Zambezi News scales new heights

HARARE - Over the past two weeks, Zambezi News — a three-year-old local comedy series featuring Comrade Fatso, Michael Kudakwashe, Tongai Leslie Makawa and Stacey Danana — has made the news on global television stations like BBC and CNN.

The Daily News on Sunday’s Sharon Muguwu caught up with Comrade Fatso to get more insight into the rip-roaring comedy and how he burst onto the arts scene.

Q: What is your real name and what inspired your stage name?

A: My real name is Sam Farai Monro and my stage name, Cde Fatso, was inspired by a few things.

When I was in high school I got the nickname Farai because my friends were like iwewe unonzi Farai because unofarira vanhu vatema — my friends were mostly black.

When I got involved in the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe the title Cde came about.

The slang version of Farai is Fatso, so I became Cde Fatso and it stuck ever since.

Q: When did you start comedy?

A: I did some version of stand-up comedy in 2004, but I was mainly focused on spoken word and poetry, but I really started pursuing it professionally from around 2012.

While performing at functions as a musician I would improvise poetry and comedy and it was also after being a master of ceremony at my cousin’s wedding in Hawaii that my brothers approached me and jokingly said if you don’t start doing comedy we are going to kill you. When I got back home I started pursuing comedy.

Q: How old are you?

A: I am 34; turning 35 this year. I am the same age as our country, the same age as the term of our president.

Q: How does your family view your career?

A: They have always been supportive. I grew up in a family that has always been focused on social justice and non-racialism. They have always been supportive of the choices that I have made, be it getting involved in arts and culture or the struggle in Zimbabwe.

Q: How do you balance being a musician and a comedian?

A: I have to balance many things because I am the creative director of

Magamba Network, director of Shoko Festival, executive producer of and actor of Zambezi News, blogging… I have so many interests and these are things that I love doing.

I have interests in arts and media and am opening up space in the country to build a new Zimbabwe. At the, moment my music has taken a back seat since I have put so much focus on comedy, though I have been working on a new album over the past two years with my band Chabvondoka (Josh Meck, Tendai and Freedom Manatsa) featuring various Zimbabwean artistes.

Q: Give us an insight into the creative process

A: Sometimes it’s approaching the same issue but from a completely different stand point. Say I am tackling corruption in music, it takes a serious stance while in comedy it will be jokes about corruption and corrupt ministers, but ultimately you are trying to achieve the same effect.

With music you want to get people dancing and comedy you want to see them laughing but still getting that message across.

Q: What inspired Zambezi News and the name?

A: It came about by fluke, a friend of ours was involved in the Zimbabwe International Film Festival (ZIFF) and she asked us to come up with a new skit featuring Outspoken (Tongai Leslie Makawa).

Unfortunately, we were supposed to be touring Europe at that time so we decided to film it, and they screened it at ZIFF in 2011 and it went down fantastically, getting good responses. When we got back we thought wow, we are onto something and realised that Zimbabweans appreciate satire so we produced the first season.

We just came up with name Zambezi News, and we wanted it to sound like ZBC News because that’s our main inspiration. These are the guys we parody and we like to parrot their ineptitude and incompetence.

Q: And how did you come up with the cast?

A: Outspoken and I are the co-creators. We had to get Michael K involved as he is such an amazing comedian.

Q: How do you feel when people don’t laugh during a live performance?

A: If people don’t laugh, yes it happens and as a stand-up comedian one of the most difficult things is performing and expecting people to laugh. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

You have to keep pushing through and go back to the drawing board and work on the material you have.

Q: How do you deal with hecklers?

A: I just make a good joke about them because I have the microphone and they don’t.

Q: Are you married; any children?

A: No I am not married and I do not have any children, but I am in a serious relationship.

Q: I understand you were very close to the late Chiwoniso Maraire. What do you miss most about her?

A: Yes I was close to Chiwoniso and think she was an amazing artiste. The thing that you would miss the most about her is her serious music presence and social commentary.

She was not someone who sat on the side-lines or on the fence; she did express her feelings about the political situation and always sided with oppressed people and that’s something I miss about her. And the arts community misses that as well, basically I miss Chiwoniso very much.

Q: What role did she play in your music career and are you still in touch with her family?

A: We were together at a time when she was well-established and I was learning the ropes of the music industry. There was definitely a lot of mutual support and understanding at the time.

Also, I met some great artistes through her that I worked with, so those were definitely formative years of my music career.

I am in regular touch with her family, her sister, children, Chengeto and Chiedza are fantastic young ladies.

Q: What influences your style of comedy?

A: My style is pretty sarcastic; putting on accents and imitating the different people in Zimbabwe, really poking fun at the big issues we have here be it politics, corruption, religion and making people laugh.

With Zambezi News we approach the big subjects and make people laugh

Q: There is this stereotype that most comedians are angry or emotionally damaged in some way. How do you respond to that?

A: I don’t think comedians are angry or emotionally damaged than the average person.

I think each comedian has their different approach and some comedians are quiet in everyday lives, some are outspoken just like normal people.

I think it’s a stereotype but one thing I know is that they are brave; you have to be brave to stand up by yourself and make people laugh.

Q: What was your most memorable gig?

A: Zambezi News was the first international act to be invited to perform at the Comics Choice Awards in South Africa. We did a live performance there, in front of the crème-de-la-crème of South African comedy.

Another memorable gig was when I was doing a show with my band Chabvondoka and we were invited to be one of the headline acts at the Sauti za Busara festival in Tanzania.

It was a fantastic show with thousands of Tanzanians, foreigners watching us in the old stone town of Zanzibar.

Q: What’s the best advice you have ever received?

A: It comes in different forms, I think some of the best is being told to believe in yourself and be all you can be, that’s something I really take to heart, the need to believe in myself and do more than I am are currently doing.

I also remember advice when someone close to me said you could be great, at a time that I thought I was doing great things.

That really just spurred me on to say don’t take things for granted and really strive to achieve more.

Q: Zambezi News has been receiving a lot of international media coverage lately, what do you think has brought about the sudden attention?

A: It’s really great, just over the last two weeks we have been on BBC Focus on Africa as Zambezi News, there was an article in the Guardian, there was a report by Amanpour on CNN. We were also on Late Night News with Loyiso Gola while Channel 4, one of the leading stations in the UK did a 25-minute long documentary on Zambezi News.

We have been working on this since 2011, producing season after season and making sure that it is the most cutting edge satire we can produce about Zimbabwe’s political situation.

It’s a situation of the production growing so big that it is making waves even outside of Zimbabwe and getting recognition internationally.

We also get more phone calls from the authorities checking up on us, with the police asking for clearance, accreditation so with the added limelight comes the added spotlight.

Q: What’s lined up for the year?

A: I think it’s a great time for Zambezi News, we want to take satire to the next level and we are going to be working on a lot of different materials. We will have Season 4 coming out as well.

On the stand-up comedy we will be launching my 75 percent Stand Up Comedy DVD next month. It will feature Clive Chigubu, Michael K and it was recorded at Hifa last year.

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