Jazz songbird Dudu Manhenga is the music that embraces the audience. A charming voice and a courageous woman moved by the love for music and for her homeland, she is the uncorroborated queen of Zimbabwean jazz.
Born on 6 January 1981, the dynamic singer/songwriter studied at St Columba’s High School in Makokoba. The school’s location close to the Amakhosi Theatre facilitated her involvement in the arts. She then joined her first band, Gospel Arc, and later moved to the jazz outfit, Siyeza, headed by former southern freeway and Wells Fargo guitarist Handsome Mabhiza, who encouraged her to follow in the footsteps of Dorothy Masuka, Letta Mbulu, Thembi Mtshali, Miriam Makeba and other African jazz greats.
Performing professionally since the age of 16 in Bulawayo, in 1999 she took part in an arts workshop that introduced her to the big city of Harare, where Dudu established herself with long stints as a backing vocalist for top artists such as Oliver Mtukudzi & The Black Spirits, Steve Dyer, Louis Mhlanga, Tanga Wekwa Sando and Dumi Ngulube, while studying at the Zimbabwe College of Music in Harare.
In 2001 she formed the group Color Blu, along with her husband, drummer Blessing Muparutsa. They recorded their debut nine-track Afro-jazz fusion album ‘Out of the Blu’ in 2003, which was warmly received by the music-loving public and contained hits like ‘Mvura’, ‘Bengimthandile’ and ‘Madlamini’. The album was followed by ‘Jula’ (2007), ‘Towards Alignment’ (2009), ‘Ngangiwe’ (2011) and ‘For You’ (2013).
Her music has been accurately described as ‘an Afro-jazz adventure’ – a fusion of contemporary and traditional genres, including township jazz and homegrown Manica, Mashona and Matabele rhythms and melodies.
In 2013, Manhenga was convicted of culpable homicide for causing the death of a motorcyclist in an accident in 2010. Initially sentenced to 18 months in prison, the sentence was wholly suspended with the artiste paying a $1 000 fine after a brief stay at Chikurubi Maximum Prison.
Although life has not been rosy for her after her release from prison as she was rejected by business partners as she got a taste of the stigma that ex-convicts face after their release from jail, the dynamic live performer turned pastor has performed widely at clubs, corporate gatherings and festivals in Zimbabwe and South Africa, sharing a stage with numerous top stars from both countries.
Check out one of her songs Turn, which testifies to the saccharine that her writing and performances are.
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.