Dream beats on the marimba

Zimbabwean musician Blessing Chimanga, who performed with his band in the city recently, wants his music to voice peace and joy

Blessing Chimanga approaches the marimba like a man stalking his prey, before pouncing on it to play. Theatrics was a huge part of the recent performances in Puducherry and Chennai by Blessing Chimanga and the Dreams Band, the group from Zimbabwe. The concert brought African music to Indian audiences.

Along with his band members, Igeal Njolomah on bass guitar, Thulani Kawani on saxophone and guitar, and Blessing Mupariutsa on drums, Chimanga is in India as a part of a global tour, Tose (meaning Together in Shona). The tour aims to give a build-up to an album release of the same name. The band has made its way to India from Zimbabwe, Argentina and England.

Music that doesn’t draw attention to itself because you’re having so much fun enjoying yourself dancing to it: that is what the band’s live performances are like. A constant stream of upbeat songs are set to quick-paced beats of the marimba and the drums, with a mock duel between the marimba and the saxophone in between. Chimanga plays the marimba with the ferocity of Captain Hook on the piano.

Despite the fierceness , the songs are all about happiness. “I am a positive writer and that reflects in my songs; they talk of peace and joy. Our brand is called Dreams because we believe in them,” he says. “Growing up, I have had friends who faced abuse at the hands of adults. That has also affected my writing. You can scream, ‘Stop abuse,’ and no one will listen, but if you put it into melody, they pay attention,” he says.

His experiences in India have also influenced Chimanga. “I was in Puducherry last year. I saw the sea there and in that one moment, I came up with a song,” he says.

Live performance keeps Chimanga going. He says he won’t be doing a studio project any time soon. “Often when I’m on stage, I don’t even have a set list in hand. Neither the band nor I know what we are going to play. It all depends on the mood right then and there, and the energy between us and the audience,” he says.

And, what energy! Chimanga and the band jump around on stage and off it, mingling and jiving with the crowd and asking them to follow their dance moves. The uninitiated in the audience, by the end of the performance, are swept away by Chimanga’s energy.

“In Zimbabwe, every song is written with a storyline, rhythm and clap. But we are seeing a slow shift from the traditional sounds,” says Chimanga. “In pop music, they use the same traditional instruments such as the mbira or the marimba, but to create contemporary music.” Reggae is also becoming huge among the youth, reveals Chimanga. “It’s all the rage in the music festivals. Not the roots, but dance reggae,” he says.

However, Chimanga’s style, Afro-jazz, is not mainstream in his country. “When you start getting recognised globally, you get respect at home too. And fusion gives us work internationally,” he says.

In India, musicians get to pay their bills by working for movies, but in Zimbabwe, the film industry just isn’t that popular. Chimanga. Chimaga’s parents wanted him to get into a more stable line of work.

“They wanted me to be a lawyer. During my parents’ time, musicians were stereotyped as always drinking, taking drugs and not spending time with their families. I wanted to show them that you can be a musician and be clean ,” he says. Chimanga now has only one advice for upcoming artistes, “Whatever it is that you are fighting for and hoping to become, just keep at it, don’t give up.”

(The band’s Chennai performance was hosted by Express Avenue and the one at Puducherry was at The Storytellers’ Bar.)

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 11:01:20 AM |

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