James Chimombe Musician Par Excellence
THE late James Chimombe was undoubtedly one of the best musicians to
grace the Zimbabwean music scene yet it is difficult to classify his
music as it cut across many genres.
While it is common in the local music industry that every artiste is
identified with a certain type of music, Chimombe was to an extent an
enigma. Through blending rhumba, mbaqanga, Western Blues, jiti and
sungura, the great musician left an indelible mark on the mainstream
He had a massive fan base that many could never have imagined and it
was often suggested that he did not belong to his generation as he
proved to be far ahead of his contemporaries musically. It would be
erroneous to contest such an assertion when evidence abounds that
Chimombe's music has stood the test of time, attracting even youths
who only got to know about him after his death.
Timeless classics like
Jemedza, Kudakwashe, Zvaitika and Cecilia can match the very latest releases coming more than 10 years down the
line. But it was Chimombe's ability to embrace and use many genres
that put him above the rest. To many a musician and their fans, it is
next to taboo to alternate between genres, as this is tantamount to
lack of identity.
There are indeed examples of musicians whose attempts to reach for
varying genres eclipsed their careers and it remains a mystery how
Chimombe managed to oppose the tide and succeed.
Chimombe was often dubbed a "jiti musician" but a closer look at his music shows that he
went further than that fast-paced genre. The song Kudakwashe would
keep you glued to your chair and certainly takes you down memory lane.
One is left to wonder whether the beat is jazz or jiti. Such
uniqueness showed Chimombe's prowess and it was befitting that some
critics described him as a man whose "distinct and varied musical
style made him one of Zimbabwe's creative musicians of all time."
That there has not been a musician able to take over his type of
music speaks volumes about the musician's creativity. He was inimitable in every sense of the word. It is, therefore, not
surprising that Chimombe's fan base is still growing today and most
of his fans that had the privilege of watching him perform live still
moan his departure to the second world. Sadder still, there has not
been an artiste of Chimombe's stature since his death on October 24
1990. He started out in the 1970s but only got the recognition he
deserved in the mid-1980s after he released his debut album titled
However, in 1979, serious music followers had already acknowledged
his music prowess when he won a gold disc for the Ocean City Band's
hit single, Bindura. His backing group - the Huchi Band - became one
of the most sought-after outfits in an industry that also boasted of
great names like Biggie Tembo, Leonard Dembo, Marshall
Munhumumwe, Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo. His other spectacular hits
include Munakandafa, Gwenga Ratsva, Mwana Mudiki, Makuva Enzara, Siya
Waoneka and Chamupupuri. That was Chimombe, a musician par excellence.