THE man is remembered in the music circles as a talented student ,who started composing and leading a school choir while he was in primary school.
As a music lecturer he assembled a music group consisting of primary school students, which used to grace every national event and toured most European countries.
He plays every traditional instrument and has even invented his own.
His name is Chaka Chawasarira.
He taught among others, the Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner General, Augustine Chihuri and prominent award winning writer, Alexander Kanengoni.
The talented artist was born in the north east of Madziva district in 1941 at Bradley Institute.
Chawasarira was greatly inspired by his parents.
His father was a talented drummer and mbira player, while his mother was a singer and a percussionist. Unfortunately his parents died when he was very young and was left in the hands of his maternal grandparents.
As an orphan, he was taken care of by the Roman Catholic Church at Marymount School in 1955.
Fortunately his grandfather boosted his music carrier as he was also a talented musician, who could play most of the traditional instruments such that when given the opportunity to get into the school choir he was quick to shine.
His great stride in music was in 1961 when he moved to St Pauls Musami School in Murehwa for his JC and Primary Teachers Higher Education (PTH).
Chawasarira remembers how the jealous school choirmaster denied him entrance into the choir accusing him of having a very ‘strong rural background’.
Then, Catholic songs were sung in Latin.
With his six friends they started practising the church songs on their own.
The Headmaster, Mr Hanskor, was impressed and gave them an opportunity to sing in the main church choir.
“I was ordered immediately by Mr Hanskor to assemble a bigger choir and this did not go down well with the choirmaster who threatened to disband my choir, but the school headmaster relieved him of his duties and I became the school choirmaster when I was still a student,” said Chawasarira.
When the Vatican II granted permission for Catholic songs to be sung in vernacular in 1965, Chawasarira started composing Shona songs for the church.
“From there I never looked back and even when I started teaching at Marymount, I was the choirmaster,” said Chawasarira.
“Augustine Chihuri and Alexander Kanengoni were in my class as well as my choir.
“When I met him (Chihuri) recently I was surprised that he still remembers one of the songs I taught him which he even sang to me called ‘Kusaziwa kuroorwa neasina kudzidza’.”
When he was the headmaster at Zengeya School in 1980, Chawasarira assembled a student musical group and named it ‘Zengeya Karimba Ensemble’ which sang, danced and played all traditional instruments.
Chaka Chakandika of ‘Mbira DzeNharira’ is a product of Zengeya School.
He also taught most members of the group to make traditional instruments like Mbira.
He met resistance from the parents, who were against him teaching a common type of mbira called mbira dzevadzimu to their children as it was used at bira functions.
Chawasarira invented a mbira almost similar to Nyunga nyunga which he calls ‘Chawasarira 19 key Karimba Mbira’ which was accepted by many.
All along Chaka was playing a Korekore type with 33 keys, mbira Dzeva dzimu a Zezuru type with 22 keys, the Mozambican Karimba with 15 keys.
“All the time I was playing the original Mozambican Karimba I felt that there were some notes missing,” said Chawasarira.
“At first I added two more keys on the bottom row and later I introduced two more keys to the upper row, that’s how I came up with my own type of mbira,” Chawasarira said.
His group toured and performed at many national events.
“It is the mbira instrument which made me personally meet President Mugabe and the most memorable event is when I met the President in 1991 and he approved us to play during Queen Elizabeth’s visit and when we were playing for these events it was the Government, which provided my group with uniforms,” said Chawasarira.
“One of my memorable events was in 1989 when we were invited to perform at a Children’s Symposium in Victoria Falls.
“My students were happy to board Air Zimbabwe.
“When we briefly stopped in Hwange, through the plane’s window we saw a teacher and his students who had come to see the plane while we were aboard it and this made my group appreciate and take music seriously.”
When Chawasarira started heading Zengeya Primary School it had only one block, but through the proceeds from the group’s international tours, the school managed to build six more blocks.
He headed the school for more than 20 years.
Chawasarira played an important role in the Roman Catholic Church by introducing the drum in Roman Catholic services in 1968.
The Korekore Dinhidza drum beat was met with resistance from church members and nuns because they said it was associated with evil spirits.
“When I first wanted to introduce it, I was surprised that my own people gave much resistance while the white Jesuits and nuns seemed to like it, but with time they accepted it because it blended well with the songs,” Chawasarira said.
Chawasarira is a father to eight children and has eleven grandchildren.
He stays with his wife and grandchildren in Seke’s Unit K, Chitungwiza and is presently writing a book on Mbira music called The role of mbira music in the Shona society.
“Mike Thomas whose father I taught to play mbira is going to fund the production of this book and on another note, I am in the studio working on producing all the Roman Catholic mass using mbira,” said Chawasarira.
Originally published in The Patriot- Chawasarira the mbira legend.