Tanga wekwa Sando has been an unacknowledged genius working in plain sight for far too long. Ever since his remarkable series of albums that began with the most critically acclaimed “Wake” in the early 2000s, the creativity and invention of his playing seem to have increased in direct proportion with each release.
Born Ernest Tanga Kambadzo Sando at Harare Hospital on August 1, 1954, the renowned Zimbabwean veteran township jazz musician ventured into the music industry in the 1970s before independence. Back then, he used to play the tambourine for the Salvation Army Youth Band. He also learned to play the saxophone in the band. This saw him joining other bands such as the Greenford Jangano-led Harare Mambos, where he nurtured his craft. This marked the start of his performances in clubs and hotels such as Mushandirapamwe Hotel, Queen’s Hotel, and at the Bulawayo Trade Fair.
In 1977, he went to Botswana as the liberation war took centre stage. While in Botswana, he played the tambourine for The Gaborone Town Orchestra, but his love for education saw him moving to the United States to further his studies at the University of Indiana, where he majored in International Economics and Finance.
While in the US, he began writing music. This prompted him to do his first recording in Bloomington, where he played in a band with five white guys. Being ambitious and adventurous, Sando moved to New York, to try his luck for a music job. He was hired at Tower Records Departmental Store in the Intelligence (Security) Section. There, he met international artists, such as Janet Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Barry White who would sign autographs upon release of their records. After three years, he left to work for the Frankstock Fund, which had funded his studies in the United States.
Upon returning home, he formed his own band together, the Giraffe together with the producer Bothwell Nyamhondera. The band recorded songs such as ‘Mahobho’ and ‘Vakomana Vekwedu’ among others.
When Giraffe disbanded, he went solo as Tanga wekwa Sando, producing spectacular hits such as “Wake”, “Nyenyedzi”, “Bharanzi”, “Shungu”, “WekuMbare”, “PaFio (Highfield)”, and “Wangu Wangu”. The song WekuMbare (of Mbare) is dedicated to township jazz artists; pianist Chris Chabuka, drummer Johnny Papas, guitarist Sam Banana and saxophonist/bassist Sima- ngaliso Tutani, among others.
In 2004, Sando won the National Arts Merit Award for the best selling musical artiste. In 2013, he established the PaFio Outdoor and Entertainment Center, an outdoor facility designed to promote artists.
“What makes Tanga wekwa Sando’s music unique is his ability to add feeling to harmony, to convey sadness, joy and finally triumph. It is not easy to pin Sando’s music to one particular genre, although he uses township music as his predominant vehicle for fusion.” writes music critic Fred Zindi for the Herald in 2013.
Although relatively dormant in recent years, with his last major appearances being on ExQ’s Tseu Tseu album, the Wake hitmaker has one of the strongest influences on modern Zimbabwean jazz today. His infectious personality, voice, compositions, and band has made a huge impact on jazz.
An all-around musician who explored all the facets of afro-jazz fusion, his musical theme cuts across the social fabric, and at most can transport you into a world of sweet, sophisticated romance.
Nyenyedzi is one of his popular love songs that sets the mood for many people. By a myriad of standards one of the best love songs ever, there’s something about the schmaltzy lyrics, the twinkle of its keys, or the heart-thumping bass and the shuffling percussion that stirs a nostalgia that is undeniable.
Reckon jazz is just for connoisseurs and is merely a niche genre these days? Then think again, for if it wasn’t for jazz, we wouldn’t have the blues or the myriad of different styles of music that have rocked our world ever since. Zimbabwe’s interest in and bond with jazz music is significant, and it has resulted in numerous outstanding works through collaborations between jazz and traditional musicians at national, continental and international level. All April long, #enthuse through our 30 Days of Iconic Zimbabwean Jazz series celebrates the heritage and history of jazz music and curates thirty songs by jazz pioneers and contemporary musicians who have successfully taken on the genre and defined a sound for the rest of the world to follow.