LAST year the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards (ZAA) launched its International Music Artiste award category. The inaugural honour in 2013 was scooped by British-based Zimbabwean producer Rodney Rymez Hwingwiri, who wrote his own unique piece of history when he was awarded gold and silver plaques after two of his productions reached number one and four respectively on the UK charts.
The award has proved very popular with the public who have participated enthusiastically in nominating and voting for their favourite artistes. ZAA specifically made this award an international one because Zimbabwean music has entertained audiences around the world for generations now.
Indeed, it’s been a long musical journey since ‘Hurricane Hugo’ Thomas Mapfumo whipped across the United States in a blast of mbira-fuelled Chimurenga music in the 1980s. The Bhundu Boys picked up the mantle in the 1990s, rocking audiences across the UK with their Jiti sound and becoming a household name on the British cultural scene.
And as the 20th century gave way to the 21st, Tuku emerged as our foremost musical ambassador in the 2000s, taking us to world-famous platforms like the WOMAD festival and jamming alongside the best of World Music stars.
But following in the footsteps of these legends of song and dance, a younger generation of artistes has emerged and it’s not allowing national borders to hem it in. Showcasing their musical ingenuity and creativity, these emerging cultural ambassadors are flying the Zimbabwean flag high, and it is only fitting that they’re given their due recognition.
This year’s nominees are mbira maestro and songstress Hope Masike, trailblazing singer and hitmaker Jah Prayzah, Afro-fusion band Mokoomba, UK-based music royalty Aaron Manatsa & the New Green Arrows, and hip-hop duo Tehn Diamond and Junior Brown.
The winner will be unveiled at the ZAA gala dinner, to be held on 10 May at the plush Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London. Over the next few days, we will profile each of these acts.
Affectionately known as the “Princess of Mbira”, Hope Masike has become the modern day custodian of the revered mbira musical instrument that has provided the cultural soundtrack to the Shona people of Zimbabwe going back to antiquity.
Peeved by colonial prejudices that stereotyped the mbira as pagan or unchristian, Masike embarked on a rehabilitative mission by taking into Jazz and lately, gospel music as well.
The fast-rising mbira maestro, singer, songwriter, artist and fashion designer has etched herself onto the consciousness of music fans at home and abroad as a serious talent. A graduate of the Zimbabwe College of Music, Masike already boasts two studio albums, ‘Hope’ and ‘Mbira Love & Chocolate’.
Released in 2009, Hope saw Masike dig deep into her roots to find her own sound as a portrait of the highs and lows of her life in Zimbabwe and her position in it. Her songs on the album were filled with richness that inspired and revived the soul.
‘Mbira, Love and Chocolate’ came three years later in 2012. This diverse album was recorded in Norway with Norwegian artists: bassist Rino Johannessen and Drummer Ole Pette Chyile; and in Zimbabwe with renowned Zimbabwean producer Clive ‘Mono’ Mukundu.
Because of You: Hope Matsike
2013 was a particularly rewarding year for Masike. She performed at the world-famous Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) in a well-received regional collaboration with famous young South African pianist Bokani Dyer and Mozambican saxophonist Muzila Mulembe. They went on tour to AZGO Festival in Maputo and Bushfire Festival in Swaziland this May.
She crowned the year’s achievements by being awarded the NAMA award for ‘Outstanding Female Artist 2012’ and rounded it off by going on tour, playing gigs in France, Norway, Denmark, and UK, before returning for more shows in South Africa and Zambia.
The collaborative album deal she struck with French DJ Oil and South Africa’s Bokani Dyer will thrust her firmly into the international spotlight. “I believe it shall earn me the much needed international standards since he is the one who is going to mix and master the project in France,” she said on the sidelines of HIFA last year.