Constance van Niekerk,
in Vereeniging, South Africa
Steady Munyanyi, CEO of Diamond Studios has confirmed the return of Bothwell ‘African’ Nyamhondera, arguably among the originators and earliest proponents of Zimbabwe’s Sungura music. Without doubt his expertise and creativity helped brand Sungura into a highly marketable musical genre with a wide appeal. Nyamhondera has been in the UK since October 2011.
“Bothwell Nyamhondera is returning early this year but we think the actual date should remain confidential. What we can confirm is that the contract has been signed.”
As if to confirm the veracity of the old adage about how absence makes the heart grow fonder, Munyanyi opines, “The fact that he has been away for a while has actually made us realise how incomplete we are without him in the Zimbabwean music industry.” Munyanyi, with some nostalgia reminisces about Nyamhondera’s role in the rise to fame and prominence of Zimbabwe’s big music names. “Most of the greatest artists in Zimbabwe have gone through his hands. Look at the great Alick Macheso, the great gospel king Charles Charamba, Pengaudzoke etc. You can’t finish the list. It’s unfortunate that very few people recognise the importance of the man behind and the artists scoop all the fame,” he observes.
According to Munyanyi, Bothwell Nyamhondera is easily one of the best sound engineers around. “He understands Sungura and other Zimbabwean music genres. Most of the artists have trust in him as we here at Diamond Studios also do.”
Nyamhondera’s return will see the resurgence of a genre that has of late begun to experience diminishing returns. Some experts within the industry think that this situation could largely be a result of musical plagiarism and in-breeding within the genre – groups doing practically the same things and groups growing out of other groups.
Peter Mathonsi, an upcoming Sungura artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa says, “Very happy with the return, thinking of doing my latest project in Zimbabwe though I will spend a lot of money on transport. His return is a relief to us. His absence in the Zimbabwe music was felt by many musicians and he will boost Diamond Studios.”
For Mathonsi, Nyamhondera’s return to Africa is a dream come true as he has so many times sworn in the past that his next album must be recorded by the Sungura guru.
Another contented artist is veteran Sungura giant Mitchell Jambo based in Thohoyandou, South Africa who says, “Bothie has never failed any musician as far as I know, he is my living hero. Will be behind him. I have a new project and I am sure he is going to be my producer once again in our mother land”
A Mitchell Jambo return to the recording studio is an exciting prospect. There are many who had written off the ‘Vimbiso’ hitmaker as a spent force. But it looks like they spoke too soon. Mitchell Jambo is still very much in the business and has been staging live shows here in South Africa. His last show was a new year gig at Zwonaka Park in Tshitomboni, Thohoyandou alongside famous reggae artist Colbert Mukwevho, Burning Doctor, Khakhathi & Friends, Makhadzi and DJ Tshibulebule.
Jonah Moyo, yet another seasoned Sungura star based in Thohoyandou, South Africa says, “It’s good for us musicians. As you know, he is the best producer ever, especially in our type of music. I learnt a lot from him, he is a perfectionist. I will also have an opportunity to work with this great man again and am looking forward to his return.”
Jonah Moyo is planning to record an album soon. He has recently signed a recording contract with a recording company in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Tendayi Gahamadze though not a Sungura artist himself is of the view that the return of this man with Sungura in his blood is a necessity for the music industry, ” Welcome vatezvara, the Zimbabwe music industry needs you”.
Sentiments similar to Gahamadze’s are expressed by former Lions Band leader in Masvingo, Josefa Chauke who is now based in Chiredzi with his group the Marhula Crew Band. Chauke says, ‘It will be good for Zim music. Judging by what is happening at present, we need him back.'”
Echoing Josefa’s views is Chitungwiza-based producer and artist of Pax Afro fame, Gideon Zamimba. He asserts, “I feel that his departure left a big void that has proven too difficult to fill. I have respect for the likes of Cool Dude Mparutsa, Jabu, Norman Tapambwa, Dumisani etc who are Sungura producers but I believe that they come nowhere near the genius of M’dhara Nyamhondera. His record speaks for itself. There is need for him to employ the same method he has been using way back; going to all corners of the country scouting for talent.”
Gideon is a passionate musician who has worked with some of Zimbabwe’s gospel greats like Mechanic Manyeruke who he worked with for 8 years playing keyboards with seasoned artist Isaac Chirwa on bass. He has also worked with his brother-in-law Brother Sam, the late Brian Sibalo, Mr Bulk and the list goes on and on.
Gideon also says, “I do believe that there is need for (more) creativity in this genre as we have become tired of hearing the same sound all the time. I have no doubt M’dhara Nyamhondera can do it. He has the Sungura sound with him and my wish is may there be someone who will some day rise up and complement or take over before its too late. We cannot rely on one person forever but judging from what is happening at present…we still need him back. The genre is facing extinction. I also urge those with the financial muscle and the love of the genre to partner this genius and raise the Sungura flag high again. A lot of work needs to be done but they have to act soon.”
There is no doubt that artists from all genres hold Nyamhondera in high regard. He is certainly way up there with the likes of Ephraim Joe, the receiver of a post-humous NAMA for ‘Lifetime Achievement’ who is widely regarded as the father of Sungura. Ephraim Joe, Ketayi Muchawaya, Shepherd Chinyani and one or two others, assisted by the likes of Nyamhondera catapulted Sungura to a share of the top spot alongside Jiti and Chimurenga and eventually made it the musical voice of the vast majority of Zimbabweans.
Upcoming Sungura/ Gospel musician and namesake of Simon ‘Chopper’ Chimbetu, the late Dendera king, Simon Charumbira Shumba (no known relationship with the late comedian Simon Shumba aka Mutirowafanza) believes that Sungura music will return to normal with the return of Nyamhondera.
Shumba says, “Nyamhondera was serious with all his projects that he recorded. He doesn’t record a person for the sake of money but because he wants to market the talent of the artist and himself.”
Shumba also says that a lot of Sungura musicians do not sound as talented as they used to. He feels it’s not because they have lost their midas touch, but because of poor work by the sound engineers.
The artists whose voices we hear in this article are just but a drop in the ocean compared to the vast numbers of hopeful others waiting for a chance to work with the legendary B African, the great producer, sound engineer
Many artists and Sungura fans are unanimous that Nyamhondera is good at what he does. Nyamhondera is truly a gifted engineer and producer. He deserves every applause and recognition for the huge input he contributed to not only Sungura but all Zimbabwean music and its associated industry.
There are hopeful new signs on the horizon for Sungura. The year 2014 could herald a new beginning for the Borrowdale league.