Jonah Moyo still going strong

Genre : Society news
Principal country concerned : Column : Music
Release/publication date : 2015
Published on : 22/06/2015
Source : 22 June 2015

spent the whole of last week listening to "Ndafunga Makare" from Jonah Moyo. The album which was released in South Africa where Moyo is now based, features all the songs which Devera Ngwena Jazz Band became famous for. It is indeed worth a listen.

Watching Jonah Moyo's video on YouTube, I noticed that Jonah has returned with fury, especially in the Limpopo area of South Africa where he is most popular.

Any doubts as to whether Jonah Moyo could still fill stadiums are erased almost immediately when you watch him storm the stage with a hungry rugged version of "Solo naMutsai". The vicissitudes that forced Jonah to leave Zimbabwe and settle in South Africa come as a blessing in disguise.

The video, "Ndafunga Makare" makes it clear that Jonah is not only trotting out a nostalgic display of memories and reveries, but rather reminds us that he is still a force to be reckoned with.

He sure remains an incalculable music force.

Resplendent in a deep black sequinned suit and a white fashion shirt, the classics come hard and fast from "Barbara", "Solo naMutsai", "Sabina" to "Mudiwa Mudiwa" and "Anoshaina Nemababe Ake".

Jonah Moyo, young brother to author, playwright and actor, Aaron Chiundura Moyo, is one of Zimbabwe's legendary musicians whose career stretches from the late 1970s till now.

He rose to stardom in the early 1980s with hits such as "Solo naMutsai" and "Barbara" which topped the Zimbabwean charts.

Together with Ephraim Joe, he is also considered as one of the founders of the sungura music genre.

While many musicians are driven by money or fame, Moyo was driven by the desire to win girls' hearts when he learned to play the banjo.

He knew he could impress a girl or two if he sang in front of her playing his banjo.

He only seriously considered doing music when he moved to Kwekwe at an early age in the late 1970's.

He started his music career by playing at train stations with one of his friends. Later, another friend introduced him to a band which used to play at Garandichauya Bottle Store in Mbizo Township.

It was after he moved to Mashava, where he worked as a mine clerk at Mashaba Asbestos Mine when he thought of forming a band. This, aided by the desire to entertain the mine dwellers, saw the birth of Devera Ngwena Jazz Band.

The group had its base at the mine near Masvingo.

He went to record his first single, "Devera Ngwena Zhimozhi" which went platinum in just a month after its release.

The group's music was a fusion of rhumba from Congo, benga from Kenya and mbaqanga from South Africa, blended with traditional mbira-influenced rhythms.

This created a unique sound which was different from other genres at that time.

At independence, the band became one of the best and the hit "Solo naMutsai" made waves and propelled the group to national stardom.

At their peak, the band had the likes of Oliver Mtukudzi and Leonard Dembo to curtain-raise for them.

The idea of playing for the Mashaba Mine community at month ends became a reality in 1979 when Jonah asked Patrick who had been playing drums for a group known as Mundoz (owned by Samson Mundondo, a Masvingo businessman) in Masvingo to join him. Patrick was also given a job at Mashaba Mine and serious rehearsals with two other guitarists began. For three evenings a week the band was engaged in song writing and practice sessions. After a successful evening during one of their month end performances which was attended by over 500 people from the mining compound and surrounding areas, Jonah had convinced his colleagues that forming a band was a worthwhile venture.

The mining authorities were also convinced that apart from the band providing recreation to the children of miners, the venture could be financially viable to the mine.

As a result, a contract was signed between the band and the mine whereby it was agreed that the mine would provide musical equipment for the band in return for some of the band's income until the equipment was fully paid for.

After this, there was no looking back. Jonah Moyo soon secured a recording deal with Teal Recording Company. In no time at all, they made the top 10 charts with hits like "Barbara" and "Solo naMutsai".

Between 1981 and 1989, Devera Ngwena recorded 13 albums and 57 singles, most of them selling over 100 000 copies each, thus becoming one of the best sellers the country had ever seen.

A touring British reggae group, UB40, spent several hours listening to their music and later asked the band to share the stage with them at Rufaro Stadium in Harare.

The popularity of Devera Ngwena soared as most people could not believe that unique sound was coming from a mining compound band in Zimbabwe.

