Jazz music still alive. . . Penny Yon traces Zim jazz music growth

Jazz musician and publicist Penny Yon believes Jazz music in Zimbabwe made an upswing in the 90s, when the annual Jazz Festival was revived by the late saxophonist Simangaliso Tutani and other stakeholders.  

Yon said after Tutati’s sad demise in 1995, and urged on by brilliant Zimbabwean jazz pianist Chris Chabuka and other senior musicians of the time, a small group of musicians and jazz-lovers including Sam Mataure, Debbie Paul, Dave Yon, Terence Mapurisana, Francis Mukuzunga, Gavin Rousseau, Comfort Mbofana and herself took up the mantle and went on to stage the ‘Zimbabwe International Jazz Festival’ from 1996-2000.  

“Others joined along the way — Comfort Mbofana also took up the mantle and went on to further annual festivals, and Sam Mataure continued with the Harare Jazz Festival for some years, and the Victoria Falls Jazz Festival which is still on-going.

“Back in the 90s, Zimbabwe was bursting with jazz talent, and in 1996 about 13 bands playing afro and western jazz and school bands were featured at these festivals,” said Yon. 

She said while the exact definition of Jazz is still being argued, the genre is growing and evolving; there’s now funk jazz, rap jazz, acid and all manner of jazz — all pointing to the freedom of expression and improvisation that is the essence of jazz.

“The future of jazz in Zimbabwe, in the hands of the current new crop still growing under the hands of veterans, is rosy in my opinion.  How blessed are fathers like Kelly and Filbert and Mono Mukundu to be able to play with their sons after years of teaching and guiding?  

“Even Dudu and Blessing Muparutsa’s baby boy is now on the drum journey.  How blessed are we to have singers like Dudu and Prudence who are still powerful women of jazz, performing consistently at the highest level while each bringing up four children through the years?”  

Yon said we have gifted and passionate jazz artists teaching music in formal schools; Bernie Bismark, Rute Mbangwa, Carmen Hwarari-Mutengo, Taona Mutengo and others. 

“Several high schools are sporting jazz bands, and the powerful professional music programme by Music Crossroads Zimbabwe runs throughout every year. Exciting new talent is emerging all the time, and audiences growing along with that.”

She said this being the case, it is now for the promoters and venues to match this growth and create an enabling environment for jazz.  

“In Harare jazz is happening and growing.  The next festival by Back to Jazzics is already on the cards for this year in Harare.  The Vic Falls Jazz Festival will go on for sure.  What of Bulawayo and other cities and towns?  

“What of venues for jazz?  While some have failed, others are opening, such as Amakhosi reopening this past week, a great cause for celebration in Bulawayo, and potentially a brilliant venue for jazz.  

“Jazz needs to be taken seriously as a very special community of artists with power to draw audiences across the board, challenge some of the divisions which keep us from unity, and work with other genres to produce music of a world class standard of which Zimbabwe can be proud.”

Yon added that venues need to attend to proper stage lighting, switch off television screens during performances, instruct their staff not to be a distraction, and generally show more respect for the product from which they draw healthy business.  

“It’s kind of missing the point if your star attractions — gifted artists with thousands of hours of learning and experience — are performing in conditions like itinerant buskers in the dim tunnels of a train station, on the way to the toilet.”

Over the years, Yon went from being an avid follower of Zimbabwean jazz, to assisting some of the older musicians who had no means of self-promotion, and later singing with the acapella group Big Sister, and growing from backing vocalist to bassist with the acclaimed afro-jazz band Mhepo.  

She worked closely with Sam Mataure and the ZIJF committee to keep jazz alive, while simultaneously working with Kunzwana Trust and the ngoma buntibe group Simonga in Binga, whose ancient traditional music modern European composers described as ‘closest to free improvised jazz’.  

In 2005, she was engaged by Paul Brickhill of Pamberi Trust to help build the arts development programme at the Book Café, where she worked for 11 years.

