• “Munda Wema Kudo, Pt. 1” set to a picture of the housing album cover. Thanks to Daniel and Gonora Sounds – Topic.
“All-time classic Africana from Zimbabwe”
From their album “Shoko Harivikwe” (trans: “You Can’t Hide From The Truth”) released locally in 2016, and universally on the digital platforms in October, 2017. In 2 parts, the awesome “Munda Wema Kudo” (trans: “Field Of Baboons”) bookends the album, and inspires the cover-art!
A few years ago on YouTube video I remember liking an amazing video of what I thought was a random street player, a video I must have watched 15 or 20 times.
I kept an eye on it, and gradually came to discover that my random street player was actually Daniel Gonora, a blind musician of some repute who had played with the latter day line-up of the Jairos Jiri Band. I always loved the various tracks of theirs which I’ve collected on various compiles over the years and, indeed, two of their oldies have appeared on this blog, here and here.
Seems a terrible shame that such talent should be reduced to playing on the streets with a begging bowl. The drummer is his son, Isaac (around 11 at the time), and, as you can see, natural raw talent runs in the family. What a combo they are.
The talent and the injustice was noticed, and a short film was made in 2015, documenting their struggles. Tastefully produced and directed by A.a.V. Amasi, a Zimbabwean living in England, the 29 minute production was released in February, 2016, and was nominated for all sorts of awards worldwide, winning several, including: European Film Festival of Lille 2017 (Best Documentary), Festival Brasil Cinema Internacional 2017 (Best International Documentary Film) & Tirana International Film Festival, AL 2017 (Best Mid-Length Film). Before preparing this blog post, I rented it from Amazon for convenience, although it’s a bit cheaper to rent from the official site if you do want to see it. I must say it is brilliantly done, offering an honest portrayal of the everyday struggle, whilst emphasizing the importance of family and of keeping dreams alive.
Daniel spoke about his old group and found an amazing positivity in his disability:
Jairos Jiri was disbanded in ’98. We were 32 band members. Just me, Manasa and Mabvuramiti are the only ones left, the others have all died. In this country, Aids killed a lot of my generation. God had a way of choosing me so I didn’t catch that disease. When I really think about it, if I could see, maybe I would be dead as well. My dream is to be like other people who own things like cars, and to have a band. I also want that for Isaac. If we get instruments he won’t be lost.
In the documentary we learn that Isaac has his pen stolen at school. Dad is not best pleased:
You want us to buy a pen now? When we can’t afford to buy food? We don’t have money for your school and you lose a pen! What are you going to do now?
At this stage, he’s a long way off from buying that car. Daniel’s repeating cycle in the 2010s had been to hustle as best he can to make short album runs and to sell them on the streets of Harare. Much to the dismay of his blind wife, Daniel borrowed (again) to pay for “Shoko Harivikwe” (“You Can’t Hide From The Truth”) to be recorded at Diamond Studios in Harare on 25 June 2015. He asks for favours from musicians Mr Mbewe and Mr Longman who respond like good guys and do the job without immediate pay. “The rise of one of us, is the rise of all” Daniel assures them, and you believe him. Two women from the village are drafted in to sing backing vocals. He manages to recruit a local hotshot, Ober Gomba, to play drums, deeming 12-year-old Isaac too young for the pressure of a one-day studio challenge. Isaac is, however, assigned the duty of singing backing vocals. The able young boy is disappointed with this, but he doesn’t give his 44-year-old father a hard time about it. Things are hard enough.
I started playing drums when I was 4 years old, that’s when my Dad taught me. Now I’m good. I wanted to play but my Dad says I’m not ready for the studio.
Daniel rules the roost like James Brown; no dating, no alcohol. He’s out for perfectionism and for his group to be as professional as possible. This positively shines through on the album, which sparkles like a gem from start to finish, and is a surefire contender for my album of the year in 2016, although I have dozens of albums yet to be rated it has to be said.
Fast forward to 2019 and things are on the up for Daniel. Life remains tough, but the hardships have eased a little, and he’s back in the studio recording a new album which will probably appear early in 2020. Pledge campaigns have failed, but he will find a way I’m sure, for he’s super-resilient. Now 16-year-old, Isaac is drumming like a boss and there are no objections to him being in the studio these days. Other family members are starting to get involved too; older brother Promise (who played drums on the streets before Isaac) plays bass and young Proud is also getting into the drums.
I can’t wait to hear it. Meanwhile, you can nab yourself a digital copy of “Shoko Harivikwe” in the usual places.