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Senzeni Na?: 20 years on


The year 2014 marks 20 years of the release of the hit song Senzeni Na?

Albert NyathiPrudence-Katomeni-Mbofana

Senzeni Na? is a song combined with a poem I composed on the same day that Chris Hani was assassinated in South Africa. Chris Hani was a very popular freedom fighter in South Africa. He spent well over 20 years in exile, and on returning to South Africa, during the ceasefire, he was assassinated while jogging.

This prompted me to write both the poem and the song that eventually became popular in Zimbabwe – Senzeni Na?

I dedicated this song to Chris Hani and all those who died fighting for their freedom and the freedom of their people. To date people believe that the song set up a level that I have failed to surpass, though I do not necessarily agree with that.

Although I composed the song in 1993, the very day that Hani was assassinated, the song (audio) was finally recorded and released in 1994 and it featured various artists who included the following Prudence Katomeni — lead vocals, Mathew Kaunda (Mateo) — vocals, Muzi Mangena — vocals, myself, – chants and backing vocals, Douglas Domingo (late) — bass guitar, Thomas Domingo — rhythm guitar, David Domingo — lead guitar, keyboards – Moses Bhekizulu Kabubi, David Moyo — Drums, Steve Roskily — engineer, Ibrahim Cader — producer.

My first encounter with Prudence was at Girls’ High School where she was doing Form One back in 1990. I had been invited by the head, Ms Dumbutshena to be one of the guests.

The school had previously seen me acting the lead role of Nelson Mandela in the musical play, Mandela — The Spirit of No Surrender by Zambuko/Izibuko where people like my then lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe Robert Mshengu Mclaren, Stephen Chifunyise and his wife who acted with me, the late Tisa, Titus Moetsabi and Michere Mugo who acted as Winnie, Innocent Tshuma (Star FM), had collaborated to produce the work.

The play had been launched at the Girls’ High School with late Vice-President Simon Muzenda officially opening it.

When the school invited me to be part of the guests, I accepted. I saw this little girl singing the folk song that was popularised by the late Miram Makeba called Thula Thula Sana Lwami, a lullaby. The girl, who was singing solo was amazing.

After the event I approached her and told her I wanted to work with her and give her exposure. She was excited about the prospects of working with me. I also approached both the head and her parents and they gave me a go-ahead. This was none other than Prudence.

At the time, I was working with my friends Moetsabi and Cynthia Mungofa. One day Prudence was spotted performing with me at the Harare Gardens by the director of a film that was about to be shot, More Time, Isaac Mabhikwa and she was instantly given the lead role of Thandiwe.

She did so well that she won two international awards and one national award for her role as Thandiwe.

She sat in between two film icons, Henry Cele who played the role of Shaka in the film Shaka Zulu and Al Jereau in Johannesburg where she had gone to receive her MNet Award as well as the .

The third award was the National Arts and Merit Award before it was rebranded to become the Nama that we know today. Prudence was then 15 years of age and was a student at Girls’ High School at the time (1993). Prudence is therefore more like a daughter to me.

When the recording was done, Prudence was so small and short that she had to stand on a chair to enable her to be the same height as those who were singing the same part as hers.

Naomi Makwenda
When the recording of the video of Senzeni Na? was being done (1994), I was about two days away from Denmark, where I was to spend six months (June 1996 to January 1997).

At the time, Prudence was sitting for exams and therefore it was a difficult time for her. It is then that I invited Naomi Makwenda, who was then Grade Six at Alfred Beit Primary School to stand in for Prudence.

Naomi had been given to me to groom by her mother, a renowned writer and music researcher Joyce Makwenda and of course, with the consent of her father. She worked on the song overnight and mastered it.

The following night the artists were in the studio at ZBC where they spent almost the entire night recording.

Naomi surprised all by dropping tears.

I remember almost all women in the studio also shedding tears, including her mother. Believe me no one induced her to do so. She did that on her own accord. I had merely explained to her what the song was all about.

I remember worrying the previous night that she was not going to be serious during the recording.

The characters in the video
Some of the people in the video did not participate in the actual recording of the audio track, and of course some did.

The following appear in the video of Senzeni Na? — Gcinumuzi Mangena (Muzi) who appears with Naomi based in the UK, Naomi Makwenda — now based in the UK, Dumisani Gumpo, my childhood friend, now based in the UK, Matthew Kaunda (Mateo) who later on was a winner of Star Bright, Marian Kunonga, who later played the lead role in the film Flame, Majahawodwa Ndlovu (Jeys Marabini) who is a singer of repute, who later toured with my group Imbongi (UK and Europe) from year 2000 to date, Fortune Ruzungunde (Sakhamuzi) Amakhosi Productions, Lyster Nyathi, now Moyo, Jabulani Nyathi, now a businessman, Siphathisiwe Mpofu, now with Star FM and Mthandazo Gumpo.

The “A” Team
It was sheer luck that at the time of recording Senzeni Na? there was a team of committed video producers (at ZBC) led by Cassey Kannemeyer who is now working with Mai Chisamba. Other members, included John Phiri (Mzala) who was also an Ezomgido presenter (who used to partner Eric Knight), the late Davis Sidube, Dorothy Meck (one of the women who shed tears when Naomi was recording), Robbie Chikumbirike, Edward Chinhoyi and the late Alfred Mazendami who edited Senzeni Na?

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