Jonah Sithole
Jonah Sithole
BornJonah Sithole
Masvingo
NationalityZimbabwe
Occupation
  • Musician
  • Guitarist
Known forBeing a guitarist
RelativesFanyana Dube

Jonah Sithole was a Zimbabwean guitarist, composer, singer and producer. He was instrumental in formulating the Mbira style staccato guitar playing in Chimurenga music.

Background

Sithole was born in Masvingo on January 1, 1952[1] and grew up in the mining town of Zvishavane. He first picked up the guitar as a 12-year-old. When his brother, who was a miner at Zvishavane Mine, was at work, Sithole would pick up his brother’s guitar and imitate the sounds that his brother practised around the house. He eventually moved to Bulawayo.[2] Fanyana Dube was Sithole’s half brother.[3]

Education

When he moved to Bulawayo he attended Mpopoma High School until he was expelled in 1969, when he was a Form Two student.[4]

Career

By the time he was expelled he was a decent guitar and bass player, so he followed his brother to Kwekwe and convinced him to admit him to his band, the Jairosi Jiri Kwela Kings, as a bass player.

A few months later, in 1970, the band got a bar contract in Mbare and became known as the Delphans. Jonah became the band’s rhythm guitarist. When the Delphans got a contract to play in Gweru, Sithole decided to remain in Harare with the purpose of starting his own band. In 1971, just three months as a band leader, he was approached by Jackson Phiri, leader of the Limpopo Jazz Band, a rhumba outfit, to be their guitarist.

The Limpopo Jazz Band was anxious to break into the increasingly competitive bar music scene by having band members who could sing in the local languages. While with the Limpopo Jazz Band, Jonah learned to play Congolese rhumba guitar styles. While playing with the Limpopo Jazz Band he began developing the more traditional mbira inspired guitar sound for the Shona songs. In 1974, the Limpopo Jazz Band recorded the song Ndozvireva, which was an adaptation of the mbira song Taisireva. Together with the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band’s Ngoma Yarira based on the traditional Karigamombe and the M.D. Success’s Kumatongo based on the mbira song Kuzanga, the song was one of the first to transcribe mbira progressions onto guitar.

This is how Sithole got the idea of imitating sounds from mbira onto the guitar. Soon after that, the foreign members of the Limpopo Jazz Band were deported, and Sithole found himself playing with a number of hotel bands with no names. He played a short stint with the Great Sounds which also specialised in Congolese rumba, before moving to Mutare in 1974 to play with the Pepsi Combo. They played at the Zimunya Hotel, just outside Mutare for about a year before the band moved to Harare determined to land a performing contract. He approached the owner of the Jamaica Inn, located just outside Harare, but a vocalist without a band, Thomas Mapfumo, recently fired from the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, had talked his way into a contract and use of the hotel musical kit. Since Sithole had a band but no contract or equipment, the two decided to join forces. They performed together at the Jamaica Inn for about two months until they were approached by a Harare businessman, Solomon Tawengwa, to perform at the Mushandirapamwe Nightclub in Highfield, Harare.

At this time, Sithole and Mapfumo were playing an “Afro-rock” rather than the mbira-based style for which they were to become famous. After about three months, Sithole was forced out of the group, but a few months later he used his influence with a new nightclub owner to rejoin Mapfumo and form the Blacks Unlimited in 1975. Later that year, after disputes about money, Sithole parted ways with the Blacks Unlimited. According to Jonah, Mapfumo had become greedy. In another interview Sithole said Mapfumo used to love to sing European songs, like Rock and Roll music. [5]

He left with other band members and they formed The Storm. Mapfumo meanwhile, formed his own band, The Acid Band, which did not last because The Storm was given a contract to play at another Highfield night club and some of Mapfumo’s members left him. The Acid Band then split up and Mapfumo was left with no option but to beg Sithole to return to and form the Blacks Unlimited. It was the very same musicians in Sithole’s Storm that became the backbone of Mapfumo’s music as known today.

In 1984, Jonah went back to Mutare with his new band, The Deep Horizon, who in their own right had churned out hits such as Baba vaBigi and Sabhuku. It was also in 1984, that Mapfumo was invited for his debut overseas tour. Jambo, the white South African promoter based in London, insisted on the original Chimurenga sound as part of the deal, but Mapfumo could not reproduce this without Sithole who had left the Blacks Unlimited and was enjoying massive nationwide popularity with his hit single, Sabhuku.

Mapfumo approached Sithole and asked him to split half his group. Mapfumo also did the same so that they could form a much stronger group to do the overseas tour. Sithole agreed after insisting on being paid in advance since they had previously parted company due to money problems. He was paid in advance. Sithole stayed with the Blacks Unlimited until 1989, and this period saw him evolving his mbira-guitar sound. This was in part necessitated by the use, for the first time, of real mbiras by the Blacks Unlimited.

Some of the highlights of this period include the classic albums Zimbabwe-Mozambique (1987) and Varombo Kuvarombo in 1989, also known as Corruption.

In 1989, Sithole left the Blacks Unlimited again and played as a session musician, notably with the Pied Pipers as well as with Dorothy Masuka, who had recently returned to Zimbabwe. In 1992, Sithole formed a new band and called it, once again, the Deep Horizon. Sabhuku, a compilation album highlighting the signature tracks from their 1992 and 1993 releases was released internationally in 1996.

In 1995, Sithole rejoined the Blacks Unlimited and performed on three albums; the Afro-rock venture Afro Chimurenga, Roots Chimurenga and the live-in-studio album Chimurenga: African Spirit Music which was recorded during a tour of the United Kingdom.[6]

Discography

Singles

  • Sabhuku

Albums

  • Sabhuku

Death

Soon after the tour of the United Kingdom, Sithole’s health started rapidly failing. He appeared on only one song, Tipeiwo Mari, on the 1997 album Chimurenga Movement. He died in August 1997.[7]

References