Harare: An Imported Social Scene

Like South Africans go wild when international brands announce their launch into South Africa, Zimbabweans have enjoyed the introduction of some South African brands into their world. Think of the madness that ensued when Starbucks, Krispy Kreme and the likes touched down in South Africa.

Food Lover’s Market, Sam Levy’s Village
Photo cred: Sam Levy’s

I recently took a trip to Sam Levy’s Village in Borrowdale, Harare (commonly known as ‘the Village’, Harare’s equivalent of Sandton City) to watch a movie at South African major cinema brand, Ster-Kinekor. It was fascinating to see the brands that line the entertainment cul-de-sac of the Village. Restaurants and leisure brands there include Mugg & Bean, Newscafe, Smooch, Ocean Basket and Simply Asia in addition to Ster-Kinekor. All of these are South African brands. I felt like I had escaped the reality of Zimbabwe and transported myself back to Sandton City as the cul-de-sac buzzed with tweens, teens, young adults and families of different races.

Ocean Basket, Sam Levy’s Village  Photo cred: Sam Levy’s

In having a conversation with my parents about this phenomenon of South African brands, my Dad highlighted that the success of brands like Pick n’ Pay and Food Lovers’ Market has boosted the confidence of external investors. We have even seen KFC relaunch itself in the market after previous arrivals and unceremonious departures. This is great for our economy which has been on its knees for years and is in desperate need of foreight investment.

As an avid brand enthusiast, however, I cannot help but look and ponder at what this means for Zimbabwe aside from the obvious economic benefits. This is by no means a conclusive review of the Harare social scene. There are plenty of other local brands that serve the Zimbabwean population. You see, however, the unfortunate thing is the Village is targeted at a small minority of Zimbabweans who can afford to have a thriving social life unlike much of the population. This means the fortunate few are spending on brands that are essentially taking money out of a country that is in a huge cash crisis. Pity.

Another thing is, places like the Village foster a false sense of wellbeing when reality is, there are huge levels of unemployment and poverty in Zimbabwe. This increases the disparity between the haves and have nots. Typical of a struggling economy, it is a sad thing to witness the elite living in excess whilst the rest scramble to survive.

Finally, it saddens me that Zimbabwean citizens are so thrilled by these brands who have come into the country charging premium prices for their services which are, otherwise, standard-tier brands. Try stunt on someone in South Africa about dining at ‘Ocean Basket’ or having drinks at ‘Newscafe’ and see their reaction. It’s really nothing to write home about.

Newscafe, Sam Levy’s Village
Photo cred: Sam Levy’s

At the end of the day, I understand that there are many issues at play and this is a sign of progress for Zimbabwe. There are also some local brands that have done and continue to do well such as Pariah State and Chicken Inn (they opened a chain of drive-thru venues). My concern is that we become so enthralled with importing brands instead of creating, supporting and helping local brands flourish. We have a way to go before local brands can establish themselves and thrive as well as their international counterparts, but I don’t think it’s too soon to be careful.

I really want to see local and African brands grow from the ground up and thrive. One day, I hope we’ll be able to and be excited about exporting our own brands to countries that we have been consuming from for decades.

The Duo That’s Reinventing African Gospel

From the moment I first heard them, I knew there was something different. Something so incredibly special.

‘Simon & Esther’ was their name. Someone in the crowd joked that their name sounded like ‘Simon & Garfunkel’. Another quipped that Simon ought to change his name to ‘Ahasuerus’ – a more appropriate, biblical moniker given this was a church service. In spite of these light-hearted jokes, there certainly wasn’t anything ‘light’ about these two.

The honesty, vulnerability, truth, passion, humility and strength of their music was nothing to take lightly. From the first phrase, the audience was captivated. Never had we heard anything like this before. We were moved, touched and inspired by more than their talent. We had been touched by God.

So it came as a no-brainer to me that I wanted to – needed to interview this duo. Simon and Esther have reshaped the way I see gospel music and are the epitome of individuals who allow the Lord to use them for their work.

Speaking to them on a one-on-one basis, you realise how acutely aware they are that this is not about them at all. It is their ministry and they do not take it lightly. With their spirits, you can sense they are just like you and I, but in their eyes glimmers a knowing that they are on the path of fulfilling their purpose.

