Zimbabwean music is fast growing and the original sound and rhythms are fast emerging to be the norm. This week we interviewed ‘Mashona’ as we seek to have an in-depth knowledge of his journey in the musical world and to know better about the genius behind the African rhythms.
The brand name is Mashona; derived from my customary middle name Mashonangire. He was born Alan Vhenekayi Mashonangire Zana, named after the Zimbabwean (then Rhodesian) icon and, arguably, Zimbabwe’s first music export, Alan Garitty of the early 70s. ‘Understandably, my father did not like that name so he named me Vhenekayi Mashonangire – he probably believed I was an ancestry in progress’ he says. He was definitely wrong…perhaps! Over the years, he earned a handful of nicknames from friends teasing his lengthy name. These nicknames have included ‘AVM’, a short of my three names. The ‘AVM’ nickname somehow stuck for a while due to friends comparing his forehead with the AVM buses of the day. Then was called Panda, 4×4 (from 4 letters in Alan and 4 letters in Zana). He also accumulated other nicknames like Dodo after the legendary Mauritius flightless bird. Depending on how you pronounce it, Zana can, on the one hand, mean a hundred – ‘therefore some of my friends I met along the way nicknamed me ‘Churu’, a Shona word for ‘a hundred’; on the other hand, it can be pronounced to mean ‘a big baby’ (zimwana), and because of my contrary small frame growing up, my creative friends nicknamed me ‘Svana’ which in central and southern Zimbabwe means a wimpy child’ he added.
However, the one that lingered over the years and across borders is Mashona as some people struggled to pronounce the entire name, Mashonangire. It became an official brand name for my music in 2005 when my band and I toured the Pacific Islands on a festival trail and shared the stage with an Italian also going by the name Alan Zana and a Kurdish lady called Zana. It was confusing that day that the band gave up calling me Alan or Zana. We’ve been Mashona Music since then. I don’t recall when exactly I started music, but there have been jokes shared within our family circles that I used to twist around popular songs as a child and also singing circular music in church to the embarrassment of my elders, good thing is I don’t remember any of that. What I remember are the long nights dancing chigiyo under the moonlight in my rural home in Masvingo, singing in school musicals, and chapel vocal bands (acapella). I even led an acapella ensemble to open for the Colgate Choral competitions from 1995 to until about 1998.
I am currently based in Australia’s sunshine state of Queensland. The sound of my music has changed over the years. I have always been interested in fusing world music genres into an intertwined sound. Previously, I have worked with reggae music producers like Erroll of EJ Rams Records and western African producers like Eli Muli of Sound of Eli (Selms Records) and Kyiira Music. I have also worked under the guidance of some of Australia’s underground musicians like Peter Dixon of Avondale Music and world music fusion genius Steve Max. I recorded my first two international albums, Lamentations/Misodzi and Reminiscence/Ndangariro at Avondale Music under the wings of these two music makers.
The Kumusha/Road Home came as another fusion experiment. In 2017, I recorded a single called Utefe-tefe at Bazuka Studios with Casper as the producer/engineer and Welly ‘Strings’ Mutepaire on guitars. It was Welly’s guitar and Nandi’s vocals that influenced the follow up project that we called Kumusha/Road Home reminiscent of this particular journey back home that has retriggered my interest in Zimbabwean rhythms and backing vocals.
Nineveh is a remake of my earlier reggae Gospel song that was produced by a Caribbean female producer by the name of Nathalia ‘Shannakaye’ Noble of Natty Riddims. After trying out this song on stage with Baba Harare in 2017, I decided to re-record it with the help of my son, Malo on rap and a few good friends based in Zimbabwe. It was one of my best decisions to date.
First of all, Mwari Musikavanhu (the Creator God). I believe all music, without exception, is spiritual. It talks to the soul. Only a spirit can speak to a spirit. I accredit all my music to the Higher God. Only Him, that said, I’m motivated to sing by social change factors. I love people and I love social change. I believe music can transform how people think and act. Music can make people vulnerable to influence and music can also make people strong and revolutionary. Churches and revolutionary leaders have used music to influence how people interpret text and messages. Music is a strong language.
I grew up listening to a variety of music from across the genres and all have influenced how I perceive music and my sense of rhythm. The ones I still remember from earlier days included Mutabaruka of Jamaica, Prince Far I, Soul Brothers, Jonah Moyo and Devera Ngwena, Mandebvu, Vadzimu, Talking Biscuits, Wells Fargo, Boris Gardner, Judy Boucher, Jimmy Swaggart, James Brown, Barry White among others.
Later, as I grew older I got exposed to more electronic and digital music like Ten City, Inner City, Shabba Ranks, Chicco as well as neo soul sounds of the likes of India Arie, Erica Badu, Anthony Hamilton; and the acoustics of them Paul Simons and all. The influence has been too wide to put a finger on.
As a musician, I have watched at a close range how experts of the field like Chris Gudu (ex-Matonto) who has successfully fused Zimbabwean music with western music. Chris is my neighbour; well, sort of. However, I have also toured with Lucky Dube, Yeshe, Jah Prayzah, Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Lionel Ritchie as a promoter/ tour manager and have picked a leaf from each of them on how they do things.
In the studio, I have worked with Donna Chibaya (Togara) in her earlier days and recently I have accidentally mingled with the upcoming soul-bird, SoulSista who put her flawless vocals on my recent Christmas song, Christmas Time which has received significant airplay around the world and, of course, the privilege of working with my son, Malo who is also a competent rapper in the underground hip-hop circle. For me, this has been the highest honour.
I wouldn’t be where I am today, musically, had it not been for music loving countries like New Caledonia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Chile, the Netherlands and India as well as the Australian festival culture that has embraced my music over the years and kept me going until Zimbabwe finally discovered me (well, partially discovered me) in 2018. My greatest moment, of course, have been performing at the Sundance festival in the Netherlands in 2015, the Australian Blues Festival a couple of times and the sold out event in New Caledonia alongside Europe based Congolese family band, Makoma in 2013. One unforgettable moment is selling almost 700 CDs in one day from the boot of my car at the Tamworth Country Festival in 2006. I only had to play by the pavement of the country town that day as I could not get a spot in the main event.
This year, 2019, we are focusing on music videos of our newest music to be released as singles, gradually, between May and November this year.
To all my new and old fellow partakers in this musician/audience journey (fans, in a looser language), I promise you, the Mashona brand is here to stay and will grow from strength to strength from nation to nation until this music is set right.
Where I come from, tinotamba chigiyo (we dance the chigiyo) and there is no difference between the singer, the drummer and the dancer; for without one, the other is not complete.
We’ve been great together this far and together we’ll eventually become a household brand across the divides. Keep on listening!