Oliver Mtukudzi

Who are Zimbabwea��s best songwriters?

Bruce Ndlovu
IN the ever changing world of music, artistes come and go at a rapid rate. Worldwide, the music industry has a great turnover of names, as last yeara��s stars are eclipsed by a fresh batch of popular artistes.

Many artistes have, at different points in their careers, been the flavour of the month, as after a hit or two, fans have gravitated to their music.

Rarely does one find all-weather fans, however, a fact that artistes find out the hard way when after a few poor songs, their legion of fans dwindle to a modest flock.

a�?Bubbleguma�? artistes as they are usually known, more often than not vanish after their 15 minutes of fame lapses. Needless to say, not all have the artistic stamina required to stay on top of the music food chain for more than a few years.

The question that begs to be asked then is what separates the best from the rest. What are the ingredients that go into making a complete artiste, an artiste able to withstand the storms that the music brings? Several answers come up for those questions but a few stick out more than most. For one thing, the quality of music must be able to defy any era, even the one in which it is produced.

Eras come and go in music, and if a song or albuma��s only strength is that it represents elements that are popular at the time, it is unlikely to survive the harsh rigours of time. Another aspect that comes under discussion when the longevity of musicians is scrutinised is songwriting.

While some artistes employ the services of other writers to pen their songs for them, a recent example being world stars Nicki Minaj and Beyonce who used little known SZA to write a part of the Hit Boy produced song, Feeling Myself, some artistes are known as much for their skill on the mic or instruments as much as the power of their pens.

What makes one a good songwriter? What part of their writing marks them out as a lyricist of superior ability to that of their peers? Many have put pen to pad but few have managed to touch people, influence movements and change lives with their writing abilities.

While some revel in the ability to make people dance with their music, others look at music as an opportunity to tug at the heart strings of those lucky or unlucky in love with renditions of love of songs. A special breed of artistes, however, have given people joy as they made them dance, laugh, cry or cheer with music that touches on a wider range of emotions. Zimbabwe has also had its fair share of such rare talent.

Oliver Mtukudzi

Zimbabwea��s favourite export is no slouch with the pen. While his inimitable energy on stage, husky voice, and decadea��s long catalogue of hits separates him from the pack, Tuku has penned some of the most celebrated songs in the countrya��s music history.

One of the musiciansa�� most notable achievements is the song Neria, the soundtrack to a movie of the same name. The empathy the musician showed for the travails of single widowed mothers spoke volumes about his ability to pen heartfelt songs that transcended his own gender. The music maestro wrote of the pain women experienced as if narrating his own.

The song remains relevant to this day, with many women still labouring under the weight of responsibility and abuse that the death of their spouses brings.

Lovemore Majaivana

Bulawayoa��s favourite son and the master of disguised metaphor. Majaivanaa��s skill lay in his ability to deliver stinging social commentary in metaphors that masked his original message.

While his music might have seemed like fun, harmless music after a few listens, the self-exiled musiciana��s had bite as he tackled important social and political questions in a way that entertained listeners.

Thomas Mapfumo

The chimurenga music guru is one of the countrya��s most revered musicians and many argue one of its greatest. Blessed with a rebellious spirit that saw him take a role as one of the strugglea��s leaders on the musical forefront, the musician, as the titles of his music suggest, is inseparable from black peoplea��s struggle for self determination.

His ability to pen inspiring lyrics that many regard as the soundtrack for the countrya��s liberation struggle made the exiled musician an indispensable part of the local music scene both before and after independence. The musician is essentially joined at the hip with the countrya��s struggle for independence which goes under the same name as his self-named genre of music.

Leonard Dembo

The late Dembo was a lyricist par excellence, crafting lyrics that fuelled some of the biggest hits of the 80s and 90s. With style that borrowed from Shona sayings, Dembo was the peoplea��s poet, as he created love songs filled with flowery lyrics and socially aware songs that drew from his own childhood experiences.

Although death cut his already illustrious career short in 1996, some of Demboa��s songs have transcended their age, with the smash hit Chiteketeke, which sold over 100 000 copies, becoming the definition of longevity as it graced wedding after wedding when couples tied the knot over the years.

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