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Zim Music : The evolution

In the 50s Zimbabwean music began to adopt western instruments in their composition. This saw different types of music progressing into more synthesized and tuned sounds that were leaning more to the western sound.

Hwabaratty and Sandra Ndebele Pictures by CNC
Hwabaratty and Sandra Ndebele Pictures by CNC

Music in Zimbabwe has always had a vague history from its origin. This week I try to chronologically trace it down from its early forms of folklore songs, to its evolved modern day sound, in both the Ndebele and Shona society; as they are the most dominant cultural entities in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean music incorporates a plethora of music genres from the aesthetic proverbial traditional music to Jiti, Mbaqanga, Mseve, Sungura, Chimurenga, Afro-Jazz, Hip-Hop, Kwaito, Zim Dancehall and urban grooves to mention a few of the more prominent ones. It is in these genres that the I capture how music in Zimbabwe took a shift, acclimatizing to the demands of the world standards whilst maintaining the national ethos.

Classical era

From pre-colonial (classical) era music has always been part and parcel of African existence. The Zimbabwean forefathers like most African groups of people, used it as a manner of motivation to celebrate, mourn, ridicule, archive events, educate etc.

Music has always been intertwined with the existence of the African man. It is a widely known thought that rhythm is associated with the African story. To mention Africa without mentioning song is an unforgivable flaw. Folklore songs were predominant during this period as they told the history and culture of the people (traces of this can even be witnessed in songs of today).

30s 40s and 50s

From the end of the pre-colonial era up until the 1930s, there is a blank slate on the progression of music. It is from after 1930s that the evolution of Zimbabwean music is noted with the coming up of musicians such as Robert Muzengeri of the songs “Vaigara kumakomo” and “Nhamo yaive nava”.Music in Zimbabwe began its journey into the 40s and 50’s with the emergence of the likes of George Sibanda, Safirio Madzikatire, Dorothy Masuku, and August Musarurwa (of the “Skokiana” fame).

In the 50s Zimbabwean music began to adopt western instruments in their composition. This saw different types of music progressing into more synthesized and tuned sounds that were leaning more to the western sound.


It was not long after the adoption of western instruments that the western type of music infiltrated Zimbabwean music in the 60s. The birth of pop music mainly influenced by Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles saw great success in Zimbabwe during that period. The 60s in Zimbabwe also saw the birth of Rhumba music, a sound greatly popular in the central parts of Africa. Artists like Mura Nyakura found great prominence in the genre and in the Zimbabwean masses grew warm towards the sound to an extent of many artists resorting to singing it.


The 70s is greatly attributed to be the decade of the rise of the artist. Zimbabwean music took a more commercial approach. Most artists in the industry saw singing as a means of survival. The likes of Lovemore Majaivana, Fanyana Dube also came into the limelight at this time.

This music of the time was highly influenced by the western fashion and lifestyle. Most artists were more interested in imitations of international singing icons rather than composing their own songs.

80s and 90s

Chimurenga music in the 80s sent Thomas Mapfumo to stardom the new kid on the block was different because of his use of traditional instruments such as the hosho and mbira. The music was mainly influenced by the liberation struggle and as a way of making the African conscious of his roots.

The 80s witnessed the birth of a new and unique genre to Zimbabwean music called sungura music which was mainly influenced by Rhumba music. This genre pioneered by Ephraim Joe and the Sungura boys derived its name from the latter. The genre brought with it new kids in the block, like John Chibadura and Simon Chimbetu.

Sungura took center stage into the 90s with the likes of System Tazvida, the Khiama boys, Nicholas Zakaria etc. The 80s brought with them Oliver Mutukudzi a vibrant and artistic musician whose use of folklore and proverb as a style of music brings him favor with the Zimbabwean audience. His success in the Zimbabwean market still bears fruit today. Ndolwane super sounds also had its fair share of success in the 90s in the south western parts of Zimbabwe with their own type of music with a mbaqanga flavor to it. Other prominent artists of the time are James Chimombe (80s) and Leornard Dembo (90s)


(This is considered the dark decade as fewer artists from the pre 2000 era produced any material because the support for local music was at its lowest)

Although playing major roles in the pioneer of Sungura music in the 80s and 90s, Alick Macheso took prominence in the 2000s as the “king” of sungura music together with his competition Tongai Moyo.

The major highlight at the beginning of this decade however, was the introduction of the urban grooves, a genre created to suit the high demand of Zimbabwean music on the national radio stations. This genre although it highly resembled R’n’ B, had an afrocentric sound to it Delani Makalima is believed to have been the brains behind this type of music.

It saw the rise of young crops such as Plaxedes Wenyika, Maskiri, Extra Large, Sandra Ndebele, Skhu, PO Zee, etc. Due to the political strings associated with the genre, it quickly thwarted and never reached the anticipated heights, with people paying less attention to it. In the late parts of the 2000-2010 decade, sungura music was literally “reincarnated”.  This is because children of the yesteryear superstars took over the genre. The likes of Sulumani, Tryson Chimbetu and Peter Moyo came up after the death of their fathers, hence further perpetuating sungura music into the next generation.

In 2004 Sniper Storm recorded what is considered the first Zim dancehall album. The likes of Winky D followed suit. This genre has taken over the youth market by dominating the Zimbabwean airwaves. It has created a movement that is patriotic in nature and does not conform to any standards set for it. A plethora of artists have cropped up and it continues to grow in popularity country wide.

House and Kwaito music in Matebeleland has become prevalent after groups such as Three Kings of the seqamabhilidi fame, and Djembe monks became relevant to the House and Kwaito music lovers.

The likes of Stunner, Tehn Diamond, Calvin, Guluva Se7en and The Boy Asaph, have immensely contributed to the Hip Hop genre in Zimbabwe as it cannot be left unnoticed

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