Monday, 21 March 2016

African Music Show #1: Zimbabwe (1984)

Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited: Queens Hotel Beer Garden ~ 1983. Pic Bob Snow.
Before the mid 1980s marketing explosion of “world music” it was very rare that radio stations outside of Africa featured popular music made in Africa. In May 1984 Triple RRR community radio station in Melbourne Australia pioneered a weekly two-hour “African Music Show” hosted by a newly converted African music enthusiast who had just spent some years volunteering as a teacher in the recently liberated Zimbabwe.
Click on the pic to check out RRR's streaming radio

The tapes of those shows, which I will be sharing over the course of this year, are a fascinating document of Tony Hunter’s perspectives on popular African musics of the time. Tony’s insights and sometimes dry humour provide an entertaining commentary between the main business of his radio shows, great music played from his vinyl collection.

Tony spent two years in Zimbabwe and then in 1983 travelled overland to Congo Kinshasa with the main goal of seeing as many live music performances as possible, and to collect vinyl.

Tony picks up the story: “When I got home to Australia my tea chest of records had arrived and I decided that the word needed to be spread. The most successful independent/community radio station in Australia is 3 RRR (Triple R) – weekly listenership is currently 440,000. Helped by Melbourne’s flat topography it has wide reach and has been going since the late seventies. I rocked up, said I had a box of records from Africa and wanted to tell people about them.

“My exposure to African music began when I took up a teaching position in newly independent Zimbabwe in May 1981.

Tony Hunter meets up with friend
Godfrey Dzavairo
 during a 2011 return trip to Zimbabwe
“Zimbabwe recruited teachers from the Commonwealth and there were a lot who came from Australia.   You had no idea where you were to be posted, my posting was to Seke No 1 High School in the dormitory town (now a vast area) called Chitungwiza 30 km out of Harare. The school had just been built after independence and to cope with the demand for education and there were 2 schools a day. Early morning til noon and noon til late afternoon. It was called hot seat learning as the seats never got cold.

“I lived in Hatfield an outer suburb and got the bus to work. Being a white on the bus and was a source of great amazement to the locals. When walking through the township to school little kids would run inside crying mzungu, mzungu (white man). There was a lot of hostility to whites but not to us, once people found we were from Australia to teach their children we were welcomed warmly.

 “My first experience was hearing 2 huge post independence albums Africa by Oliver Mtukudzi and Gwindingwe Rine Shumba by Thomas Mapfumo. That trademark cough of Tuku’s was fascinating but it was the fast staccato guitar of Jonah Sithole in Mapfumo’s band that grabbed me the most. It was only later that I found out that the guitar was mimicking the mbira.

“I think of Oliver and Thomas as like the Beatles and the Stones. I’ve always been a Stones man and so it followed that much as I like love Oliver, I have always seen Mapfumo’s music as the spiritual heart of contemporary Zimbabwean music.

1982: Tony visiting Otis Banda
“I first saw bands at the Hotel Elizabeth – the Pied Pipers from memory. Having whites in the audience and a band with whites and blacks was a big thing in the new Zimbabwe. Optimism was incredibly high in Zimbabwe, the country was still quite affluent, Mugabe was saying all the right things (well sort of – not if you were from ZAPU or lived in Matabeleland) but internationally he was up there with Mandela.

“My regular haunt was the beer garden at Queens Hotel. A wonderful place with flowering jacaranda trees overhead, cheap beer and a regular flow of great bands. Internationals too- I can vividly remember Hugh Masekela’s shiny trumpet pointed upward to the African sky…fantastic.

“Bob Marley played at the independence ceremony and despite Mugabe declaring reggae and Rastafarianism degenerate, a lot of reggae bands toured. Aswad, UB40 and Misty In Roots stand out. Misty were incredible and I followed their tour around the country.

“Mushandira Pamwe out in Highfield was a big beer barn and I’d see Thomas out there a lot though they could be really late nights as Thomas would take breaks for hours at a time smoking mbanje. When he toured Australia I complained about that and he said you should have joined us-well a little late. Perhaps the weirdest gig was seeing Mapfumo play at the officer’s mess at the Zimbabwe air force. The 4 Brothers were often resident out at Mushandira Pamwe –they heavy on the guitars with a succession of short fast songs.

“I had a friend who lived in Kwe Kwe and I stayed with his family. There was a band that’s sound captivated me. Africa Melody was led by a guy called John Kazadi who I think came from Lumbumbashi. The few references to the band describe it as sungura music but to me it had less of rhumba feel and at times more of country rock sound with the guitars right upfront. Some months later I was in some bar in a township and this guy jumps up and exclaims “Kwe Kwe”! It was John Kazadi and we greeted each other like long lost brothers. It seems I had been obvious to spot in that Kwe Kwe beer hall,

Thomas Mapfumo: Pic Bob Snow.
“A band I regret never seeing were the Devera Ngwena Jazz Band who had hit after hit in the early eighties. I understand they were based at a bar in a mining area, Shangani I think but as the bar owner owned they equipment they could never tour. This changed later but not while I was there.

“Holidays were long and frequent as the kids had to go back to help on the farms so I would travel to other African countries collecting records as I went-often not knowing who they were – singles especially were very cheap."

Tony was also responsible for compiling the hugely popular "Harare Hit Parade" series of posts on Electric Jive. You can find them here.

So – the first two hour African Music Show unsurprisingly showcases Zimbabwe. Enjoy!

Part 1: download here
Part 2 - download here

4 comments:

  1. Oh, to say I am jealous of Tony's time in Zim is an understatement. Thanks for the lovely post, which makes such fine reading. I remember when I was living in Liverpool a mate of mine contacting me in early/mid 1980s (I can't remember when) about a radio station he'd heard in Melbourne which was playing African music. He couldn't remember the name of the station and only now does its name come back to me! We had to make do with John Peel and occasional forays to London to raid Sterns Records. Probe Plus in Liverpool used to stock Earthworks releases, and Virgin Records in Manchester had a good selection of Congo and Nigeria vinyl, but Sterns was much more fun.

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  2. thank you very much for posting this radio show. I just listened to it and it is indeed great listening. Currently reading Banning Eyre's book "Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music that made Zimbabwe" and I've just reached the part recollecting Independence celebrations and Bob Marley's visit to "former" Rhodesia. So this post picks the story up almost naturally and comes in real timely. Can't wait to hear the next programms from RRR, thanks again for posting these and to Mr. Hunter for originally conceiving them.

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  3. Thanks for bringing back the memories....pungwe ne Thomas pa Club Hideout, Tuku at Queens on a Sunday with my little kids, Bhundu Boys at Jobs, Machipisa, Misty, UB40, Pied Pipers rehearsing at Mareravana.... Mazuva makuru ipapo nyika akaenda zvakaipa

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  4. Thanks to all!

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