Albert Nyathi is Zimbabweís premier performance dub-poet. His performances are often backed by powerful music. At school he used to perform traditional praise poetry, but was inspired by the freedom struggle in Zimbabwe. He started to write plays and poems
at secondary school. At university in Zimbabwe in the 1980ís he was so influential within the students representative body, that he was invited for each rally or each meeting.
He gave up his rapidly advancing career in government service as a very well informed senior member of Zimbabwe's National Arts Council to concentrate on performance and the development of youth training programmes in the arts in Harare's townships.
Albert says that he started fusing his written poetry with music so as to blow life into them, to blow life into a dead word. In 1989 while at university studying arts Albert was invited to play the leading role of Nelson Mandela in a play called "The Spirit of No Surrender" produced by the community theatre company Zambuko/Izibuko and the ANC as a co-production about a family's struggle in the townships through the period of Mandela's encarceration.
Albert won the Zimbabwe national Poetry Award in 1995. As a protest performer, Albert became the voice of the student body. Chosen to lead the funeral procession for the late Joshua Nkomo in October 1999, Albert created an outpouring of grief from the Ndebele people. His address was a tribute to the only Ndebele goverment member. Nyathi's fourth CD, entitled Welcome to Zimbabwe (land of contradiction) the first released internationally, takes off with "I will not speak", where he adapts Chenjerai Hove's poetry to song.
Albert is known as ìthe voice of the invisibleî - the man who speaks the silent words of those without a voice. His work is thought provoking, controversial and humorous and his stage show is charismatic and energetic. As the Zimbabwe Financial Press says, "He can make an audience howl with laughter and he is also capable of bringing the whole nation to tears".
An imbongi is a traditional praise poet, or a praise singer (like Mali or Senegal's griots), are the custodians of oral tradition. They are sometimes called 'praise poets' because they can exaggerate the qualities of leaders at important public events, but they also use their popularity and status as the 'voice of the ancestors' as a 'mandate' for social criticism. Sure enough at one time Nyathi took his National Arts Council and government to task for exploiting him and his band.
Albert now performs with Imbongi, an 11-piece band. Fusing words, music, dance and song into an exciting blend of traditional blues, jazz and contemporary Zimbabwean and South African rhythms. The group was chosen by the United Nations to represent African Music at the youth congress in Hawaii in 1999.
Imbongi were in Britain for the first time in 2000, and were an enormous hit at Glastonbury and WOMAD festivals. Imbongi are fronted by three female dancers and vocalists in collaboration with keyboard, guitars, trumpets and drums. They are both vigorous and precise, blending and interweaving the beauty of the dance and music with the power of Albertís words. At the Africa Centre in London in 2001 they delighted the audience with their highly energetic yet remarkably polished show with Albertís larger-than-life presence.