masamba is now on the verge of becoming one of Zimbabwe’s best lead guitarist? Have you been supportive of Masamba’s efforts to build a solo career?

VK: Masamba is one of the most creative guitarists I have ever worked with. Regardless of how others may view it, he plays Victor Kunonga’s music the best way ever and I believe he stands tall among Zimbabwe’s finest.

Norman is not just a great guitar player, he is one of the finest songwriters and composers of our time and such great talent can only be ignored to the detriment of the music fraternity. I am behind him all the way.

DM: In your opinion who are the most promising young musicians in Zimbabwe?

VK: I see Norman Masamba as one of the most promising musicians in Zimbabwe. I might be biased but I do feel his music. There are many musicians in this fold as well, the likes of Gary Tight, the band Were, Hope Masike, just to mention a few.

DM: What plans have you put in place to make you grow as a brand?

VK: With each new project comes growth. I believe in giving our fans the best and naturally when that happens, the fans reciprocate

accordingly. A lot is being done by my manager, Walter Wanyanya to grow the brand and time will be the true reflection of that.

DM: Are claims that Zimbabwean Afro-jazz is failing to grow because artists imitate each other factual?

VK: I do not think it is failing on the basis of imitating each other. I think people are not very interested in promoting non-commercial music and hence the music lacks airplay on our stations and seldom generates interest in the media.

Many good artists are never heard and that in itself is our failure as a nation. However, without absolving the musicians themselves, it is important for the artists to make an effort to create their own unique music.


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