Yon remembers bands in the 90s that included Broadway Quartet with Simangaliso Tutani, the brilliant pianist Chabuka, bassist Kuki Tutani, and drummers Jethro Shasha and later Johnny Papas who played at the Manhattan cocktail bar at the then Monomatapa Hotel for several years;  radical guitarist Elisha Jossamu and bassist Chex Tavenga with Two Plus Two at the ‘TK’ Terreskane Hotel (and later the breakaway group 2+2) Timmy Makaya with Body & Soul and later Jabavu at The George Hotel; Luck St Blues with Paul Brickhill (sax) and Dave Ndoro (guitar) at Book Cafe; and many others — the likes of Mbare Trio with the Mbirimi brothers and others; Summer Breeze, Harare Mambos and Harare Drive,  Mhepo with Nigel Samuels, Biddy Partridge and the late Stan Zimi, Bryan Paul with Straight No Chaser, Z-Brass and later Savanna Cruz along with Filbert Marova and Sam Mataure at some point.   

She added: “From the northern suburbs, the best known were Detema Jazz Band with Mike Freeman (guitar), Tony Palmer on keys, the late drummer Peter Salthau, and the Siankope brothers from Binga, Daniel and Louis on trumpet and trombone.  

“These and other groups were featured at the festivals, which grew from strength to strength.”  She said it was about mobilizing the jazz community in the capital, which soon developed to the point of inspiring the establishment of the Mannenberg Jazz Club in Fife Ave in 2000 (by Paul Brickhill, adjacent to Book Café), and Jazz 24 at Eastgate Mall as dedicated jazz venues, at the time.

“In 1997, the Zimbabwe International Jazz Festival committee engaged with jazz musicians in Bulawayo, including trumpeter Paul Lunga with his band Jazz Impacto and The Cool Crooners, together staged the first Bulawayo Jazz Festival (in many years) at Amakhosi Cultural Centre in Bulawayo.

“Somewhere in the 90s also, Prince Edward School received a grant from the Embassy of Japan of music instruments and his wisdom, the headmaster at the time, Clive Barnes, hired professional jazz musicians — Biddy Partridge, Nigel Samuels, Bryan Paul, Marova, Richie Lopes — to teach music and grow the department, which is still strong and producing excellent musicians today under Mapiye,” said Yon.

She added that after the 90s a new wave of jazz artists emerged — Dumi Ngulube, Dudu Manhenga, Blessing Mparutsa and the band Colour Blu, guitarist Jimmy Buzuzi and The Other Four, singer/songwriter Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana, Adrian Muparutsa who went away to study jazz in SA, Blessing Chimanga ex-Prince Edward, singers like Rute Mbangwa, Hope Masike, Eve Kawadza, Patience Musa, Kudzai Sevenzo and Clare Nyakujara  with the support of gifted unsung heroes in the background — Enoch Piroro (bassist with Colour Blu before joining Tuku), the inimitable Nick Nare (keys), guitarist Mono Mukundu, Matthew Ngorima, and so very many more.

“More recently in the last few years we have seen others coming to the fore like jazz singers Buhle, Zeena, David Machaka, Tina Watyoka, and exciting jazz crossovers and collabs by musicians like mbira princess Masike, percussionist Othnell ‘Mangoma’ Moyo, and young guitarist Carlo Tinarwo moving into the jazz and blues arena of late,” said Yon.

Comments (2)

A HUGE band that was made up of some of the most amazing talent in Zim not mentioned is Mudzimu. This band featured Rick van Heerden, Vaughn Fransch, Steve Dyer, Richie Lopes, Jonah Marumahoko, Jethro Shasha and others as do all bands which have musicians come and go, but not mentioning this group and its musicians diminishes the impact and import they had on the jazz scene in Harare.

Monty - 4 March 2019

While the story is just reviewing on the jazz music gurus in Zimbabwe, but to my suprise, its not mention near the likes of Louis Mhlanga.....Guys the guy is still a living legend when it comes to Jazz music both in Zimbabwe and South Africa

Clemence Tashaya - 5 March 2019

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