The Sunday News
For any keen follower of Zimbabwean music at the turn of the century, the names Betty Makaya and Plaxedes Wenyika will always ring a bell when mentioned.
The two songbirds emerged during Zimbabwe’s urban grooves revolution and quickly became two of the leading voices in a movement that was reshaping the country’s music scene.
With gritty wordsmiths like Maskiri and Stunner already dominant, the two divas brought a tender touch to a music scene that could have been overrun with testosterone as the alpha males battled for supremacy in a highly competitive environment.
During the height of the urban grooves frenzy, everyday seemed to herald a new wannabe who thought they could outmuscle the rest of the competition and also sit at the high table.
Times were tough, competition was stiff and the only way to shrug off any pretenders to the throne was through a constant supply of great music.
Those who slept on the job were simply left behind.
It was in such an environment that Makaya and Wenyika emerged. The two were more than just pretty faces, proving perhaps that beauty and talent can sometimes go hand in hand.
As undeniable as their beauty was, their music was also just as compelling. Love ballads are not new to Zimbabwe but few artistes have done them with the class and sincerity of Makaya and Wenyika. In their music, one could hear and feel the bleeding hearts of those that had been let down by love.
The two were the irresistible voices of a generation and they had the hits to prove it. Songs like Plaxedes’ Tisaparadzane and Kurwizi in which Makaya and the late Jamal’s voice fit like a hand in a glove, proved that Zimbabwe had voices that could challenge the sweetest from anywhere on earth.
Fast forward over a decade later and things are just not the same. Needless to say, Makaya and Wenyika are no longer the forces that they once were, although one would be hard pressed to find any current songbirds that they could point towards as worthy successors.
The RnB songbirds are now endangered species on the local music scene that continues to be male dominated.
It is in this dog eat dog environment that Wenyika and Makaya have tried to make their comebacks, trying to turn back the clock and reclaim lost fame.
Second comings are not always what they are cracked up to be and so far things have not gone according to script for the erstwhile urban grooves starlets.
Plaxedes was first out of the blocks, releasing a ten-track album last year titled Metamorphosis.
“I was just at a crazy stage in my life and I wanted to create something funny. In science, metamorphosis is a stage when a larva transforms into a butterfly. I decided to give my album that name because it is showing transformation from a young Plaxedes to a mature one,” the musician said of the album.
However, despite her best efforts, Wenyika seems to have failed to take flight, with the album hardly making a dent on the local music charts.
Makaya’s return has been more tentative, with only one single released since she announced that she intended to make a comeback. Like her fellow urban grooves counterpart, Makaya has also found the going tough.
“It has been long. I cannot even remember when I produced music. I was focusing on my family and raising my four children and I am done making babies now,” Makaya said after the release of her first single.
Her statement showed the dilemma that local female artistes face as they try to balance motherhood and their music career. For Makaya and Wenyika, raising families has for the large part meant their own careers were the first casualty.
While successful male musicians can have families while maintaining thriving careers, this seems like a luxury that female musicians cannot afford.
Now the two songbirds face an uphill task. They have to remind an audience that has largely moved on that they still deserve their attention, while also trying to woo new listeners who are not aware of their past prowess. Whether they can pull off this monumental task is a question that time will answer in due course.