From a distance, it would seem like Alick Macheso, the king of sungura music, fast-tracked his way to stardom. To many, Macheso came onto the scene in 1998, with his debut album Magariro, which carried Pakutema
Munda, probably the most noticeable from that album. But as is almost fashionable in showbizz, the first cut never received any recognition and the following year he was to release Vakiridzo. Similarly, the response was lukewarm and in the coming 12 months, he went back into the studio and came out with Simbaradzo.
Simbaradzo was to be the turning point is his career and Mundikumbuke and Mai Rubhi, which remain national chants even to this date, brought Macheso into the limelight, and suddenly everyone took notice. He was the phenomenon that the music industry had been waiting for. He was to follow on the success of Simbaradzo with Zvakanaka Zvakadaro, the album which confirmed that, indeed, Zimbabwe, had given birth to a new sensation. Those who chose to ignore him, did so at their own peril. And most did - but they were not to for long. Though there have been many schools of thought on the strength of Macheso - with some arguing about his skill with the bass guitar, some contending that it is his vocals and others proffering his dancing skills, it is generally agreed that the musician is of immense talent. He can dance, sing and play the guitar - a rare combination of skills among musicians. He is an entertainer par-excellence. Besides such a pile of talent, Macheso does his own song-writing.
Zvakanaka Zvakadaro was followed, in 2003, by Zvido Zvenyu Kunyanya, yet another confirmation that Macheso had not only arrived on the Zimbabwean music scene, but that he was determined to stay there for as long as possible. It is only a question of time before Macheso becomes the first Zimbabwean musician to sell a million copies of his music. And that should be very fitting for a musician of his stature.
But that is not to say that the road has been without any torture and pain for the sungura giant. Macheso was born in 1968 in Shamva, 90 kilometres to the north of Harare, to parents of Malawian origin - a fact that was to inspire him to be able to speak and sing in five languages - Shona, Chichewa, Sena, Venda and Lingala. He is working on perfecting his Ndebele. Growing on a farm, especially before Zimbabwe's Independence from Britain in 1980, the environment did not offer him many opportunities. In 1983, at the youthful age of 15, he left the farm compounds of Shamva to head for the dizzy lights of Harare.
Arriving in the capital at the invitation of a relative, who had been inspired by Macheso guitar-playing prowess at the farm compound, things did not go according to plan and soon Macheso was to switch camps. He moved in with Nicholas Zacharia: "He really acted like an uncle to me and took me into his home. They provided me with everything up to the time I married my wife," recalls Macheso. The two went on a music-inspired journey, joining several bands, mostly sungura-playing outfits.
In 1997, he broke ranks with Zacharia, to form his own Orchestra Mberikwazvo, the outfit that backs him to date. "I remember we used to be regulars at Murambinda in Buhera and there was this braai-man who used to do it differently from others. And I would comment 'mberi kwazvo zvaunoita' and the saying stuck. When the managers at Gramma (his recording studio) asked me what the name of my band was, I simply said Orchestra Mberikwazvo."
From that day, the rise and rise of the band had been a gradual phenomenal experience and at the rate he is going, it would be no wonder, if, in five year's time, he would a force to reckon with on the African scene.
More about Macheso's life is contained in his official biography, which will be out soon. The official biography will mark a milestone in Zimbabwe's publishing history as he is the first Zimbabwean musician, dead or alive, to have his life history published. Watch out for it, soon.