Trust Khosa, Assistant News Editor
HE groomed geniuses, side-walked laggards, accommodated and whipped ‘hotheads’ in line.
For his calling and unparalleled mentorship, he has also been glorified and ridiculed by many.
At 65 and still as fit as a fiddle, he neither shows any signs of hanging the guitar nor exhaustion.
With all his material possession, he seems unready to go on retirement and enjoy ‘pension’ in the comfort of any of his three well-furnished houses.
Oozing with confidence than ever, he has become a regular on the winners’ podium, bagging national gongs and certificates of merit.
With Zimbabwe turning 41 this Sunday, the unassuming songsmith, teacher and mentor, will also be celebrating milestones in his career.
In his case, he turned 65 early this month, of which 46 have been spend ‘zigzagging’ the guitar as a professional.
He will also be celebrating 38 years at the helm of Khiama Boys, a rare milestone at a time when death has claimed many of his peers he used to hang around with.
In short, this is just a teaser about Madzibaba Nicholas Zakaria.
Like any other poor lad plucked from the back of beyond to become a household name then, Madzibaba is an epitomize of hard work, resilience and focus.
Of course his music is popular with many but the singer took H-Metro down memory lane reflecting on the path he travelled.
“I was born in Mazowe on the 5th of April 1956 and was raised at Belgone Farm.
“I was born in a family of 11 where my parents were blessed with four boys and seven girls, myself being the third born.
“My father Maluwa Chekani died last year and he was over 100 years old while my mother who was born in 1929 died in 2001.
“I did my primary at Belgone Primary School and I wrote grade seven in 1970 but I couldn’t continue with school.
“At school, I used to play soccer and my coaches wanted me to play either number three or number 11.
“However, I could not pursue football because music was always my first love but I was versatile as a young boy,” recalls Madzibaba.
- EARLY DAYS
Madzibaba, who was largely self-taught, says his father was also a fine guitarist even though he didn’t receive lessons from papa.
“I used to watch my father playing the guitar and I would pick one or a thing, which made me pursue music.
“When I was in grade six, I was already playing home-made banjos around Belgone Farm where I also worked in the maize and tobacco fields four a couple of years.
“I was a farm labourer and also a tailor but decided to leave the work around 1974/5 or so.
“In the year 1975, we assembled with other boys in Mazowe and formed a group that we called Green Mangoes.
“The group comprised Robson Kaitano who played the lead guitar, Smart Chiko (bass guitar), Michael Gumo (drummer) and I played the rhythm guitar then,” he says.
- EARLY SETBACK
Madzibaba, who was steadily weaving his way to the top in the mid 70s, says his dream was almost shattered around the same period when The Green Mangoes was deserted.
“At a time when we had become a force to reckon with, one of the key members of our group Robson Kaitano left the group and went on to stay in Marondera.
“In Marondera, he formed a group called Hard Spirits while Smart Chiko became a tailor with Michael Gumo becoming a bartender at Hambalala Beer Hall in Mazowe since they had families to fend for.
“In my case, I also became a tailor for almost three or so years but never stopped doing music since it was my first calling.
“I continued writing my songs hoping for a change of fortunes since most recording companies turned us away each time we wanted to record with them.
“This could be another reason why The Green Mangoes disbanded since our dreams were almost shattered,” he said.
- DZIVARESEKWA MOVE
Determined to fulfil in his dream, Madzibaba’s dream came true when Zimbabwe attained her independence in 1980.
“It was after independence when I saw a bright future ahead of me after moving to Dzivaresekwa that we used to call Gillingham.
“It was in Dzivaresekwa where I met the likes of Shepherd Chinyani and formed Vhuka Boys.
“At Vhuka Boys, Chinyani played the lead guitar while Solo Makore played the rhythm.
“Around that time, I found myself playing the bass guitar while Sam Chikudziro played the drums, which made the band complete.”
Madzibaba, who easily settled in Dzivaresekwa, described Chinyani as a music great with whom they exchanged notes.
“I learnt quite a lot from him and vice versa since we were all experienced but lacked exposure.
“With Vhuka Boys, we released such singles as Mai Majaira in 1982, which was followed by Shamwari Joe later that year.
“In 1983, we released another single called Monica before the band collapsed since we were not realising any money.
“Some of the band members went on to form their own bands while others changed career paths.
“As the group disbanded, I’m grateful to Chinyani who welcomed us in Dzivaresekwa and gave us shelter and food when it was really difficult to do so during that time,” he says.
- KHIAMA BOYS BIRTH
When reality dawned to Madzibaba that Vhuka Boys had collapsed, he moved on.
“Around 1984 after the demise of Vhuka Boys, I realised that there was need for continuity and formed Khiama Boys.
“The founding members comprised myself as a lead vocalist and guitarist while my wife Margaret Gweshe came in as a backing vocalist and dancer.
“The late Tineyi Chikupo was also part of the founding members as a dancer and backing vocalist along with Lovemore Tom who played the bass guitar and drummer Sam Chikurudzo.
“Alick Macheso joined us around 1985 as a bass guitarist after hearing from his mother that he was looking for a job.
“His mother and mine come from the same area and we simply clicked with Macheso whom I still regard as a younger brother.”