Simon, the brains, strategist and planner of the two. Esther, the gentle but strong spirit who lends her testimony to their performances. What a duo. I introduce to you ‘Simon & Esther’.

Simon and Esther

Simon and Esther

Profile

Who is Simon? Who is Esther? Tell us a bit about where you are from

Esther: I’m the youngest in a family of four. Mine is a very musical family and that is where I obtained my musical side. As I grew up, that musical side has developed into what it is now.

Simon: I’m 27 and I come from Zimbabwe – Triangle though I spent most of my time in Harare, currently in Johannesburg where I have been working and studying for the past 6+ years.

What are you currently doing aside from music?

Esther: I’m currently doing my final year of Economic Sciences Bachelor’s degree at (the University of) Witwatersrand.

Simon: I’m currently working as an analyst for a management consultancy in the energy industry. I’m also a tech startup founder– launching a product (in) 2017.

What defines you?

Esther: A woman who has given herself to serve God through music of the olden day with a modern feel.

Simon: not sure if this is the answer for your question but I like to be “defined” by my value system – my beliefs, my family, my passions, my fears, my dreams, hopes and not necessarily what I have or what I’m able to do.

Tell us about your history in music that brought you to this point.

Esther: I was a member of choir in high school and at church, though I was rather a reserved member. Over the years I developed a fascination of music that is rare in its taste and was fascinated by how old hymnal songs could be given a unique nowadays arrangement. It sounded beautiful to me and to others I shared with. That is mainly what I do as opposed to composing new songs.

Simon: The guitar was a dream from about 4 years old – I remember praying to God for a guitar to drop from the skies. My proper introduction to music came when I was 15 when I was taught about music production and creation via DAW (digital audio work station) by a musical urban grooves singer that used to stay next door to my brother in Harare. So I spent a lot of time making beats, mixing and arranging instruments on Fruity Loops 3. And I remember thinking thank you Lord for blessing me with all these guitars and instruments. So that went on for a while and died down. Fast forward to 2010 on my 21st birthday my cousin bought me a guitar as a birthday present and the rest is history – I taught myself through YouTube videos and theory almost on a daily basis from 2012 onwards.

Simon & Esther

How did the ‘Simon & Esther’ duo come to be? When did you meet?

Esther: We met at a Wits fundraiser concert in May 2016. In addition to being in the mighty Wits SDASM choir that was hosting the event, I was presenting two songs with some friends of mine. Back then, I wasn’t very active in ministry work but was keen to start, so I’d prayed that God would make it possible that I meet somebody whom I could work with. Right after the concert I met Simon for the first time and he asked if I could sing over an acoustic background which he would provide. At first, the purpose was simply to hear how it would sound, simultaneously sharpening our own vocal and guitar skills. We agreed to meet and our first practice session which was very successful and full of inspiration

Simon: In addition, I [Simon] had received inspiration from God to start a unique acoustic sound (guitar and vocals) and I remember sharing it with a friend of mine in the music space. I felt that there was a need for a different sound and approach to our (sda) music as 90% of it is mainly acapella which has been stretched. So I prayed to God to start a guitar and vocal duo and I started keeping an ear for a good unique voice.  4 weeks later, Wits SDASM choir had a fundraiser concert which I became aware of on the day and had no intentions of going but I decided to go and see a friend of mine from Zim that was performing a solo act. As soon as I heard Esther literally the 1st line I knew the reason why I was there and like she said I approached her after the concert and the rest is history.

How would you describe each other?

Esther: Simon is my older brother from another mother.

Simon: Esther is a gifted young lady, a sister, a friend and a talkative person often disguised as very quiet and reserved. She will laugh at any opportunity regardless of the expense.

Your musical style is very unique to what most would associate with African gospel music. Tell us a bit about your creative process and what inspired you to almost reinvent how we have come to know gospel music to sound? Do you write your own music?

Simon: I often come up with short melodies on the guitar and 90% of the time I just record them and then I revisit them and look for words that are fitting (existing songs or new words or a mixture of both) and allow it to be a workshop with Esther so that she puts her ideas, feel and style to it.

Esther: I am still trying to learn the art of music writing. I rearrange old hymnals. Simon writes some of our song and other friends as well.

