Jazz meets Maskanda and Mbira

On Saturday 30 June at CRESTA OASIS, Pamberi Trust proudly present the rhythms and rhymes of an exciting music collaboration between two acclaimed African guitarists - master maskanda/jazz guitarist Bheki Khoza of South Africa, and Zimbabwe’s rising star Victor Kunonga. Bheki is accompanied by long-time music partner, jazz pianist par excellence Mncedi Kupa in support of the collaboration, which is backed by the band ‘Peace’.

Victor Kunonga
Victor Kunonga

It’s an unprecedented meeting between the mbira-derived rhythms of Kunonga, and the maskanda Zulu tradition and its jazz interpretations by Khoza and Kupa.

As South Africa celebrates its month of Youth this June, the regional exchange is also a musical commemoration of the Soweto youth uprisings in 1976, a cultural expression to capture the vitality of June 16 and the “June 16 generation”. The Saturday 30 June show will bring together established and acclaimed senior artists who have ‘been there’, with young rising African stars who are giving voice to the struggles of their own generation.

It’s the start of a ground-breaking South Africa-Zimbabwe Arts Exchange programme in partnership with African Synergy Trust (Johannesburg) and Swiss funding agency Pro Helvetia, who work to enhance regional cultural linkages, and more electrifying exchanges will be unrolling in the months ahead.

The two South African master musicians receive a warm welcome from Victor Kunonga and Harare music-lovers, for what promises to be a colourful and exciting collaboration in Harare. The Sat 30 June concert venue will be the CRESTA OASIS at 124 N.Mandela Ave, while Book Cafe is temporarily closed.

More About The Collaboration

In spite of the generation between them, and across many borders, Khoza and Kunonga share a similar background, and a similar path starting in the dusty roads of small town Africa. They are both self-taught, only later seeking formal music training for a deeper understanding of their art, and are now award-winning performers and recording artists, reaching people widely in the region and abroad, each with his unique musical expression, rooted in Zulu and Zimbabwean music traditions.

While Khoza is an established master jazz and maskanda guitarist, Kunonga is a major new star emerging with an amazing guitar sound built on mbira.

Bheki is accompanied by long-time music partner, jazz pianist par excellence MNCEDI KUPA, acclaimed South African song writer, pianist, vocalist and teacher, who is currently a music lecturer at the College Campus Parktown, Johannesburg. Mr Kupa will support the collaboration on keys, together with Victor Kunonga’s backing band ‘Peace’.


Bheki is famous for being a self taught, left-handed guitarist playing in the ancient Zulu tradition known as Maskanda, and as a jazz artist. http://people.famouswhy.com/bheki/#ixzz1xoEZqhWN.

According to Wikipedia, Maskanda is a kind of Zulu folk music that is evolving with South African society. Maskanda is played on cheap, portable instruments, or modern instruments tuned or produced to imitate the polyphonic sounds of the old instruments. Traditionally, a maskanda musician had one song, a long one that evolved as the story of the musician's life grew. Website Ethekwini Online describes it as:

"The music played by the man on the move, the modern minstrel, today’s troubadour. It is the music of the man walking the long miles to court a bride, or to meet with his Chief; a means of transport. It is the music of the man who sings of his real life experiences, his daily joys and sorrows, his observations of the world. It’s the music of the man who’s got the Zulu blues."

In 1991 Bheki won a Talent Award to study music in America, and made the transition of teaching himself theory from books in Kwa-Zulu Natal to a scholarship at the University of Hartford, Connecticut, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree, returning to South Africa in 1995 and since based in Johannesburg where he has continued to impress. Bheki has worked with such diverse artists as Kenny Barron, Hilton Ruiz, Jackie and Rene McLean, Winston Mankunku Ngozi, Sibongile Khumalo and the African Jazz Pioneers. Besides his guitar talents, he is also an educator and an arranger, famous for having acted as both arranger and musical director for two movies: ‘Drum’ and ‘Sophiatown’ (2003).

His most recent album came out in 2006 and is titled Getting to Heaven Alive. (Read more at www.bhekikhoza.com.)

Pamberi Trust’s creative director Paul Brickhill caught Bheki’s show in Joburg recently, of which he said “his guitar work is absolutely top level jazz, built around maskanda. This one really is a treat for jazz lovers.”

More recently Bheki became fascinated by the mbira, and has turned his attention in that direction; a visit to Zimbabwe and meeting with Victor Kunonga is so appropriate at this intersection in time.


Coming from the dusty walkways of Hwedza rural settlement, Victor Kunonga is the symbol of the new generation of the Zimbabwean music man. The masterful story-teller and lyricist weaves a musical carpet that exudes the echoes' of the Mbira (thumb Piano), the Mbakumba and Katekwe drumbeats fused with guitars. Kunonga is a phenomena; he has become so popular that audiences everywhere are talking of a major Zimbabwean star emerging.

His music is described as ‘characteristically Zimbabwean afrobeat’, derived from many influences but rooted in the traditional rhythms of the African drum. Strains of Tuku and Thomas Mapfumo can be heard, perhaps legendary Louis Mhlanga, but it is the legacy of the great Zimbabwean guitar bands of the 1980s that really shine through his music – Devera Ngwena, Bhundu Boys, Four Brothers, Jonah Sithole and The Deep Horizon. The interplay of guitars soar, while the lyrics and backing vocals tell real stories.

The musician in Victor started emerging at school, along the dusty streets of rural Hwedza, but in 1994 his dream of enrolling with Bulawayo College of Music was shattered when he did not have an instrument needed to be accepted. He became a graphic designer instead. “I still yearned to make music so I started writing songs in 1997, which I kept and constantly polished up as I prepared for my first album”. It was only in 2001 that he started attending music workshops where he finally came to grips with the guitar.

Since then Victor’s star has risen and today he is hugely popular and audiences are talking of a major new star emerging, while many whisper that the heir to the Tuku legend is ‘in town’. Victor himself is far too humble to say such things and deeply respects the older generation of music stars in Zimbabwe.

Kunonga’s discography includes 3 CDs – Such is Life-Ndanyengetedzwa, followed by Uyo which firmly established Victor as a masterful social commentator and won him the Best Traditional Contemporary Group/Artiste award from the Zimbabwe Music Awards, and ‘Handinete’ another award-winner launched in 2010. But it’s not about awards or topping the charts, Victor says, “it’s about having the opportunity to compose and play my music from a place ‘deep within’ that touches the hearts of the people who hear it.”

Kunonga’s lyrics reflect the voices of the voiceless in contemporary Zimbabwe, emerging from crisis and social inequity. His songs and their popularity derive from a profound sense of dignity and social awareness; songs that address and confront issues of poverty, dispossession, and the rights and needs of ordinary people.

Receiving wide airplay on national radio, Kunonga’s music has captured Zimbabwe where he performs to capacity crowds, and is now rapidly gaining a reputation in Southern Africa, Kunonga has now been invited to perform in Maputo, Namibia, Malawi, Swaziland and Nigeria.

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