Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo, Large City Hall

WHILE THE SPOTLIGHT has been shining brightly on ‘AMAWALA’ (‘They shine’) - the vivid collaboration of women artists from Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare who have been rocking in Harare in the last couple of months, four gifted young instrumentalists have been working hard behind the scenes in their own musical collaboration to support Edith Katiji, Rute Mbangwa and Tina Watyoka.

Back row: Backing musicians Christopher Feffini (keys), Frank Mavhimira (guitar), Tyson ‘T-Bright’ Chisvo (drums), and Pablo Nakappa (bass), supporting (front row:) Tina Watyoka, Edith Katiji and Rute Mbangwa in ‘Amawala’
Back row: Backing musicians Christopher Feffini (keys), Frank Mavhimira (guitar), Tyson ‘T-Bright’ Chisvo (drums), and Pablo Nakappa (bass), supporting (front row:) Tina Watyoka, Edith Katiji and Rute Mbangwa in ‘Amawala’

Session musicians Pablo Nakappa (bass), Tyson ‘T-Bright’ Chisvo (drums), Christopher Feffini (keys), and Frank Mavhimira (guitar), whose styles have grown from their diverse backgrounds around Zimbabwe, have been applying their own talents to the production, coming together for the first time as a ‘fresh’ musical unit in support of yet another three individual songwriters of diverse backgrounds.

The story of instrumentalists and session musicians who back popular artists is seldom told. They are the silent partners whose names don’t get to go up in lights, but who are totally depended upon to create a solid foundation for the success of the production.

Their role as supporting artists demands that they quickly acclimatize with other players in the band to ‘feel’ each other in the music, learn many new, different music pieces and put in long hours of rehearsal, put aside their own interpretations, play as directed, and ‘give their all’ to each featured artist on stage. Ultimately the entire production depends on their ability to work quickly and effectively to build the solid foundation, which would need to stand up to live performances, studio recordings and touring.

In the Amawala collaboration, the most senior is guitarist PABLO NAKAPPA, a seasoned musician who has been playing professionally for more than 20 years. While his passion lies in the jazz genre, he is equally proficient in any and all music styles. Well known in the industry as a gifted guitarist, he leads the band Pablo & Friends as well as sessioning with many artists both on stage and in the studio. He also turns his hand to other forms of music expression, and for the past few years has been working with big Zimbabwean dancehall artist Winky D as bassist, and enjoys the challenge of switching instruments to deliver a high-quality performance in any form.

He’s worked with Rute as a backing artist on guitar, but it’s his first time working with Edith Katiji, who has her own distinct style of music. He said “I’m enjoying working with these ladies, of different backgrounds and style, and the approach to their music is also different. There are also different personalities, and the challenge is to adapt!”

Of Malawian origin, Pablo was born and raised in Mabvuku, a melting pot of cultures in Harare, and found himself being linked to many cultures because of people coming from different places to settle and work in the capital.

As a young musician he started out by joining the Zimbabwe College of Music Saturday Pop workshop, where he met the late Dumi Ngulube, and later became one of his ‘lieutenants’ in the band. They performed in ‘every corner of Zimbabwe’ between jazz and dancehall, and also in festivals in UK, Algeria, and South Africa.

Pablo released his first CD in 2010 after two years of refining the product, which he considers a never-ending process, especially in jazz where “you continue to learn. The more you learn about music, the more you realize you don’t know”, he says. The CD is titled ‘Now is The Time’ a culmination of years of learning with others. The second is still in the studio and as yet unnamed, but the single ‘Botso’ (a Shona expression, encouraging a man to ‘wake up and be a man’) has been released, in another collaboration with Willis Wataffi.

About such a diverse collaboration, Pablo says he enjoys meeting the challenge to deliver his best in support of someone else. When playing another persons music to their satisfaction, he says, it’s difficult to keep very strictly to original recordings, but allows room for improvisation and improvement. As a jazz musician he finds it easy to adapt to any music, given the basic framework.

“There is great value – some collaborations add value to your personal act, and sometimes the outcome is so successful that it creates something new and permanent. Sometimes artists ‘work’ better together in collaboration. It’s chemistry, complimenting each other, and that’s what brings out the good music.”