How long does it take for you to complete a song?

Esther: It usually takes me a day; however it only comes by inspiration. I can hardly just come up with a beautiful rearrangement randomly.

Simon: Anything between a day and a week and months J

How often do you meet and rehearse together?

S&E: Depends if there is a concert or new song for presentation but at least once a week.

Influences

Esther, your voice gives Tracy Chapman/Chiwoniso-esque vibes. Could you share your inspiration?

Esther: I will be very frank that I did not even know about Tracy Chapman until people mentioned this as we were doing the ministry. I want to believe that God can inspire people by himself because I also do not know why my voice is inclined to that kind of music.

Simon, how long have you been playing the guitar and who inspired you? Do you play any other instruments?

Simon: Consistently for 4+ years (almost every day). I just liked the instrument without any particular inspiration somehow as I said from like 4 years old. However when I started to learn and play the guitar I was attracted towards more quality music as opposed to noise so the likes of Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Asa Louis Mhlanga etc. I’m a beginner on the keyboard.

Mission

As a duo, what is your objective?

S&E: To spread the message that Jesus Saves, He cares and He loves Mankind.

What do you think the world needs to realise about Christ’s soon coming?

S&E: We want the world to realise that this event should be viewed as an exciting event as opposed to something that arouses fear within us.

If you could perform anywhere in the world for any audience, where would that be and why?

S&E: The idea is not to limit our music to “SDA’s” (Seventh-Day Adventists) but to genuinely take it out there so one day we would like to present at a church with a huge following  or on the DSTV gospel channels, but of course we believe we are going to travel abroad as well and wherever English is understood would be nice to go and minister.

When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?

S&E: The duo that sang more than music. They sang Christ.

Safe to say these two are doing just that & I look forward to following their ministry. To keep up with them, be sure to like their Facebook page: Simon & Esther Music.

There’s no place like home!

“I mean no place child!”

That was the theme song for the 1985 hit series ‘227‘. Mama Dubes introduced us to this TV series and it became a family favourite for us all. We had it on tape and watched it over and over again with no complaints. It brings back such heartwarming memories of precious moments spent with family.

Speaking of family and home, I was fortunate to go home this past December. My other travel plans fell through and I made the journey back home. They say things happen for a reason and they sure do. My trip home led to a series of full circle moments that reminded me just why I needed to be there.

During my time at home we went to visit my grandmother at our homestead AKA kumusha in Lower Gwelo. It is the rural part of Gweru where my father was raised. My roots lie in that remote part of the world. Living in the diaspora can often be lonely and unnerving. It felt good to head back home and reconnect with loved ones.

There is something about going back to your roots that is grounding and puts everything into perspective. It reminds you that all will be well in this world. That you are loved and cherished in spite of what the world seems to throw at you. There is no place where I feel safer, more secure and solid in myself than when I am at home with my family. A place where we talk about any and everything; where we reminisce on days gone by; where we eat our fave home cooked meals; where we laugh and lean on each other. A place where we just bask in each others’ presence. It is like bathing in sunlight after a miserable European winter.

There really is no place on earth like it. I am so grateful to have this place that I can call home.

Hometown Glory

December in Zim (DIZ) is a big deal for Zimbabweans. With a huge number of us being dispersed around the globe, this is the one time you are sure to see a large batch of the diaspora population making their trek back home for the Christmas holiday. It is a movement. It is an experience unmatched. Don’t get it twisted, Zimbos know how to have a great time.

So, with DIZ around the corner, I decided to write part II of my H-town Glory post, this time focusing on the sights to be seen in Zim. One of my ultimate favourite places being, of course, Kariba.

Kariba is a very popular destination. The weather is warm year round – blazing in summer – and you get to escape from the madness of city life for a bit. The best way to truly enjoy Kariba is to be on a house boat. Boat cruises for an hour or two are cool too, but they are short lived and not as wonderful as a couple of days spent on the water.

House boats docked in Kariba

House boats docked in Kariba

Being on a house boat allows you to enjoy the company of friends & family in an intimate setting for a couple of days with none of the disturbances that come with phones, internet and unwanted visitors. When planning a trip like this, choose your company wisely. The last thing you want is to be stuck on a boat in the middle of nowhere with bad company and ideas of jumping into the water to make friends with the crocs & hippos.

