Part I - The Formative Years
The dreadlocked guitarist Vidima has completed a masters degree in musicology, written a book about African guitar styles, had a hit album in Zimbabwe, runs an impressive international touring schedule, and, now, he releases a brand new album, his first for Universal. The young man from Zimbabwe works like the great Shaka Zulu: on the frontline, without cease, in wave after wave of accomplishment.
Vidima was born in Zimbabwe into a significant era in the world. It was June 1969, just a month before the moon landing, and just three years before the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe started to gain strong footing. His birth bridged two worlds: that of his Zulu mother from Willowfontein in Kwazulu Natal, and his Shona father from Gweru in the Zimbabwe midlands.
And little Vidima spent his early years between the two towns, absorbing on the one the maskandi and mbaqanga music of his mother’s Zulu heritage, and on the other the electric mbira tradition of his father’s Zimbabwe.
Vidima’s musical inclinations really began when his father started a hotel business in Gweru, incorporating the now legendary Midnight Club. “Everybody passed through here man," explains Vidima. “All the musicians in Zimbabwe played this place, if you ask any of them about the Midnight Club they’ll smile and remember. Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo, Louis Mhlanga, David Manda, George Phiri, as a teenager I saw everybody. These were my big influences."
His exposure to such a prestigious heritage of musicians was fundamental in forming his musical inclinations. Vidima bought a guitar, joined the local marimba youth band and began the process of teaching himself, while glued to the Midnight Club’s stage and learning whatever he could by taking in whoever passed through.
But it was only after high school, while working for an iron and steel company in Harare, that he decided a career as a professional musician was the future. “Paul Simon came to Harare on his Graceland tour. He had Ray Phiri and Bakhiti Khumalo playing and they blew me away. I knew then and there that I wanted to be a professional musician. I quit my job and started out playing bass for Andy Brown’s band."
guitar, bass guitar
Part II - Going Professional
In the late '80s and early `90s the hotel scene in Joburg was where all the music action was happening. Hillbrow in particular was a carnival of aspiring musicians and grand masters alike. In '92, after a year and half with Andy Brown, Vidima moved to Jozie to work the hotel scene. “We earned good money there man," he reminisces with a chuckle. “We would play the whole night and still be going at 10am on a Sunday morning. Everybody had gigs, everybody was on top form." It was the era of the emerging guitarists: Jimmy Dludlu’s was in ascendancy, Selaelo Selota was still a cleaner at Kippies, Mac McKenzie’s Genuines were big news. And Vidima was still playing bass, even though guitar was his first instrument. “I was playing the bass and learning about the guitar from the people I played with. It was a brilliant time, electric and exciting."
He went on to play with Simba Morri’s band, then featuring Selaelo. He started working with Joe Nina, and with Jako Ngoka of Loading Zone. Later, at Selaelo’s insistence, he enrolled in UCT’s jazz programme and went on to get a masters degree in musicology (his thesis looked at the emergence of the mbira style of guitar playing in Zimbabwe in the `60s and `70s).
In the late '90s, his international tours began. With Selaelo he went to Nantes in France, a year later he was with Sylvia Mdunyelwa in Bogo, Columbia. With Lungiswa Plaatjies he played the African Unification Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has performed in Zim and Tanzania with Andy Brown. Since 2002 he has been playing the US summer time tours with a project called The Lost, featuring musicians from Africa, America and Israel. In between, he replaced Lukas Khumalo’s in Jimmy Dludlu’s band for a short period.
And somewhere in between, Vidima formed a relationship with the independent Cape Town producer Mama Dance! Sound Studios that culminated in the release of his first album. His prolific composing has resulted in a three year songwriters deal with Universal Publishing. And his relationship with Mama Dance! has blossomed over the last five years into a multi-record deal and the release of Sagiya through Universal Records South Africa.
Part III - Sagiya
“You gotta record with Paris man," Vidima insists. “He’s got the best ears in the business." It sounds that way. Over the last year Vidima recorded the tracks for Sagiya at Paris, studio in Fish Hoek, close enough to the city to make getting there easy, far enough away to be relaxing and
Bridging worlds and bringing the global into local perspective: this is what has so far defined Vidima’s career. And all of this experience finds its outlet on Sagiya.
The result is an album that sounds magnificent. Sibilant and big, clear and compelling. “It’s not easy to get guitar sounds really good. Especially that electric mbira sound on the guitar, the way we do it in Zim." Vidima is, understandably, jubilant.
Sagiya, which is Zulu for `to dance' is a ten track afro-jazz spectacle in the tradition of Jimmy Dludlu that bridges the many worlds Vidima has been a part of. There are traces of bossa nova on Aphiri (composed by Vidima and a Zambian friend of Vidima’s father), mbaqanga on the title track Sagiya (remember Mahlatini’s hit song of the same name?), gospel on Umwe Uye Uye and scorching jazz guitar on Miss Mavuso.
And always a diversity of cultures shaking hands: Steven Lekas, Cape Town goema piano meets Vidima’s Zim styled guitar; Tony Paco’s Mozambican swing on drums and percussion dances with Peter Ndlala’s Atlantic ocean bass; Buddy Well’s snake charming saxophone is seduced by the growling vocal majesty of Zukiswa Nomtshongwana (Old Mutual Jazz Encounter Afro-Jazz vocal winner in 2001) and the whispering tenderness of Vidima’s own voice. And no matter how you like to sway your hips, Sagiya is always infinitely danceable.
It seems certain that the stars of the artists Vidima has worked with and learned from, have fallen upon him. And now Vidima is in ascendancy.
Mama Dance Records