Mthabisi Tshuma, Showbiz Correspondent
IN the mid-2000s, Charles Banda was known as a football fanatic. In his football career, he had stints with top flight soccer teams.
When his father, legendary artiste Simon Rainbow Mahlaba Banda and founder of Sunduza Boys died in 2012, Charles Banda was to hang his boots and pick up the mic, learn a few breath-taking dances and pose to portray human life characters in the theatres for his next life away from the soccer field.
Simon Mahlaba Banda is well known for some of his great works where he choreo-graphed the Sheffield Oratorius production of David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus at the University of Sheffield in 2002 together with Alan Eost, Mandla Sibanda and Philip Weiss.
He was also involved in a youth project with the Performing Africa Conference at Leeds University in 2004 and significantly founded the first intercultural choir working in the imbube tradition in United Kingdom in 2001.
The late muso also adjudicated and trained artistes as part of the Music Crossroads project in Zimbabwe and worked closely with the UNDP programme “Artistes against Poverty”.
Eight years after hanging his boots, Charles Banda is holding the Sunduza Boys’ fort and is now a force to reckon with on the music scene.
Using the stage name Mahlaba, same as that of his father, the 32-year-old is upholding his father’s music legacy which started in 1985 when he formed the Sunduza Boys now known as Sunduza Dance Theatre.
Thirty-five years later, the group has grown to be a regionally acclaimed arts outfit and has stood against all troubles through unity and hard work.
Mahlaba said his love back in the days was soccer and running on the turf before he landed in theatre productions which grew into stadium gigs. “My passion from childhood was football as I started playing soccer from juniors around 1998. I played for top teams in competitive football in Zimbabwe as from 2005. I played for Chicken Inn FC, Railstars, Quelaton, Makhandeni Pirates.
“In 2012, I became an artiste and since then, I’ve worked with most well-known artistes in Zimbabwe on my father’s tribute album that was titled Shine like a rainbow. Among these are Albert Nyathi, Jeys Marabini, Janet Wood (UK-based songwriter), Desire Moyoxide, Otis Ngwabi, Sunduza and Willis Wataffi,” said Mahlaba.
He said continuing with his father’s role as artistic director for Sunduza Dance Theatre has not been easy, but through dedication and respect for each member in the group, the journey has been an interesting one.
Sunduza Dance Theatre is known for bringing life on stage through works of remarkable energy. The group has been pushing their beautiful scintillating harmonies, percussive rhythms and high energy dances internationally. The productions reflect a wide range of Southern African dances normally displayed in a context to which international audiences can relate to.
Sunduza’s stage productions are adaptable to different venues. The full stage productions support drama, dance, music and commentary on social issues in Southern Africa. They also include a multimedia element.
Mahlaba, following his father’s footsteps with Sunduza Dance Theatre, has managed to work on big projects that include showcasing a stage adaptation project of a book written by the late world acclaimed academic, writer and historian, Terrence Ranger, titled Voice from The Rocks: The story of Matopos.
The show was produced by British national, Philip Weiss and was premièred at the Bulawayo Theatre.
“Trying to fit into my father’s shoes has been challenging because when I inherited his work, I was a footballer so this was a huge shift. There were difficulties here and there, but I managed to stay focused and strong with help from Sunduza members and my family.
“I managed to push the legacy forward through the commitment and vision I had with my brothers from Sunduza. Without team work, we really wouldn’t be celebrating 35 years of existence in the arts industry like we are doing now. Kudos to my elders at Sunduza Dance Theatre for believing me as I discovered myself through their teaching and commitment,” Mahlaba said.
Although he has upheld his father’s legacy, Mahlaba also has a solo musical side which he ventured into two years ago. He has produced one album.
He said: “I have solo projects where I do Afro-jazz and Afro-pop music. I recorded my first album titled Ndebe Zami which was released in 2018.
“I’m working on the second album which has been affected by the pandemic as I hoped to release it months back. So I only managed to release a single track from the album titled Uthando Lukamama which was released on Mother’s Day. I’m also working on the visuals for the single with Afri Arts company.”
Mahlaba seems to be on the right track with his music career as he was nominated at this year’s Zimbabwe Music Awards in the Traditional folk/Ezomdabu category. – @mthabisi_mthire.