Jabavu Drive: Driving jazz on a bumpy road

Godwin Muzari Arts and Lifestyle Editor
A few years ago, jazz festivals that were held in the capital brought exciting dimensions to a genre that is largely regarded as a preserve for the mature.

The festivals brought together musicians and fans of different generations.

That time, emerging voices of a younger generation included Victor Kunonga, Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana and Patience Musa, among others.

The older generation had granddads of the genre that included Cool Crooners, Mbare Trio and Jabavu Drive.

Although the musicians held other shows and corporate events elsewhere, the festivals really brought them to fore and music fans loved vibes at the fetes.

The demise of the festivals cast a bad omen on the jazz fraternity.

Many groups retreated to private functions and reduced public appearances.

However, there is one group of granddads of jazz that has stood its ground in live shows. It is Jabavu Drive.

Under the leadership of renowned saxophonist Philip Svosve (69), the group has remained one of the most active jazz ensembles in the country.

For the past three years, they have had a Friday slot at Bar Rouge at Longcheng Plaza. Tomorrow they will be at the venue again, continuing with their journey on the bumpy jazz road that has forced other granddads of the genre to retirement.

Besides the permanent Bar Rouge slot, Jabavu Drive has staged shows at different exquisite venues around the capital.

Most venue owners that target mature patrons have worked with the group. Jabavu Drive’s consistency has endeared them with event organisers.

Sadly, death stole most members of the older generation. Only Svosve and bassist Nicholas Mugona (65) belong to the yesteryear crop of Jabavu Drive.

Vocalist Dumisani Dzapasi (42) and trumpeter Aaron Yafele (39) bridge the gap between the two elders and youthful instrumentalists that now make up Jabavu Drive.

The young members are Kudakwashe Arineshto (lead guitar), Moses Mwale (keyboard), vocalist Rudo Musiwacho and drummer Kudzi Makaya.

Makaya is a “child of Jabavu”, having worked with his father — the late jazz legend Timmy Makaya — in the same group since he was a teenager.

Timmy Makaya was a founding member of Jabavu Drive together with Svosve, Charles Mangena, Jonas Sarutawa and Kenny Neshamba.

They named their group Jabavu Drive after a street in Highfield. When they formed the band in 1997, they started doing rehearsals at Cyril Jennings Hall along Jabavu Drive. The name of the street became the name of the band.

Svosve says professionalism, transparency and determination are the major driving forces behind Jabavu Drive’s consistency.

“We have ensured that we build good relations as a band. We understand each other well despite the age differences among members. As a leader, I have created an environment that makes everyone feel obliged to work for the success of the band,” said Svosve.

“I have encouraged the guys to be determined to work for their families and exhibited how they can make a living from music. Things might not be working according to our expectations, but we try to do the best from what we have.

“Such an environment in the band has taught members to be determined and professional. Because we deal with many corporates, professionalism is a priority. We have to rehearse well to avoid glitches during the show and we try our best to be punctual. That is why organisers have faith in us.”

Svosve said his four-decade experience in the music industry has taught him that transparency with band earnings is a pillar that strengthens groups.

“Most groups have disbanded because of misunderstandings over remuneration. In most cases, band leaders and their managers become greedy at the expense of other members. That is the common reason why bands split.

“At Jabavu Drive we value transparency. Every time we have a contract, I sit down with some members and we openly discuss the terms including performance fees. When we go for a show we all know what we are going to earn and everyone will be inspired to work because I try to make everything clear to the members.”

Svosve said they will continue doing public shows to complement corporate functions that they regularly attend.

“We work as a team. At any given time, we have a female vocalist in the band and we try to make her feel comfortable by the way we work. Ours is a family and we want to groom youngsters that will keep Jabavu Drive alive when the elders are  gone.”

Among prominent female vocalists that have worked with Jabavu Drive are Selmor Mtukudzi and Pamela Zulu.

Pamela became popular as Gonyeti when she joined Jah Prayzah’s Third Generation band.

Jah Prayzah spotted Gonyeti when she was with Jabavu Drive and enticed her to join his band.

Svosve said he takes pride in grooming youngsters for good future careers even outside Jabavu Drive.

“We worked with Pamela before she went to join Jah Prayzah. We also worked with Selmor for about a year before she embarked on other projects. We travelled with her to Namibia between 2005 and 2006 and that experience obviously enhanced her music profile.

“That is what we encourage at Jabavu Drive. We want musicians to gain experience in preparation for bigger future roles in the music industry. We will be happy if our youngsters in the band can take Jabavu Drive to a higher level in the future.”

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