Renowned producer Bothwell Nyamhondera turned 57 on Wednesday and spent the happy day in studio in Ashdown Park doing what he knows best
Unfortunately, as Nyamhondera celebrates another year of life, the music industry is mourning the fall of a recording giant Gramma Records, a company where the talented producer made a name for his golden touch that made timeless hits.
Nyamhondera worked with the cream of local musicians at Gramma Records since the early 1980s. He left the company in 2004 and is currently working with Diamond Studios.
In a birthday chat with Memory Lane at Diamond Studios on Wednesday, Nyamhondera shared memories of his career, narrating how he started as a musician and got a contract as a session drummer at Shed Studios. He was offered a job as an engineer at Gramma (then Teal Record Company) in 1980 and later became producer.
He worked with hundreds of musicians at the company and, during the chat, he picked his top 10 artistes from the long list of talented singers.
(The list does not include some of the best names in the land like Oliver Mtukudzi, Thomas Mapfumo, Bhundu Boys, James Chimombe and John Chibadura among others that Nyamhondera did not work with.)
Below are Nyamhondera’s top 10 musicians — in alphabetical order — and what he said about them:
It was difficult for him to record his first album. He brought his demo tape about five times to the studio and was turned away at all visits.
I liked his music but A&R managers said it was bad stuff. One day I was having a meal at a restaurant near our workplace and a lady at the eatery asked me why we were refusing to record Charamba’s music. She said they attended the same church and his music was so popular with congregants.
At Charamba’s next visit to the studio, I booked him for recording without consulting A&R managers. I was seriously cautioned, but his debut album’s success vindicated me.
Charamba is very strict with his band members. Sometimes I feel he is too hard on them, but he wants his things to be done strictly according to his instructions.
He had a serious problem with time-keeping. He was always late for bookings and sometimes would not turn up.
One evening when we were supposed to record vocals for his album “Lullaby” he kept me waiting in the studio for hours.
He was supposed to come at 6pm and I waited for about an hour before calling him. His phone was not reachable. When the call finally went through around 830pm, he told me he was in Lion’s Den and we cancelled the booking. I was disappointed.
However, his strength was that when he got into the studio he did not waste time. He knew what he wanted and his songs were always well-rehearsed. Everything flowed naturally and we had smooth recordings.
He was a shy guy and highly secretive. He did not like being exposed to outsiders when he came to the studio.
Dembo was also short-tempered and would shout at any instrumentalist who went off key. I had to intervene many times to calm down the situation. He demanded to have his things done in a unique way and the instrumentalists always put extra effort to convince him.
I had a tough time when we recorded “Chitekete” because I was also doing Tanga Wekwa Sando’s “Mahobho” in the same days and Dembo insisted on super perfection.
He never did music when he did not feel it in his spirit. Sometimes he would come to the studio and just decide at the last minute not to record. He wanted to feel that passion first and when he got behind the microphone he seemed like a possessed man and everything would fall into place.
Devera Ngwena Jazz Band
I started working with them when they had already done “Deverangwena” Volumes 1 to 8, but I understand they also had a tough time to get first their recording because producer AK Mapfumo did not like their music.
When “Deverangwena Zhimozhi” became a hit, they became big sellers. Robson Banda was still with the band and it was a group of massive talent.
Jonah Moyo is very humble and he respects people he works with. The whole band was disciplined and they would actually arrive at the studio ahead of the producer. I was fascinated to work with them.
I knew the lead singer, Marshal Munhumumwe personally before I became a producer. I would attend their shows at Machipisa Nightclub in Highfield every time they performed and he became a friend.
He was surprised when we met at the studio in my early days at work. It was easy to work with the group.
However, Marshal was another shy character. He did not say much when we were together. Even when he was in the studio he could not look at the producer directly. When doing vocals, he went into a dark corner and sometimes would request that we switch off the light in his part of the booth.
He did lead and supporting voice on his own and it was amazing. The group worked well together and would discuss and agree on how to share their royalties.
I saw his potential when he was still working with Nicholas Zakaria at Khiama Boys. Zakaria is also a good musician, but at times I felt he was suppressing the talent in Macheso. Zakaria had his certain way of doing things and I could see that Macheso was being limited.
When he approached me after Zakaria briefly left music, I had to convince by bosses to lend him money to buy equipment for rehearsals.
Just before getting into studio, other band members boycotted demanding to be paid first. It was a harder struggle to get another loan for them. The bosses were saying ‘your artiste will give us problems’.
Macheso’s creativity exploded and his first album was a success while subsequent releases were best sellers.
However, he is another musician who is not good at keeping time. He comes late to the studio. Sometimes when he takes a break it is not easy to bring him back.
Mukadota was always hilarious. When he came, it was a time of cracking ribs throughout recordings. Even his band members enjoyed the sessions, but they had discipline. He enforced discipline by fining band members that came late to the studio.
About an hour before time, they would all be outside the studio fine-tuning their voices and guitars. I was far much younger than him and was amazed by his willingness to take advice. With the experience that he had, I was initially hesitant to give him instructions.
I later realised he was open to criticism and took a professional approach to his work. Many artistes lack such professionalism. He was a humorous character who knew when to be serious.
His early days in the music industry were pathetic. He is one of the musicians that were turned away from studio several times. I remember seeing him coming with his guitar and combo trying to convince producers.
I was still an engineer and would feel sorry for him when he walked away dejected. When I became a producer I invited him to the studio and he was very surprised. At first he did not have confidence because he did not believe he was recording.
We did a single and the record company was surprised by its success. The single boosted Manyeruke’s confidence and he brought female backing vocalists and The Puritans group was born. He is a humble man and easy to work with.
He was another hilarious musician like Mukadota. His jokes came naturally and every time he went for a retake when recording, he would bring in new lines. His studio slot was enjoyable.
He described things in an amazing way for a visually-impaired person. He was more of a music director and had an intelligent way of making his band members correct their mistakes.
Matavire also had a unique way of composing his songs. He would come up with exciting songs from simple events.
All his band members interacted well and most of them ended up copying his comical way. It was one of the most exciting groups to work with.
The first time he came to the studio, Dhewa had a problem with strumming his guitar. His wrist was stiff and he had difficulties in keeping pace with other instrumentalists. His guitar would be too slow or too fast.
He had to work on making his wrist flexible and thereafter he was a star. The problem is that he began trying to sound like Dembo. I discouraged him from the habit and he changed the sound on “Samanyemba” and came up with his own exciting beat.
Dhewa was also professional. If he had a problem on his way to the studio, he would communicate on time. He made his programme on time and would fulfil most of his assignments as planned.
He had a way of controlling his band members without putting much pressure on them and they all respected him.