The Sunday News
Ntombiyolwandle Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
THE story of successful musical groups splitting because of power and money struggles has been overwritten in Zimbabwe so much that it is no longer news.
But the opposite story of a successful group that has remained united despite its success and fame, which has not allowed “the root of evil” to destroy it, Zimbabwe’s oldest imbube acapella outfit, Black Umfolosi, is indeed worth shouting from the top of the mountain.
The group has been together for 34 years, making it two years junior to independent Zimbabwe which celebrated its 36th anniversary last month. Black Umfolosi is popular for the hit song that they released in 1990 titled “Unity.”
So successful has been the group that it has been able to tour most parts of the world establishing itself as a true African musical ambassador. Audiences who have watched them perform acknowledge the exciting blend of African dance and beautifully-crafted acapella harmony singing that has attracted crowds all over the world.
Black Umfolosi now has a membership of seven, two of them Sotsha Moyo and Tomeki Dube are founding members hence they co-lead the group. The group has managed to release eight albums to date.
In an interview, Black Umfolosi co-leader Moyo told Sunday Life that the secret of the group remaining united for more than three decades was that they got into the arts not for monetary benefits but for the love and passion for arts.
“We have managed to work together as a group for three decades now because we didn’t form the group on the basis of looking for money and fame like many of the groups that we see today. When we realised that we could make a living out of music, we put up a guiding policy document to follow so that no one manipulates the understanding of the other. This minimises quarrels as there is a policy and that has kept us together and we are still going,” he said.
Moyo said those who left the group did so on a happy note to pursue different dreams.
“There are some who have left the group but it wasn’t about fights and quarrels but it was about chasing a different dream like teaching, wanting to be part of the military, choosing to be an accountant and going overseas, among many others things,” he said.
Moyo said Black Umfolosi was formed in 1982 at school by peers trying to get together through arts for fun.
“I can say this project was just a journey of schoolmates which later turned into something we never imagined. It was in 1982 while at George Silundika Secondary School in Nyamandlovu that as mates, we started singing imbube. We just did it out of absolute fun and entertainment. The group was just large with 32 students. Teachers and fellow students would come and listen to us singing,” he said.
Moyo said that one of the group members decided to make the group official by giving it a name and that is how the outfit was christened Black Umfolosi.
“One day one of our members Samuel Ndlovu whom we used to call Peter Johns then decided that we formalise the operations by compiling our names before suggesting a proper name for the group. We came up with the name Nittledown which unfortunately did not last. Realising how unpopular the name was Ndlovu came up with another name Black Umfolosi and funny enough the name didn’t mean anything to us but we still adopted it nonetheless and it is still here,” he said.
Moyo said that their music graduated from being a school band to a professional band.
“In 1986, Tomeki Dube wrote a single track called Izono zethu and this marked the beginning of our professional singing. We recorded the single with Gramma Records in Harare. At that moment we were still doing music for fun as young students,” he added.
The group then recorded their first ever and greatest album that has been a hit and more like a monumental tune that cuts across the whole country.
“We recorded our first album titled “Unity” in 1990 through the assistance of Bothwell Nyamondera. The album featured the song Unity that we came up with after being invited to perform in the 1989 Independence Day celebrations. As group members we sat down and came up with the special song to do with the special day. However, up to today we have not made much money from it when compared to all the songs that we released though it is popular in Zimbabwe,” revealed Moyo.
He said the group then began their regional tours in 1987 and European tours in 1990.
“In 1987 while performing at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair a guy by the name John Benedict approached us and said that our performance was wonderful and that he had liked it. After that he invited us to Swaziland,” reminisced Moyo.
“In 1990, once again Keith Goddard, a scout from Germany saw us performing at the Chibuku Neshamwari provincial finals in Bulawayo and he was impressed even though we came second in the competition. He then invited us to tour the United Kingdom. From then we toured Africa, Asia, Europe and America.”
The group has continued to tour the world and in August this year, it will be touring Europe again.
Moyo said he hopes to see the imbube genre of music growing though it has not been much visible in recent years after being overshadowed by genres like sungura, hip hop and house music.