By Farai Chirimumimba
I love anniversaries, especially when it comes to album releases in Zimbabwe. Worldwide groundbreaking albums are usually celebrated when they reach 25 years and onwards with a re-issue and sale of merchandise. Although in Zimbabwe actual release dates of music albums of the 90’s are hard to find, nothing can stop us from celebrating an anniversary year of an impressive album.
As 2018 sets in, the anniversary possibilities for the year ahead are pretty much endless. Today (6 April), we start with perhaps the strongest album birthday ever, tracking back 25 years ago to 1993, when the former Radio 2 (now Radio Zimbabwe) and Radio 4 (now National FM) jammed each week with soon-to-be classic new releases. But the real sound of 1993 was all over the map, with several Sungura essential releases, and debuts defining the year. However, I don’t think you’ve truly lived unless you listened to the album Rudo tsika nemagariro by System Tazvida and Chazezesa Challengers (Boyz dzeSmoke) on a taped-over cassette on the bus en route to the rural areas or at a nearby beer hall or growth point. There is no doubt that what happened in 1993 is still influencing some people’s tastes 25 years later. A remarkable album of its time that was also best selling with over 20, 000 units sold within a short period after release.
System Tazvida and Chazezesa Challengers were immediately loved by fans, and as we celebrate the record and the band’s lasting legacy at the quarter of a century mark, in order to better understand the band’s place in today’s Zimbabwe, we must understand and accept that the legacy of System Tazvida and Chazezesa Challengers is one tied to social activism in their songs. Rudo tsika nemagariro was a monumental record for System. It is certified platinum of 1993 with six songs that become some of the band’s biggest hits, namely “Bundu rerudo”, “Chindidawo”, Ane wake anoziva zvaanoda”, “Vagere havadaro”, Ruchiva” and Shinga muzukuru. As far as first records go, Rudo tsika nemagariro still stands as an incredibly strong debut and quickly launched System Tazvida and band into a level of stardom that was reserved for decades’ premier Sungura artistes like Leonard Dembo, Simon Chimbetu and Marshall Munhumumbwe and Four Brothers.
Sonically, while the album is certainly the most social commentary influenced from System’s four records, one singles and EPs and one compilation, Rudo tsika nemagariro stands out when looking at the 90’s for how different it was in comparison to much of the social commentary and alternative Sungura acts at the time. As a teenager of the late 90’s, l appreciates Rudo tsika nemagariro for redefining “perpetual mourning” that was deeply connected to Sungura genre. Instead of angst, Rudo tsika nemagariro was moody and it gave the record a vibe that was unmatched for the time. System Tazvida and Chazezesa Challengers were able to carve their own identity that teetered between the two. As a result, their sound was substantially different from their peers, only borrowing certainly period or stylistic elements from the time.
If l were to review the album today, l would applaud System for his ability to write a series of ballads that capture a sense of personal disparity and desolation with as much conviction as their outfits. I would praise System and band for their bare and flawless Sungura sound that felt refreshing in a decade where social commentary took centre stage. Still to this day, l can listen to Rudo tsika nemagariro on repeat without it growing old as the record, while definitely a product of the 90’s, does not feel outdated, and for a debut feels quite polished maybe because System and band were not new to releasing songs as they were products of other bands.
The song “Chindidawo” still stands as one of the strongest ballads of the decade as System sang lyrics of social acceptance, whereas “Vagere havadaro” was ambient and haunting and acted as an early indication of what System would offer in ensuing albums. In contrast is the arrangement of songs like “Ruchiva” and “Shinga muzukuru”. The album’s opening track “Bundu rerudo” is probably the album’s heaviest track and features a slow moving track like all other songs. Times may change, music may change, but Rudo tsika nemagariro is one of those iconic albums whose influence seems to be here to stay. This 25th Anniversary celebration just adds another chapter to the legacy.