EXCLUSIVE (Zimbabwe Investor) – Zimbabwe Investor caught up and sat down with Australian based Zimbabwean musician John Hope, also known as Captain Anah Kondah, on his recent visit to London. He took us through his early childhood in Shurugwi, his musical influences and his new album entitled Aussiefication.
THE EARLY YEARS
Zimbabwe Investor (ZI): Who is Captain Anah-Kondah?
John Hope (JH): Captain Anah Kondah is a Zimbabwean who, from a tender age was influenced musically by his uncle Livingstone Munyenyiwa who was into Elton John, Thin Lizzy Led Zeppelin, Eagles, and Elton John.
ZI: Elton John, Thin Lizzy Led Zeppelin, Eagles, and Elton John? Seems you had some colourful uncle. What were those early years like?
Colourful, my uncle Sekuru Livy was, and he remains so to this day. I was born at Zvamavande clinic in Shurugwi (then known as Selukwe) at a time when my father was a teacher in charge at a rural school in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia. Of course I learnt in my older years that he would have been headmaster had he been white, but that’s a whole story for another interview I guess. Compared to many other kids in my age group, I was quite privileged. We owned a Tempest radio where we would listen to all kinds of music from across Africa, America and Britain. When I was about 6 years old we moved to Shurugwi town, a large city for me then, where my father had taken up another teaching post. It is here we lived with my charismatic uncle Livingstone. He was very much into music and a keen drummer. I remember him asking us to lift empty bottle crates above our heads so he could practice his drumming routine. It would make him extremely angry when the crate lowered or rose as this would distort the sound he was trying to make. There are lessons from that which I apply to my work in music today.
ZI: Zimbabwe got its independence from Britain in 1980. Where did that find you and what course did your life take?
JH: My family moved to Masvingo, a much bigger town than Shurugwi, soon after independence in 1980. Our independence; Zimbabwe’s independence where Bob Marley was invited to play although I read somewhere that our President Robert Mugabe would have preferred Cliff Richard. At that point, I joined my older brother at a Catholic boarding primary school called Gokomere. Despite the many interesting tales my brother would tell before I went there, I soon developed an immense hatred for the place. Three months away from home and going to church four times a week. I loathed the idea but I loved the church music which led me to joining the choir as one of the percussionists. Following Bob Marley’s visit and his song Zimbabwe, reggae music became everything to me. I bought my first album Confrontation by Bob Marley and at the same time my brother bought Negrea Love Dub while our friend from next door Victor Mabhena bought the single Education by Burning Spear. From then, I knew that I wanted to be in the music industry. Even in secondary school at St Ignatius, another Catholic school, I continued my love for music composing a song which became so popular at our sister school St Dominic’s Girls School they sang it at their netball matches. I did other compositions during the days of “toasting” to reggae dub instrumentals. I remember one I did with my late friend Washington Mulemba on King Tubby’s Hometown Hi-Fi which once send the girls at St Dominics into a frenzy at a school function.
DIASPORA AND BEYOND
ZI: How did you find yourself in the Diaspora?
Well, I failed my A Levels at a school like St Ignatius where “no one” ever did, so I “ran away” to England. Musically I found INXS and Seal topping the charts. Then I discovered blues. To be precise I discovered Eric Clapton, BB King and Buddy Guy. I had listened to Robert Cray as a boy but now he had people challenging him to the throne. When I first watched Hey Joe, my life changed and all I do to this day is practice to play the baddest lead guitar anyone could ever play. I fell in love with Elton John, U2,Queen and The Rolling Stones. It is also only when I was in England that I actually started listening to Zimbabwean music falling in love with Simon Chimbetu’s music and later Pengaudzoke. Once I sort of mastered the blues lead I wanted to learn more and so I started listening closely to Jonathan Butler, Earl Klugh and George Benson. My Diaspora journey took me to Australia in 2005 after 15 years in the United Kingdom.
ZI: Let’s talk about you new project. Please talk us through your album Aussiefication
JH: The style of music on the album Aussiefication is a mix of all the rich experiences through the years from those early days in Shurugwi town. In terms of content it is an album that questions one’s identity. One can feel completely integrated and assimilated in another culture, but does that define them? I feel very Zimbabwean even though I respect and value the ideals of my new found home. In jest, I question a lot of things that people dare not question, so I suppose this is the dawning, the Aussiefication, if you like.
ZI: So what does the album title Aussiefication mean then?
JH: This is basically about me, an African being indoctrinated by Western values.
ZI: Who else is involved on this album?
JH: A New Zealander called Stewart Havill
ZI: Who should the music on this album appeal to?
JH: Anyone with a sense of humour, anyone who is interested in new ideas or new approaches to contemporary music.
ZI: Is this your first project in music?
JH: No. I have recorded in the UK and in Zimbabwe and my music has been played on Zimbabwe radio stations. One of my songs was used as the soundtrack for a programme in Zimbabwe entitled Women for the Struggle. At the time I was working with jazz artist ODZA.
ZI: How many tracks are on the album?
JH: The album has 19 tracks including the Album title Aussiefication
ZI: You have opened for Oliver Mtukudzi on his Australian tours. How have you found that experience?
JH: It was exciting but at the time I just thought it was a fun thing but I enjoyed the acoustics of my guitar which was obviously set up for Oliver Mutukudzi. I found my guitar sounding so beautiful and so sweet.
ZI: Have you had an opportunity to work with any upcoming or other established artists from Zimbabwe or otherwise?
JH: I have also opened for the Lucky Dube Band and this I tell you was an unbelievable experience. I recently opened for Stunner and Ex-Q. Ex-Q was actually surprised that I could play the guitar with “my teeth” and we had great fun that night.
ZI: What is your take on the new age music currently dominating the Zimbabwean music scene led by the likes of Winky D, Stunner, Jah Prayzah and Nox?
JH: I love it but I want to collaborate with Stunner, Nox and Ex-Q.
ZI: We have seen West African music cracking and entering the mainstream Western markets and airwaves especially the United Kingdom with the songs like Azonto. What do you think could be the missing ingredient for Zimbabwean music to do the same?
JH: They simply need to add different flavours to their music. Zimbabwean music is dominated by certain chord patterns which people seem unable to break out of.
ZI: Looking back on your album Aussiefication, one track that immediately catches the ear is Simiti which quotes the former Rhodesian Prime Minister the late Ian Smith’s famous “Not in a thousand years”. What is this song about?
JH: There are two sides to the story in that song. One is of reflecting on what has transpired after independence in 1980. We are now free but have we made life better for Zimbabweans? The major question is whether we have majority rule or not. Was Ian Smith right that we would never ever have majority rule or was he talking rubbish? The second way of listening to the song is to say, “never say never”. Ian Smith said we would never rule ourselves but he was so wrong. Some people are ruling out certain things in their lives but in this song I am saying DON’T!!! Some people will say for example, MDC will never rule Zimbabwe, but I’m saying “you never know” That’s the essence of the song Simiti.
ZI: How can people get hold of your music?
JH: The album Aussiefication can be bought on iTunes either as an album or you can select any number of singles you wish to purchase at a time for as little as 99cents (Australian).