Kariba 24

Once out on the water, the purr of the boat as it moves along makes for the perfect lullaby – afternoon naps don’t get much better than this.

Rock-a-by baby

Rock-a-by baby

Once docked at your destination for the evening, it’s all about the fishing before the sun sets. I love the feeling of being out on the water, admiring the sunset, sipping on a cold somethin’, enjoying the company of loved ones and the triumphant shouts that come when you finally catch a fish or two.

Going fishing at sunrise and  sunset is a popular activity to do when houseboating.

Going fishing at sunrise and sunset is a popular activity to do when houseboating.

Kariba 10

Catch

Catch

After fishing, it’s for heading back to base for supper comprising of your latest catch, cleaned and deliciously prepared by the chef on deck and his assistant.

Catch of the day getting cleaned

Catch of the day getting cleaned

The days spent on the house boat follow a similar pattern – a blissful blur of doing very little, eating and drinking way too much and laughing till it hurts as unforgettable memories are made.

Kariba 9

Kariba is just another reason why I am proud to be called Zimbabwean. A true national treasure.

Lake Kariba in all its glory

Lake Kariba in all its glory

Searching For My ID

“The more Western you are in Africa, the more successful you appear.”

Seun Kuti

Now aint that the truth! I alluded to this in my very first post and it still rings so true. My heart has been extremely sore thinking about all this lately. I see how as Africans, we have been made to doubt what it is we have to offer, constantly being made to feel secondary to Western ideals that we ourselves ingest way too quickly for our own good.

This has had me thinking about my own identity. What does it mean to be a half Shona-half Ndebele, black Zimbabwean raised in South Africa, Ghana and Zimbabwe; having been schooled in the aforementioned countries; and travelled to a number of countries across the African, European and North American continents? How do you define that? Should you define it?

I have had several conversations with a good South African friend of mine about this ‘identity crisis’ I find myself in. She then recommended that I read ‘Nervous Conditions‘ by Tsitsi Dangarembga – a book she had read as part of her school curriculum. A book that never formed part of my Zimbabwean school curriculum. Allow me a moment to digress and highlight the important role education has to play – needs to play – in order for one to gain a good understanding one’s culture and identity.

I went to what I believe was one of the best high schools in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has an incredible education system and we are ranked as the most literate nation in Africa. The problem with private schooling there, however, is our history lessons had nothing to do with our history.  We learnt, in intricate detail, about the Nazi regime, the French and American revolutions,the Cold War etc. Intriguing stuff. Stuff that gave me no insight into my ancestors.

I remember one day being on a road trip with my family passing through Chinhoyi and my parents asking if we had learnt about Zimbabwe’s history at school. None of my siblings had. My parents were not impressed. Looking back, I think it a great shame. This is just another factor that has affected our view of ourselves as Africans. Constantly seeking information from abroad and barely knowing or being concerned with what is going on at home.

Reading Nervous Conditions made me realise that mine was a struggle that others faced too. Being raised in a modern society as a black, Zimbabwean woman whose family acknowledges – to a large extent – cultural issues, I found myself stuck in a dichotomy. On the one end, I was gravitating towards all things to do with Western pop culture. On the other end, I did not want to betray my culture. Then begs the question: what is culture?

Does culture stay the same? Is it stagnant or dynamic? Does culture evolve into something new? Are we truly evolving or are we merely neglecting our cultural teachings and behaviours? The questions rang on and on in my head and continue to beg for answers.

This past weekend I found myself at a ladies meeting where I posed this question. From my interactions with these YAWM ladies it became apparent that I need not torture myself with this. The thing is, we are sum-totals of our experiences and so our tastes, desires, opinions and thoughts are shaped by this. Yes, it is important to school ourselves about our culture, know where we have come from and what it has entailed to get us here. But, we cannot berate ourselves for not being what we think we ought to be – for the friends we make, our tastes and overall outlook on life. We need to respect our past and how it has shaped us into who we are for there is a reason for all we are.

So at the end of the day, I am a sum-total of all I have seen, heard and experienced. As I seek to constantly learn more, I need to also embrace who I am for what I am. Therein lies my identity.

