When one looks at how Zimbabwean music has evolved in the past 2 decades, there are plenty of defining moments and projects that contributed to that. Undoubtedly two of the greatest albums to come out during this period would be Chamhembe Volume 1 (2004) and Chamhembe Plus (2005). Under the skillful creativity of Tatenda Jenami a.k.a Take Fizzo (then known as Take 5ive) and the late Siphosenkosi Mkhuhlani a.k.a TBA, the Chamhembe name helped to make Urban Grooves the biggest genre among the youth for years to come. The legendary Rockford Josphat a.k.a Roki also had his production hand on some of the work. To say that these albums were good would be an understatement. Under That Squad Studios, which helped produce for other household names such as Maskiri and Xtra Large Maroja, there was little doubt that they were gamechangers.
I want to pay homage to the fantastic work done through these albums but also look at what made them the great bodies of work that they were.
1. Chamhembe managed to top the 2002 classic compilation, ‘The Future’, by Delani Makhalima.
This is a big call, I know. Sometimes bodies of work get called the ‘greatest’ because they were the first to do something. Being first to market is always a game changer so ‘The Future’ will never lose its place. ‘The Future’ had many high points but where it fell short was that it mostly catered to the middle class young Zimbabwean ear - maSalad if you must. Why Chamhembe did one better than ‘The Future’ is because it established the balance. They were helped by having a roster that came from all walks of life, from different parts of Zim. TBA and Take 5ive captured a unique voice that the young masses from all walks of life really resonated with. That alone is the single most significant achievement of the first Chamhembe album especially.
2. Chamhembe paved way for some of the biggest Zimbabwean musicians we have today.
Stunner, ExQ, Roki, Tererai Mugwadi, Leonard Mapfumo, Taurai, MaFriq; These are all stars that have entertained us in the last decade and continue to be beacons and ambassadors in the Zimbabwean music industry. It’s like Manchester United’s Class of ‘92; rarely do you get so many breakout stars from one project that go on to become top level performers.
3. TBA and Take 5ive perfected the Urban Grooves sound.
This point goes hand in hand with the first one. At the time a lot of the music coming out of other studios had the same M.O (modus operandi); copying American Hip Hop & RnB or Jamaican Dancehall with Shona or Ndebele on there. Essentially a lot of the songs were ‘lite’, unpolished versions of the international stuff but you gotta start somewhere right? Chamhembe was unique - think about songs like Ndichakuudza Sei by MaFriq, Nyeredzi by Taurai, Mazirudo by ExQ, Jesa by 3rinity, Maidei by Leonard Mapfumo featuring Kevie and ExQ. Those songs were original, well-crafted game changers and are considered classics. The skits were very well done too and remain some of the most identifiable elements of the whole era. To ice the cake, the man who has the most recognisable voice on the skits, Munyaradzi Murahwa a.k.a Inspectah Fakasimbi, is a talented radio show host in South Africa.
4. The production quality was a cut above the rest.
When you listen to Chamhembe, you realise that the quality of the productions was streets ahead of most of the music we were hearing on radio at the time. Not many productions from that era can boast a similar repertoire. One sure way to tell is when you listen to the songs now, the sound quality is comparable to present day productions with superior equipment.
5. The albums came at the right time.
With 75% local content enforced on Zimbabwean radio through the Broadcast Services Act (2000) courtesy of the most active Zanoid on Twitter, Professor Jonathan Moyo, Zim music experienced a renaissance. The best of the best had every chance to get a lot of rotation. Chamhembe was exactly that. They made the most of the opportunity all the way to the history books and hopefully the bank.
What do you think about the Chamhembe albums? Follow the discussion on Twitter @kunakirwa
If you somehow missed these albums or you are trying to catch up on your Zimbabwean music history or you simply want to listen to this greatness again, I have good news for you. Chamhembe Volume 1 and Chamhembe Plus are available on iTunes.