Memories of satchmo, skokian

HARARE - Every time the Zimbabwe Agricultural show is held at the showgrounds in Harare, I am explosively reminded of Louis Satchmo Armstrong, who thrilled us with his All-Stars band in 1961 in Salisbury.

If this is too far away for you to remember in detail, I forgive you entirely. There was a moment during a recent programme on one of ZBC’s many stations when a lady announced she would soon play Mack The Knife.

I held my breath, hardly believing that the music she threatened to play was indeed one of the most famous jazz tunes ever played by any band — until it began: Say, man, there goes Mack The Knife!

The band which played in the showgrounds in 1961 did not play Mack The Knife. But they did play When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, with Armstrong at his best.

It may sound crazy to many readers, but Satchmo was never an ordinary musician. After our meeting with him and his band in 1961 in Salisbury, I was never to forget him or his music.

At one time, my entire music album contained more of his music than anybody else’s. Morever, after his visit to southern Africa, one of his most famous recorded tunes was Skokiaan, originally recorded by the Zimbabwean saxophonist, Augustine Musarurwa.

This was understandable from many points of view. Armstrong was distinctly black and world famous, having featured in films with such actors and singers as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and actresses such as Grace Kelly.

Skokiaan became a famous tune too, recorded by great artistes such as the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela.

Satchmo showed how unassuming he was when we talked to him about jazz in Salisbury, at the Usis’s offices. Where did jazz begin? We asked him. My companion was David Nyakuno, like me from The African Daily News.

“It all came from Africa,” he said most emphatically. We two African reporters could feel the eyes of the white reporters turning to us, with something like venom, as if we had committed a capital crime against all whites.

With me on the music beat was David Nyakuno, also from The African Daily News. He died years later, long after independence, having risen in rank to become sports editor of  the Chronicle in Bulawayo.

My fascination with Satchmo was almost overwhelming. On my very first visit to the US in 1972, the programme called for us to visit New Orleans, which included a tour of Preservation Hall, a virtual museum of jazz history.

There was a long history of all the jazz “greats”, including Satchmo himself and Duke Ellington who I was to meet in the flesh after I had moved to Zambia in 1963. I had as long a talk with him as I had had with Satchmo, this time in Lusaka.

Inevitably, my record collection was boosted by many records of Ellington, including Take The A Train, Perdido and many others.

All this happened after I had finished my career as a singer. If I had learnt to play any instrument, I suspect, I would have accomplished something worthwhile. My mentor would have been the guitarist Andew Chakanyuka, who played guitar for our singing group,

The Milton Brothers. We recorded many pieces with him for the African Service of the government broadcasting corporation, and also with Faith Dauti.

Among the regular accompaniment we relied upon was that of Raphael Chimzinga, on drums, Charles Fernando on bass, apart from Chakanyuka on guitar.

There is much music from us in the archives of the ZBC. I am sure they may bring it out and play it, once in a while. But I can understand their reluctance to give it too much publicity.

I am not entirely sure why.

    Comments (1)

    Nice story. You are at your best when you reminisce about the old times. Those articles are always good.

    max moyo - 31 August 2015

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