A group as talented as Zig-Zag Band — they are the masters of chigiyo music — could certainly not sink into oblivion.
The band is now holding shows at a number of joints in and around Kwekwe as well as the neighbouring city of Kadoma.
To signal their re-launch, the chigiyo music exponents are polishing their latest project, Harder Than a Rock, a 10-track album.
Band leader Steve Lion, born Stephen Lunga 43 years ago, says they will be in the studio on 7 June, to record the album, the group’s ninth such project. Harder Than a Rock will be recorded at Diamond Studios in Harare. Diamond Studios will also market and distribute the album.
Songs to look out for on the new project are the title track, Harder Than a Rock, a song that depicts chigiyo music as indestructible, Ndinokuyeuka, Moses, Varoyi neMbavha and Chigiyo Nditakure. Chigiyo Nditakure is a danceable tune that is proving to be popular with fans at live shows.
In Harder Than a Rock the group sings about Chigiyo as part of culture and that playing chigiyo music is a sign of respect to one’s culture. The song urges people to invest in the future by educating their children.
Other songs that make up the album are Simukai, Pano Panyika, Mweya Mutsvene and possibly a remix of yester-year hit, Ndarimano.
There will also be a bonus track from one of the group’s hits of yesteryear, Forward Ever, Backward Never from the album, Mudzimu Mukuru.
Lion says there could be slight changes to the final line-up of songs on the album, given that the group has so many songs that it composed during its time in hibernation. Zig-Zag were last in the studio in 2004 when they released the album, Chigiyo Vibes Volume One.
Once upon a time, Zig-Zag Band used to release hit after hit — singles and albums — for fun in the 1980s up to mid 90s. The group’s works used to appeal to Zimbabweans of diverse social standings and backgrounds before they disappeared from the musical radar for almost seven years.
Those who grew up in the 1980s up to the mid 90s, will quickly recall the group’s timeless classics like Gomo Ramasare, Nyarunde, Ropa Remukaranga, VaMandela, Hombiro and the dancehall track, Ndarimbo, among many hit tunes.
That was Zig-Zag Band at its peak then.
Lead vocals then, as it is now, were done interchangeably by all members.
“Nothing has changed in terms of how we execute our duties. Every member can do vocals, lead and backing vocals. We are still the same old professional outfit that churned out yesteryear hits like Gomo Ramasare, VaMashumba and Hombiro, among others. Our group is like a family. That is why we do not suffer breakaways as is the case in most musical groups. It is difficult to divide or break the bond of members of the same family. Members who die are replaced, but there has never been a situation when group members left en masse,” said Lion.
Lion is very optimistic about the future and has confidence that their latest offering in particular would help them claim their rightful position as one of Zimbabwe’s finest.
He said the group was ready to conquer the world this time around, once it released Harder Than a Rock.
“I feel we have what it takes to forge our way to greatness once again. We never stopped playing.
Our not being so visible was mainly due to a media blackout and the challenges that we faced here and there in accessing instruments, but things are improving. We now have most of the instruments needed. In fact, the whole backline is now complete, that is all the guitars, drum sets, keyboard and micro-phones. What we now need is a public address (PA) system,” said Lion.
Lion said their new recording company, Diamond Studios would take over the production, marketing and promotion of all the group’s music.
He said the studio would also promote Zig-Zag Band’s live shows and market the group’s music by selling discs at an affordable price of $1 each.
“This is meant to help beat piracy. As a group we, however, welcome the MP3 format and even piracy, as this helps spread the message in our music. This is the best way of spreading the works of marginalised groups like ours.
“We will also be shooting videos of all our live shows as a marketing strategy. Live shows videos are more effective because they capture the artistic scope of the song, a musician will genuinely be singing as compared to other musical videos where there is a lot of lip sync. When we are done with the recording of the new album, we will then work on producing its DVD. We have plans to produce videos of all our old songs like Gomo Ramasare, Hombiro and Nyarunde,” said Lion.
Zig-Zag suffered a number of setbacks in the mid-90s and early 2000 when the group lost some key members due to death. Among the members who died were the legendary Emmanuel Nkomo of the Gomo Ramasare fame, Stanley Phiri, a drummer and the Lunga brothers, George and Robert.
George was the voice behind the classic hits, Ropa Remukaranga and VaMashumba (Vabveni vari pano) while Robert was a genius rhythm guitarist.
A music critic, Takunda Mhiri, attributed Zig-Zag Band’s near-demise to the state of the economy in the country from about 2 000 up to 2008.
Band leader Gilbert Zvamaida relocated to the United States as lead guitarist for the Blacks Unlimited, a group fronted by legendary Chimurenga musician Thomas Mapfumo.
“Zig-Zag is a group of full-time musicians. It became difficult for people to support the arts when they could hardly afford bread. The good thing is the remaining members managed to maintain the group’s unique beat. This is mainly because the band operates more like a football club. Take for example, Dynamos, there is never a time when a coach disposes of all the players at once but new players come and are blended with the old ones, gradually,” said Mhiri.
Chigiyo is a reggae-like beat fused with traditional rhythms to produce a uniquely Zimbabwean original sound.
Steve Lion said the beat had a ready market, but the group felt undone by its then recording studio which failed to keep supplying their fans with the chigiyo vibes.
“Wherever we go, people ask us how they can get our music as it is not available at most record bars. People love our music but they cannot get it from retail outlets. This is a worrying situation,” he said.
Band manager Madison “True Born Rasta” Phiri, said the group was now holding rehearsals at the Kwekwe Theatre daily. He said the rehearsals were a statement of serious intent on the part of the group to reclaim its position as one of the best musical ensembles in the country.
“We are appealing to all our fans to come to our shows in their numbers. This time we mean business. There is no going back,” said “TBR” Phiri.
“TBR” Madison said the group would be spreading its wings to other cities and towns once the corporate sector chipped in for support.
“We will be performing at musical galas soon. We want to be part of every entertainment calendar in the country as was the case in years gone by,” he said.
The Zig-Zag Band line-up has Lion on lead vocals and keyboards, Noel Kasirayi (drums and vocals), Sunduzwayo “Kosolo” Nyirenda (bass and vocals), Manfred Mahati (lead guitar and vocals), Julius
Ziva (trumpet, rhythm guitar and backing vocals), Madison “TBR” Phiri (band manager and vocals), Isaac “Man Isaacs” Phiri (backing and lead vocals) and Raphael Chigumba (backing vocals and percussions).