Gone Too Soon – Chiwoniso Maraire

I was recently reflecting on the death of Zimbabwean music icon, Chiwoniso Maraire, and my heart was heavy. When I heard of her death in July this year, I felt so heartbroken. Here was a woman who took the mbira – a traditional Zimbabwean string instrument, and fused it with popular music, telling her story with so much heart and a voice of silk.

When I think of Zimbabwean musicians and the sounds that remind me of home, Chiwoniso comes to mind. She was an incredible artist who stood her own in a field dominated by legendary male musicians such as Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi and Andy Brown (her former husband).

Her voice formed the title-track backdrop to the movie ‘Everyone’s Child’ which was written and directed by one of my faves, Tsitsi Dangarembga – a force to reckon with in her own right.

Zimbabwe has lost a true gem. It saddens me even more to know that we lost a woman who played an integral role in paving the way for female artists in Zimbabwe. There are not many who have managed to, so to lose one of the few is heartbreaking. I am grateful that I was exposed to her music and hope that her legacy will continue to live on in her music.

Gone way too soon at the age of 37, may her soul rest in peace. Chiwoniso, “fambai zvakanaka… tichazokuona.’

‘Mai’ – Chiwoniso Maraire

‘Wandirasa’ – Chiwoniso Maraire

Diary Of A Sad Black Zimbabwean

They say home is where the heart is. For a lot of us Zimbabweans, this is in the literal sense.

Though Zimbabwe holds our hearts, it is not always possible for us to be there. In a quest for a better life for ourselves and our families, Zimbabweans find themselves in the many different corners of the world. From to Geneva to Melbourne, Houston to Kuala Lumpur. All in search of a better life.

A lot of Zimbabwean natives have made the trek back home to rebuild a life for themselves and there is a lot of respect for those that are able to. We admire our brothers and sisters who have taken the leap of faith to do this and are thriving in their new mission. Those in the diaspora, however, are often caught between a rock and a hard place and there is sometimes a stigma associated with not being home. On the one hand, you are seen as being unpatriotic or cowardly for not sticking it out at home. On the other hand, you are seen as thinking of yourself as better than others by living in a first world country or any country with a more stable economy than Zimbabwe. I will say there are those who believe themselves better than other Zimbabweans because of the international labels they can afford to wear, their new-found accents and how some renounce their roots. This is where the stigma stems from and understandably so. But this is not the case for everyone.

Truth is, we are all trying to make things work. Zimbabweans are known for being resilient, hard working hustlers – always making a plan no matter the circumstances. I completely agree with this and have a lot of respect for my people and what they are doing for themselves in spite of the uncertainties of our home country.

It is never easy living in a foreign country. You are either pitied for not being able to live at home or resented for your ability to be in a foreign place and successfully make a life for yourself. You work hard at school to get a degree; work twice as hard as the average college graduate in order to get a job; and thrice as hard to keep a job given your foreign status. Nothing comes easy in your life. Not only are you trying to survive but most Zimbabweans in the diaspora support their families back home. So many families have been dispersed as a result – mother’s working several jobs in the US or UK to send their kids back home to school and take care of their parents, siblings, nieces and nephews; being separated from their husbands and children in order to make ends meet. I look at families here in South Africa where many families live in close proximity to one another and family gatherings are a weekly or monthly affair – I can’t help but be envious. It has become a privilege for me to see members of my family twice in a year so much so that it is unreal to me that families are able to see each other on a weekly basis.

In spite of all of this, we as Zimbabweans understand that we cannot live life dwelling on our misfortunes and brooding over how unfair life can be. We know we ought to be grateful that we are alive and get to see the world. We are grateful that our families can survive and that we can keep in constant touch with them thanks to WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook and all other technology. We are grateful for the incredible education system we were raised on that has made us the most literate nation in Africa. We are grateful that no matter the circumstances, we are able to make a plan and make things happen.

To our brothers and sisters back home, we salute and admire your tenacity and work ethic. We hope that one day we can all come together and build up our Zimbabwe to be the great nation that it is going to be. Understand that our hearts ache and long for home and (most of us) are really patriotic. We respect your hustle and just ask that you respect ours too.

As Blitz the Ambassador put it…