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Jazz vanishes from Bulawayo

by Staff reporter
24 Feb 2020 at 07:02hrs | Views
IN THE pre and post-independence era jazz music was part and parcel of Bulawayo's magnificent history. Back then, the inhabitants of Kontuthu Ziyathunqa could be easily identified by their insatiable love for the genre.

Bulawayo's historical halls such as Stanley Hall, McDonalds Hall, Mabutweni and Luveve Hall back then used to be a hive of activity for revellers who would easily soothe nerves through listening to jazz sounds.

On top of that were the once thriving yesteryear city council beer halls such as Big Bhawa, Madlodlo, Happy Valley and Manuele beer halls that led from the front as "jazz watering holes."

Not to be left out were local night clubs and hotels that were known for hosting various local jazz musicians who would deservedly provide a thrilling and nerve-chilling splendid performance.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said on this day, as the turn of the millennium appeared to have brought a new flavour of music, mercilessly sweeping aside what had turned out to be the bedrock of the city's music industry.
Those hordes of jazz musicians who used to cash in on the hype and demand of the genre have all but gone into oblivion.

Even Bulawayo famed jazz bands that had remained steadfast in the face of extinction such as the Cool Crooners, Submarine Band, Maunga Jazz Band and Say Band seem to have eventually thrown in the towel.

The situation on the ground clearly suggests that over the years the city's jazz music fraternity seems to be choking under the hasty emergence of other genres of art such as dance, house, hip-hop and Kwaito popular with the locals.

Lately Zimdancehall has also claimed a stake in the cut-throat music industry and this has only helped to make jazz go under and remain unnoticed mostly by the new generation who largely view that type of music as associated with old people.

A few night clubs in the city have tried to introduce jazz nights or sessions on weekly or monthly basis, but the initiative has in most cases fallen apart due to low uptake by patrons.

Arts researcher-cum-journalist Admire Kudita painted a sad picture of how jazz music has changed over years while also proffering possible solutions to the genre that still remains respectable and appealing.

"The state of jazz in Bulawayo is one that is sad in the sense that it is one of a genre that has deep roots in the city since the 40s, 50s and 60s. I mean, this is the city of August Musarurwa who penned the famous Skokiaan which was also covered by US Jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong and the likes of Dorothy Masuka and the Cool Crooners," Kudita said.

"There is no city with a richer heritage. Even the Sonny Sondos of that era and the Safirios used to come down here. Jazz's first lady of the era Faith Dauti was married to Timothy Mnkandla (Cool Crooners). Township jazz was all the rage back then.

"You will recall Southern Freeway fronted by Steve Dyer and Pindi Mtya. It was based in Bulawayo. So was Ebony Sheik which was more Afro-pop than anything and a group such as Ilanga could be called a jazz outfit. I wouldn't call them jazz. Dudu Manhenga was for a season a leading light from the city," he said.

Kudita, however, said there was need for research to be conducted on how best to restore the city's jazz pride.

"Festivals should be brought to the city maybe under the auspices of the cultural affairs office. It's all about imagination and weaving a commercial dynamic to the activity. Cultural tourism is one way. Let's utilise the Cool Crooners for example. They have a lot of knowledge. They wrote many Afro-jazz hits. But they are dying with those experiences," Kudita noted.

Bulawayo-based music promoter Terminator Makoni said it was unfortunate that jazz is now a hard sell as music promotion was equally a business where profits are a priority.

"Jazz music had its time, I am sure there was a time when promoters used to feast off jazz music, but now  it's no longer easy to promote that type of music with the emergence of such genres like Zimdancehall which are now marketable.

"Yes one may try promoting jazz in Harare where you can identify your target market and have a successful show, but here in Bulawayo you can be assured of a low turnout if you try that. Times have really changed and in business that will be a loss," Makoni told Daily News on Sunday.

One of the few veteran jazz musicians who have remained steadfast, Hardson Simbarashe strongly feels that jazz is still alive despite it no longer being as popular as it used to be.

"Jazz music is true music, it's alive and kicking for those who love it, only that most people now prefer fake music," Simbarashe said. "Jazz is a tradition; it has to be cultivated and nursed and it takes time. There is no quick money or shortcuts but when it's ripe and ready the profits are awesome."
The legendary Cool Crooners frontman George Salimu feels times have changed.

"Things have changed now; it's no longer the same as long back, when we used to be very busy with shows almost on daily basis.

"Currently, we lack promoters who can push our genre. Promoters are scared to take a risk so we now rely on corporate events for shows. The economy has even made our situation worse," Salimu said.

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Source - dailynews