Showbiz is sharp business

HARARE - The last time I heard a woman playing a saxophone was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at a function sponsored by the Commonwealth Press Union, before Zimbabwe was booted out of that organisation in 2004.

What was exciting was she was playing one of jazz’s classic titles, Paul Desmond’s Take Five. I have it on a Dave Brubeck album, among other records.

She received a rousing ovation, from a multiracial audience which was particularly impressed by her faultless handling of this jazz classic, played by many distinguished jazz saxophonists, in tribute to the late composer.

That woman has always reminded me of my cousin, Faith Dauti, who sang with us as the Milton Brothers, in the Harare township of pre-independent Zimbabwe.

She died at 35 in 1970, assuredly long before she had accomplished what she must have set out to accomplish, a reputation as solid as that of Miriam Makeba and Dorothy Masuka.

Her brother, Reuben Maximilian Dauti, died only a few months ago, having passed his 70th birthday. Another Milton “brother”, Chase Mhango, had passed on earlier.

At this time, I am the only “brother” of the Miltons living. We were related, Chase being my uncle and Reuben my cousin.

Shortly after Reuben’s death in Lusaka, Zambia, where he was living with his wife and children, I listened to a radio broadcast about music in Zimbabwe. I was not surprised when there was not a word about the story of how Oliver Mtukudzi was persuaded to be “more positive” in his lyrics of any song in which President Robert Mugabe was mentioned by name.

It struck me as rather bizarre that this revelation had not been mentioned more closely in the news media.

According to the book, written by a former journalist who worked closely with Mtukudzi, Mugabe offered gifts to the artiste if he switched from being critical of Mugabe to being…less so.

I could appreciate Thomas Mapfumo, himself quite often acerbic of Mugabe’s leadership in his songs, being a bit tetchy with Mtukudzi for allowing himself to be “used” by Mugabe.

Recently, I also listened to a radio programme spotlighting the music recording business Zimbabwe.

There was mention of how some people in the business seemed to be dominating the scene by virtually dictating terms to the artistes.

They had to bend to the wishes of the producers — or they would be out on a limb.

Furthermore, I was persuaded to compare our era with the present-day circumstances. We, in general, were not too fixed on the money. There was not much money in the business, anyway — as there was not much money for the Africans, anyway.  Mostly, we did it to supplement our incomes. Few of us lived entirely on the proceeds of our work as entertainers.

For most of us, what this amounted to was the desire to produce music that would hit the consumers like a pile-driver — and make them realise this was not a passing phase — the performers wanted their fans to be thoroughly hooked on their music.

As long as there is an element of coercion in the industry, the quality of the product will be sacrificed.

The Milton Brothers and Faith Dauti were an attractive product, in the sense that they concentrated their efforts on the music, rather than on the money reward.

Not many troupes could persuade one of the most successful groups in the country, The City Quads, to stage a combined show with the Milton Brothers in — of all venues — the Recreation Hall, the Mecca of show business in the township.

The success of that show marked The Brothers as a group not to be sneezed at. Then came a combined show with the Golden Rhythm Crooners in Bulawayo’s Stanley Hall.

For a long time, the Milton Brothers were held in high esteem. Yet they never trumpeted their performances as bettering those of other groups.

Few of them will forget those days when Harare township paid tribute to a group wholly associated with the township itself.

Reuben Dauti will grin mirthfully on reading this — wherever he is now.

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