- GWESHE INFLUENCE
At a time when it was hard to for females to venture into sungura, Gweshe defied odds and made an impact.
“During the early days of Khiama Boys, we released a number of singles namely Shebha,
Mankwala Olemera while my wife also wrote songs such as Chipo in 1987, Ndine Zvinondinetsa and Mwana Uwe before she resigned.
“Working with my wife was also a good move that I took since it helped me to project myself from temptations.
“It’s not an issue at all to work with your wife as long as you share the same vision while bedroom politics should not be allowed to interfere your work,” he says.
- EARLY SUCCESS
After assembling a star-studded band, Madzibaba said 1989 would remain a special year when their single Mabhawuwa shook the country.
“In the early 80s, Khiama Boys became a star-studded side with the likes of System Tazvida who was a backing vocalist.
“Cephas Karushanga came joined us as a lead guitarist while Macheso had already established himself in the band together with Nevison Chakanyuka.
“During the same time, Tineyi Chikupo was also part of the band and it was indeed a great team of talented stars.
“Since the group had many members, we had an open door policy for people to do their solo projects if they wished and Cephas Karushanga asked to be weaned off and formed Mabhawuwa Express.
“It was around 1989 that System Tazvida also left with Karushanga but the group remained intact.”
- KHIAMA RESTRUCTURING
After weaning off Cephas Karushanga and System Tazvida who wanted to pursue solo careers, it meant Madzibaba was supposed to bolster his outfit.
“Since Khiama had become an academy of some sorts, I knew there were people who would leave when ripe and it I was proud that my students were geniuses.
“Of course there were laggards in the group but I made them realise their potential and the need to work very hard.
“One person that I never doubted was determined to succeed was Alick because he was dedicated to his work.
“I didn’t have problems with him and I took him for my younger brother and we used to eat from the same plate,” says Madzibaba.
- KHIAMA BOYS’ PURPLE PATCH
After the gelling of new recruits that comprised Gift Putazi and Silas Chakanyuka who came on board in 1990, Khiama Boys became a force to reckon with.
“While other members left, there were some who continued knocking on our doors for jobs and that gave our band members an urge to work hard.
“Each rehearsal was more than a show as band members wanted to outshine each other.
“We went ton to record a number of successful album like Kubva Kure in 1990, Kutambura (1991), Chikumbiro (1993) and Mabvi Nemagokora around 1995/6 and those were days that we really made a killing in music industry.
“It was during the same period when our sponsor Cephas Chimanga used to bail us a lot and we would cover a lot of costs owing to his intervention.”
- KHIAMA HEARTBREAK
The year 1997 is no doubt the ‘darkest’ period for Khiama Boys fans after Madzibaba decided to hang the guitars and become a truck driver.
It’s news that disturbed many but paved way for Macheso who went on to assemble Orchestra Mberikwazvo.
However, Madzibaba cleared the air once again on what led to his decision to quit music.
“In 1997 we came to a point where I realised that there was need for me to beef my kit since shows were no longer paying.
“I sat down with the boys and told them that I wanted to temporarily quit music to become a truck driver.
“The news was not received well by my fans but it’s a decision I made to save my career and also help to usher my band members to be innovative.
“Alick Macheso emerged as a great artiste and no one doubts that while my younger brother Zachariah Zakaria is also a farmer who also doubles as a guitarist,” he said.
Quizzed whether he left his band members stranded or not at a time he made a radical decision, Madzibaba clears the air:
“I never abandoned them because I wanted to work and boost our coffers so that we can regrouped when things are okay.
“I don’t care what people say about that decision but I know that my conscience is clear.”
- COME BACK
After working as a truck driver for a year, Madzibaba was back on stage with a new look outfit.
“I realised that I could not continue as a truck driver but the stage was my office.
“In 1998, I recorded a comeback album titled Tinokundika with the help of new recruits that comprised Nasho Azatti, a direct replacement of Alick Macheso, Godknows Lindirani, a new backing vocalist along with Gift Sixpence who played he rhythm and one Paul, a drummer who deserted Tongai Moyo in the UK.
“Of course I had lost the core of the band but I was happy with the new recruits.”
In his career spanning over 40 decades, Madzibaba is happy with his achievements.
“I’m a proud owner of three houses – one in Unit G, another in Unit A and another one in Norton.
“I have also amassed a number of awards among three two Zima gongs and a NAMA trophy for the living legends.
“There are several certificates that I won at Gramma Records and on radio stations.’”
Despite all that he has amassed, Madzibaba’s heart bleeds as he continues to bury some of his students.
“It’s really sad that I have seen some of the artistes that I have worked with or groomed dying.
“Tineyi Chikupo died on my hands and we were together until his death in 1992.
“System Tazvida, Amon Mvula, Aaron Chinamira are some of the artistes that I have helped at some point that have died.
“All my students we geniuses and I she tears when I think of some of the heroes that I worked with. May their souls rest in peace.”
Madzibaba is married to Margaret Gweshe and the couple is blessed with four children – two boys and two girls.
As we celebrate Uhuru, Madzibaba Nicholas Zakaria is one such a living legend who deserves space in the annals of Zimbabwean music industry.
Love or loathe at Madzibaba, he remains one the country’s torch-bearers and a wellspring of knowledge to be cherished for years.