The advantage the group had was the fact that most mining compounds in Zimbabwe used migrant labour usually from Malawi and Mozambique. Jonah Moyo quickly learned that to appeal to these people he had to sometimes use their rhythms and languages.

Songs such as "Lekani Kuula" sung in Chewa, a Malawian language, were written with this idea in mind.

The drummer in the group, Patrick Zhuwao (no relation to the former deputy minister), though his folks were originally from Mozambique, could speak the language.

As a result, he also assisted in the phrasing of some of the words.

In 1986 the band suffered a major split with Jonah and Patrick remaining the only founder members while the rest formed their own Zhimozhi band.

Jonah soon recruited his brother, Joshua and another member, Stanley, to replace those who had left the band.

With this new group hits such as "Chiredzi", "Masvingo Necarpet" were churned out.

A year later (1987) the new band which now included a brass section, toured the United kingdom where their new dance music was well appreciated by British audiences.

In the same year the band left the mining company which had by now lost interest in re-investing in new equipment.

In 1993 Jonah Moyo and the Devera Ngwena jazz Band released another album called "Usatambe" which went gold selling as many as 120 000 copies in South Africa.

When they toured the UK, critics hailed it as welcome relief from the static European music market.

Devera Ngwena left Harare for London on May 18, 1993, thanks to Iain MacIntosh who sponsored the tour.

Hardly stopping to breathe in the new air, the outfit were soon belting out their brand of Zimbabwean music at the Town and Country Club.

The walls reverberated to the fast beat of Devera Ngwena and the heavier sounds of Johnny Clegg (now MBE) and Savuka with whom they were sharing the stage.

All in all, Jonah Moyo and his Devera Ngwena Jazz Band performed some 45 shows in England, Scotland and Holland and found a lot of new converts on the way.

By the end of their tour, Devera Ngwena had stolen the hearts of the critics there.

They stole the limelight from Johnny Clegg at the Royal Theatre in Bristol. Devera Ngwena also appeared in joint concerts with the Real Sounds, again at the Town and Country Club. They performed with The Bhundu Boys and Hugh Masekela in Brixton and teamed up with Ladysmith Black Mambazo at Hammersmith.

Then they set Glastonbury Festival alight.

Finally, they appeared before a capacity 10 000 strong crowd in Holland where they happened to be the only musical group at an annual festival.

When asked what made Devera Ngwena tick, this is what the soft-spoken Jonah Moyo had to say:

"The audiences said the music was danceable, easy to follow and they quickly adapted to it. Some said we were way above the standards of some bands from Africa they had seen. And some critics unashamedly told us we were better than the Bhundu Boys, right in front of Biggie Tembo!"

Soon after, they had another sold-out tour in Swaziland.

The name of the band caused a few difficulties out in Europe. Somehow, reports filtered back home that they were trying to change their name to the literal meaning "Follow the Crocodile".

"Someone was being naughty," said Jonah. People were asking us what the name meant and we would explain that 'devera' means 'follow' and 'ngwena' is a crocodile".

The joke was good while it lasted, though. The name is actually drawn from a fish, according to Jonah, known for following crocodiles. Jonah also says it was a nickname some friends gave him after seeing the type of musicians he played with: his original co-members were drawn from groups like African Herb and Wells Fargo.

On return to Zimbabwe the group became very popular in the Limpopo area of South Africa. They performed several concerts there.

Jonah is currently based in Tohoyandou, South Africa, where he and some musicians frequently perform in night clubs where patrons who are treated to "Ndafunga Makare" find his music hard to resist.

Jonah's wife passed away in 2008. He has four grown-up children, Shepherd (also a musician), Crescencia, Jonah Junior and Jareth. ]




  • Arterial network
  • Media, Sports and Entertainment Group (MSE)
  • Gens de la Caraïbe
  • Groupe 30 Afrique
  • Alliance Française VANUATU
  • Zimbabwe : Culture Fund Of Zimbabwe Trust
  • RDC : Groupe TACCEMS
  • Rwanda : Positive Production
  • Togo : Kadam Kadam
  • Niger : ONG Culture Art Humanité
  • Collectif 2004 Images
  • Africultures Burkina-Faso
  • Bénincultures / Editions Plurielles
  • Africiné
  • Afrilivres

With the support of