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|Birth name||Simon Chopper Chimbetu|
|Also known as||Chopper
23 September 1955|
|Died||14 August 2005
|Occupations||Singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, bandleader|
|Instruments||Singing, Rhythm guitar,|
|Associated acts||Oliver Mtukudzi, Allan Chimbetu, Orchestra Dendera Kings|
Simon Chimbetu (23 September 1955 – 14 August 2005) was a Zimbabwean guitarist, vocalist and composer. He was the founding member of his band Orchestra Dendera Kings. He was known by many stage names, including "Chopper, "Mr Viscose"(before imprisonment), "Cellular", "Simomo" and "Mukoma Sam".
Chimbetu was born in the Musengezi area of Mbire District in Mashonaland Province of Zimbabwe, on 23 September 1955. His ancestral origins were of the Samanyika tribe in Manicaland Province, the eastern region of Zimbabwe, bordering with Mozambique. His father was a bricklayer and Simon regularly accompanied his father on his business errands. He attended the local Musengezi High School before trekking to Harare(then Salisbury) to look for employment.
Chimbetu got involved in the fledgling liberation struggle and at one point went as far as Tanzania after joining the ZANU PF movement forces training there. Although he did not go to the front, Simon provided morale through his music. He returned to Zimbabwe before 1980. Chimbetu's musical orientation is strongly influenced by his experiences as a black person in racially-polarised Rhodesia and a liberation fighter with Marxist ideals at first.
Return to Harare
Chimbetu worked for a tobacco processing company for many years after the attainment of political freedom in 1980. His passion for music did not wane. Rather, he regularly played at Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield, a high-density suburb in Harare. At this point he was backed by John Chibadura's Sungura Boys as he did not have his own instruments. His younger brother, Naison backed him and together they performed as Marxist Brothers because of the then prevailing political ideology which had also shaped Simon's war experiences. Together, the siblings penned songs like "Dr Nero"(Naison) and "Nherera"(Simon) which gave them visibility on the Zimbabwean music scene. After recording several albums together, the two split in 1988 with Simon forming his own band, The Orchestra Dendera Kings while Naison formed his Gee(Great) 7 Commandos. It was after splitting with Naison that Simon recorded the hit album Nguva Yakaoma(Hard Times).
The album carried hits such as "Spare Wheel", the soulful "Samatenga", "Pasi Rapinduka", and others. "Samatenga" stayed at the number one spot for a long time; it was somewhat prophetic in that the suffering it describes was mirrored in Simon's own life soon after when he was arrested for theft/receiving stolen property. Although he pleaded his innocence, he was found guilty and incarcerated at Khami Prison in Bulawayo.
Rise to fame
Chimbetu realised greater success when he went solo, recording classics like "Kuipa Chete", "Ngoma Yanditora Moyo", "Mwana Wedangwe", "Southern Africa" and many others. He called his brand of sungura 'dendera', a reference to a common tropical bird with a booming bass sound. Chimbetu's songs are distinguished by this deep, booming bass guitar.
What also distinguished Simon from many other sungura/museve artists at this time and throughout his career was that his music was always politically conscious, for better or for worse. The song "Kuipa Chete" for example bemoans a situation whereby 'free' Zimbabweans continued to be exploited by largely unrepentant white farmers who continued to live in Rhodesia, spurning the hand of reconciliation. Towards the end of the 80s, Chimbetu recorded many hits and grew to be force to reckon with on the scene. He is famous for penning and singing such songs as "Samatenga", "One Way", "Dzandipedza Mafuta" and many others. Simon also had a great facility with languages, being fluent in several and having in sung in Shona, Chewa, Ndebele and Swahili, among others. Chimbetu is also noted for his critical lyrics such as in the songs "Southern Africa", "Kuipa Chete" and "Simba Nederere", among many others.
Out Of the two brothers, Chimbetu had the greater success. This was interrupted by his 4-year imprisonment from 1989 after being convicted of receiving stolen property. He was released in 1994 and immediately shot to the top with Pachipamwe (Welcome Back). The song "Saina", off Pachipamwe, was favourite of many at weddings and social gatherings. His albums Survival and Lullaby are highly critical of the Mugabe regime. One of Chimbetu's distinct successes was being able to reclaim his top spot even after being jailed for such a long time. While in prison, another musician, Leonard Zhakata had wooed many fans with his similarly styled beat and well thought out lyrics. After this purple patch, Simon's career plummeted after he became more directly linked to the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Controversy and Decline
Chimbetu wasn't far from controversy during his career. At the peak of his popularity, he spent four years in jail and thereafter, rumours hit in 2002 that he hadn't paid his farm workers for months. Additionally, his pro-government stance contributed to the his somewhat rising unpopularity. As the economic situation in Zimbabwe worsened with the controversial land reform, musicians who were seen to side with the land reform and general ZANU-PF policies became unpopular.
His political rhetoric,with songs like "Pane Asipo", especially on the highly political album, Hoko, was obviously out of tune with the masses. Some fans deserted him but many still liked his music. It is important to understand that although the land reform program was chaotic, many Zimbabweans acknowledged the need to repossess this valued resources of livelihood. Many Zimbabweans recognized the unfair balance of ownership of land that favoured white people. This majority group of adult Zimbabweans therefore partly appreciated the content of Chimbetu's political songs. In fact even before the controversial land reform programmer Chimbetu is known to have represented the people in highly political songs like "Zuva Raenda" from the extremely successful album Survival. In "Zuva Raenda", (the sun is setting) Chimbetu laments the delay in redistributing the land to the black masses. Many Zimbabweans positively identified with these songs.
Chimbetu died on 14 August 2005, following injuries sustained in a car accident. Curiously, at the time of his death, his career appeared to be on the mend with the release of 10 Million Pounds Reward. On this album, he sings about many issues, one of which is the unequal resource distribution in Zimbabwe on the Chewa song, "Governor Cornwell". Chimbetu was of Chewa origin, although born and raised in Zimbabwe; when declared a provincial hero, his actual burial was kept a secret in line with his religious burial traditions. A younger brother who was already part of the Orchestra Dendera Kings, Allan, fronts the band today. He has recorded a well-received album entitled Sonny and has toured London.
The Marxist Brothers
- Mwana Wedangwe (1983)
- Kunjere Kunjere (1984)
- Sarura Yako (1985)
- Dendera Resango (1986)
- Afrika (1987)
- Kuipa Chete (1988)
- Boterekwa (1989)
- Sold Gold (1991)
Simon Chimbetu & Orchestra Dendera Kings
- Nguva Yakaoma (1990)
- Ndouraiwa (1992)
- Karikoga (1995)
- Pachipamwe (1994)
- Survival (1997)
- Zuva Raenda (1997)
- Lullaby (1998)
- African Panorama - Chapter One (1999)
- 2000 Blend (2000)
- African Panorama - Chapter Two (2001)
- Takabatana (2001)
- Hoko (2002)
- 10 Million Pounds Reward (2005)
- Ncube, Sarah (2 October 2009). "Chimbetu’s Ghost Comes Alive". Zimbabwe Telegraph. Retrieved 30 May 2010.