TYSON ‘T-Bright’ CHISVO – on drums – plays regularly with Rute Mbangwa, and has played with Pablo, and once with Edith. Tina Watyoka’s music is new to him. He started out with the Crossroads-winning Gwarimba 10 years ago, with whom he toured in Sweden, Austria, Tanzania and Malawi, and later moved on to local shows with jazz group Summer Breeze, Mahogany Jazz, afro fusion artist Ba Shupi, songbirds Diana Samkange and Cynthia Mare; and has since then played with Netsayi Chigwendere and ‘Black Pressure’ which toured in the States twice in the last two years playing at several festivals and concert venues, and local festivals – HIFA, World Music Festival, Shoko Festival.

T-Bright says, “I’m a person who loves to learn. With the music I’ve encountered in this collaboration, Edith’s music you get to work and feel it, and it takes you to a different level from where you were. I love it because it is so different from what I’ve played all along, and it takes me somewhere new, and makes me open up and fill the space that’s needed. I’m still new to the band and working to make it better, but within a few months we would be ready to meet international standards. These ladies are already stars and now we are just working to gel with their music.”

This will be his first time to Intwasa and he’s looking forward to it. “I think Bulawayo audience will love it. I performed there with Gwarimba in my younger years, and they loved it. This is more advanced, and I think they will love it too. But I think the project can go further, because everyone is full of passion, and I think we are ready to go wherever it can take us. The urge is strong, musicians are ready to mash it up and do their duty. I think it will go far if we stick together.”

CHRISTOPHER FEFINI – keyboards – Descended from Mozambican parents, Christopher was born and raised in Harare. He started out in 2001 with the late Dumi Ngulube and Amagents, linked through Pablo, and played with him there and more. He later played with Africa Revenge, township jazz maestro Takwa Wekwa Sando, gospel artist Fungisai Zvakawapano, Rute Mbangwa, and more recently also with Winky D.

Chris’ passion is jazz, but new genres in this collaboration are an eye-opener for him. “You try to catch everything to mix them up and create one thing. You realize that in jazz there is contemporary, afro, all styles totally packaged in the genre of jazz. So such a collaboration runs along the same lines.”

While he has performed and travelled with Rute, this will be his first time ever with Tina and Edith, whose music he finds very challenging but interesting. “Music is the one common language that can unite people from any backgrounds, regardless. With what we are doing now, we will have a good show and I’m looking forward it.”

FRANK MAVHIMIRA (guitar) – Frank was raised in Chitungwiza but his family origins are in Masvingo. Frank has worked with Rute for quite a long time, once with Edith, and now with Tina for the first time.

He started music as a practical subject in high school, and in 2005 took up the guitar and has never put it down. Based in the Afro jazz genre, he has worked with different artists cutting across many styles – the music of Alexio Kawara, Prudence Katomeni, Kudzai Sevenzo, gospel artist Pastor G Sebastian Magasha and Worship Addicts, among others.

Frank toured with Rute to the Pan African Music Festival in Algeria 2009, and in 2013 with Prudence Katomeni, and separately, a one month tour in Uganda in collaboration with Ugandan saxophonist Caesar Kajura.

Frank said “This collaboration I see as a learning curve, considering I’m working with three different artists with different genres and styles. There is always pressure on the band to adapt, and pressure is always good in any form of art, it pushes you out of your comfort zone to unimaginable limits.

“Knowing Bulawayo, a strong cultural centre, a place of the arts, I’m sure Amawala will be well received. Generally audiences are very receptive. I would like to think Byo is more culturally active and aware than any other city. For its size there are many arts venues and programmes that have been going for many years and are still there today. We look forward to coming to Bulawayo!”

The ‘AMAWALA’ collaboration performs at Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo, on Friday 26 September 2014, 10pm, at the Large City Hall.

Partners

The production is a project of arts development organisation Pamberi Trust’s gender project FLAME (Female Literary, Arts and Music Enterprise). Various programmes are supported by Africalia, Hivos, and the EU.

Post published in: Arts

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