WHEN a bill includes the queen of Zimbabwean music, hip-hop king, jazz’s most scintillating voice and a sungura don, you have theoretically a mind blower and show stopper. It is a statement of intent to even dream up such a line-up. Thus it will be on February 29, when this tried and tested coterie of performers take to stage as part of the proceedings at the National Arts Merit Award (Nama) ceremony in the capital.
Star-studded cast for Nama
Singer, dancer and actress Ammara Brown is a triple threat. Her commitment on stage is palpable and, like a ball of fire, she dances and sings with equal energy.
Her visceral performances have won her thousands, if not millions, of fans across the racial divide. Well, if one must qualify her queenly credentials in the fickle universe of popular culture, take, for example, the fact that her three biggest hits Mukoko, Akiliz and Tichichema have garnered over seven million views in total. She has been one of Zimbabwe’s most consistent artistes and I dare say she was robbed of an award at the recently revived Zimbabwe Music Awards which were slated by critics across the board. Brown deserved the best female award, which should be an accolade for the female artiste who has excelled beyond everyone else during the course of the year under review. The Star FM Awards proved fruitless for the queen.
A spark to a flame
Brown has come a long way since the days she first burst into the popular imagination as the kid that sang the Olivine cooking oil jingle alongside the late pop icon Oliver Mtukudzi. Later, she was to live up to her promise as a performer par excellence. Brown snagged the Music Crossroads talent show in 2004. In 2008, she battled her way to the top 10 of Idols East and Southern Africa, beating thousands of other hopefuls. She took 5th position. The competition was ultimately won by Eric Moyo, who is now part of the star cast at Joyous Celebration Choir in South Africa. Brown’s career heights include performances alongside top-tier musicians such as Mi Casa at the Harare International Festival of the Arts and the FIFA World Cup football tournament. Brown is a stage veteran who has also performed before the powerful and famous. Her stock has risen immensely with the consistency of her work and the fire in her soul. She is an artiste whose time has come.
From the streets
Other performers include young multiple award-winning hip-hop king Asaph, who has got a couple of awards under his belt in the category at regional and national levels. The wordsmith has perhaps the greatest promise as a lyricist in the ilk of the late Kingpin and other conscious rap artistes such as Common and Nas. Asaph has already proven his mettle and an appearance at the National Art Merit Awards is just one more opportunity to cement a position he has held with poise since coming to national prominence a few years ago.
You name it, she has it all from soul to jazz. Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana packs a vocal punch worthy of comparison with music’s greatest icons far and wide. She has the soprano of a Minnie Riperton and soul sass of an Aretha Franklin. Katomeni-Mbofana can trigger goose bumps. Her musical sensibility is unquestionably jazz. When she scats, it is the sort that leaves you wondering how she did it. She is, pound for pound, one of Africa’s finest vocalists. In songs such as BP and Nafuna funa, she excelled while fronting the group Jazz Invitation alongside Filbert Marova and Kelly Rusike.
It is not to their credit that that ensemble disbanded. They had something worth preserving. The challenge of female musicians may be the act of balancing family and career. Katomeni-Mbofana’s return to the stage on February 29 hopefully means her return to the summit of musical greatness in Zimbabwe. I hope that songwriters such as Marova can lend their talents to this national treasure. That is exactly what Katomeni-Mbofana’s voice is.
The king of sungura is an accomplished musician. His bass guitar playing is phenomenal. His passion and verve has played out before thousands of music fans in Zimbabwe over the last 20 or more years in songs such Mundikumbuke and Amai VaRuby. Macheso is a showman of the highest order.
His career has seemed to stall in recent times because of the rise of Zimdancehall music as the most popular genre in the country.Sungura music has had its heyday but perhaps, with the upcoming performance, Macheso may redeem his mantle as one of the country’s most bankable musos. Showbiz is dicey. There is always someone new to fawn over and longevity is not a given. Still, Macheso has such a catalogue of hits he can run literal marathons with them in live shows. The same cannot be said for the dancehall artistes. But they are having their moment and it is proving to be taking longer than the proverbial 15 minutes.
It is nice when a deserving artiste gets recognised. But it is not the measure of their prowess and impact. Sometimes cabals exist in the entertainment sector and sometimes they do their controversial thing. It is a global phenomenon. In theory, the National Arts Merita Awards should be the most anticipated awards because their combine all the arts genres in the country. Hopefully, they will avoid the stink of the other awards by not awarding my preferred artistes!