Suluman Chimbetu

Sungura loses lustre

Bruce Ndlovu
Many have over the past few years spoken of the perceived decline of sungura music as it competes with newer genres for the hearts of Zimbabwean music lovers.

While this decline has been apparent to music followers, this was emphasised by the release of the nomination list for the National Arts Merit Awards (Namas) on Monday.

The genre’s key exponents were conspicuous by their absence as, for the first time since the award show’s inception, no sungura artistes were nominated in any of the four music categories.

Instead this year’s list betrayed the current status quo of the hierarchy of Zimbabwean music with the high flying dancehall chanters Winky D and Killer T in the running for three of the four categories alongside compatriot Jah Prayzah. The trio was only excluded from the female musician of the year category.

Over the last few years, Sulumani Chimbetu had carried the torch for sungura at the award show, although his victories at the Namas have not been without controversy.

The heir to the Dendera Empire was a multiple award winner at the 2013 awards, despite his album having been released a few days before the Nama deadline. Sulu also scooped the outstanding musician award pipping, crowd favourite Tocky Vibes. The sungura prince was subsequently booed off stage.

The most telling sign of the decline of sungura is how its long time king, Alick Macheso, has seemingly been a non-factor in the country’s premier award show in the past few years. Macheso has been unable to land a nomination for a single gong from the ceremony since 2012.

The once mighty Macheso last stood for a gong in 2012 alongside Sulu and his late rival Tongai Moyo.

2012 seems to have been the watershed year for sungura, as all the music categories in that year were won by exponents of the genre, with Josphat Somanje walking away with two awards.

Since Josphat’s harvest at the 2012 awards, the genre has not had more than one nominee in any of the categories, while Josphat’s own career has also seemingly gone down the drain.

The emergence of Zim dancehall seems to have precipitated the slow and painful decline of sungura. Led by the irrepressible Winky D, the genre does not seem to be on its way out any time soon, even though sungura stalwart Macheso questions its artistry and longevity because of the lyrical scope of its exponents.

“They run out of things to talk about in their music. These days they have the tendency of settling rivalries through their songs which is not really good,” he said.

If award shows are a measure of the artistic standards, then Macheso and his sungura kingdom fell short this year.