Jazz singer Vee goes solo

Sharon Muguwu

THE WeekendPost caught up with Jazz musician Vimbai “Vee” Mukarati who has decided to pursue a solo career after working with the likes of Mokoomba, Chabvondoka among others.
Q: When and why did you start singing?
A: I always used to sing when I was growing up, in choirs and accapella groups over the years but never considered myself as a serious vocalist because everyone around me knew me mostly as a saxophone player and clarinetist. 
I only seriously started my vocal training in 2012 when I went to study for my Berklee Track Jazz and Contemporary music diploma in Dublin, Ireland.
Jazz Choir was offered in the programme and I enrolled with an amazing Swiss singing instructor called Sarah Buechi, she taught me so much about what I could do with my voice and I practised for hours and hours using her technique.
I had always been a little bit frustrated at how I couldn’t sing the songs I wrote very well and so continue to practise even now despite the fact that I have come a long way since then.
Q: Can you play any instruments?
A: The saxophone is my first instrument, and I also play clarinet, marimba and consider the voice as an instrument as well.
These are the instruments I can say I play efficiently. That said, I do, however, also play to a lesser degree the keyboards, guitar and drums. If I understand the basics of how an instrument works I believe I can play it, given time to learn.
I am playing, singing and programming on my album Moto this year because I couldn’t afford to pay other people to play for me.
Q: Is your family musical?
A: My family is indeed musical, my brother, Tinashe is a professional saxophone player, currently on tour in Turkey with Blessing Chimanga’s band. My sister Ruramai has an amazing voice, though only the people at her church get the chance to hear it because she didn’t pick music as her career. My mom also had an angelic voice that I really miss hearing. My dad is not very musical but has really great taste in music. We grew up listening to only quality music and nothing else.
Q: What are your fondest musical memories?
A: I have so many I wouldn’t know where to start. But I used to love it when we were children and my parents and siblings would have sing-along nights where we would listen to music and sing along to some lyrics that we had printed out as a way of passing the time over the weekends and stuff.
I also really loved playing in the streets in Dublin. Musicians can just grab their instruments and have a jam in the street and there is a big culture of that kind of thing there and I really miss doing that with my friends.
Q: Of all your songs, which one is your favourite?
A: The favourite that I have written so far is called Masaisai and it’s something that I wrote when I was in high school at Prince Edward and had never worked on again until now. I like it because it was inspired by the writing style of my high school buddy, the late Sam Mtukudzi. He was truly a musical genius and his technique and writing style was way ahead of his time and age.
Q: How many albums do you have?
A: Moto is my first album as a solo artist with my name on the cover. But I have played on numerous albums as a featured artist and collaborator, including when I played the saxophone on Mokoomba’s first album Rising Tide, Comrade Fatso’s album House of Hunger, Chimanga’s album Maruva Enyika, Jacaranda Muse’s album September Sun and I was also a featured artist on the German reggae band Jamaram’s latest album called Heavy Heavy where they collaborated with several Zimbabwean Musicians, including Fungai Nengare, Prayer Soul, Rutendo Machiridza, Tariro NeGitare, Munyaradzi Nyamarebvu and Tendai “Tendex” Madzviti. It’s an amazing work of art.
Q: Were you influenced by old records and tapes? Which ones?
A: I was heavily influenced by old records and tapes. I used to listen to recordings of the likes of Hugh Masekela, Oliver Mtukudzi, Joan Armatrading, Neil Diamond, John Denver, Shubert, Mozart , Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jonas Gwangwa, Louis Mhlanga, Jazz Invitation, the list is endless, we had a lot of music in the house when I was growing up.
Q: Who are some of your favourite musicians?
A: I love listening to all sorts of music and believe I can learn something new from everybody. But artists that stand out to me are Jamie Cullum, Esperanza Spalding. And one of the best albums I have ever listened to was one by Sam Mtukudzi, Max Wild and the late Chiwoniso Maraire called Tamba. I highly recommend music lovers to have a listen to that insanely high level of Zimbabwean Music.
Q: Have you been in competitions?
A: I used to compete in high school at the national allied arts competitions and got several awards over the years but now I just like studying music instead.
Q: Describe your first public performance, how did you feel?
A: My first proper public performance was at the Courtauld Theater, Mutare. I was about 10 or 11-year-old and was playing the clarinet at one of the Mutare College of Music’s end of term concerts. It was really, really bad. I squeaked and squealed the whole way through and have never been so nervous in my life. I was so shy I almost cried when I was done playing my short piece. I kept going though and my teacher professor Mitchel Strumph encouraged me to keep practising even after what I knew had been a really bad performance.
Q: What else do you do besides music?
A: Music is all I do and think about all the time. It’s my business.
Q: What are your educational or professional qualifications, which schools did you attend?
A: I have a Berklee College Higher Certificate in Art in Jazz and Contemporary from Newpark Music Centre in Dublin, which is a member of the Berklee College International network of schools. I also have a Grade Seven theory and Grade Eight clarinet certificate from the royal college of music and, of course, “O” Level and “A” Level music qualifications from high school.
Q: How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
A: I usually just laugh them off and move on. Mistakes in music are like mistakes in life, you just learn from them and try not to make them again because like life, live music is always moving forward, there is no time to or chance to stop and start over.
Q: What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
A: Face your fears and challenge yourself always, be dedicated to your art, study, work and practice! practice! practice!
Q: Have you always enjoyed the art of music?
A: Always, I have had music ringing in my head for as long as I can remember.
Q: How old are you?
A: I am 28.
Q: Are you involved in any community organisations — charities, church, etc.?
A: I used to be in the past when I did a project where we taught music and dance to the prisoners at Harare Central. But since coming back from college I haven’t yet had a chance to re-involve myself properly. I really want to though. All I want to do is to share this information that I have been given the privilege of learning.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: Cycling and cooking. I love mountain biking.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up all over Zimbabwe, I have lived in Bulawayo, Mutare, Harare and Kariba for years at a time.
Q: Have you won any awards?
A: Not yet. But I don’t really like concerning myself about those thing, I just like writing and playing music and making people happy when they hear it because that’s what makes me happy and makes me feel alive.
Q: Are there any political or social issues you feel passionate about?
A: Apart from how I feel there should be more support of the arts, music and culture from corporate and government institutions in Zimbabwe. I also feel passionate about raising awareness on the issue of drug abuse and mental health in the African community and how mental illness is so misunderstood and how there is so little being done to address issues such as depression, and bi-polar syndrome and psychosis for instance.  Many of these conditions are treatable and should stop being brushed off as a result of inexplicable events, when things like drug abuse, stress and social pressures can be the cause, things that can be fixed.
Q: What’s the hardest thing for you about being a musician and how do you address that?
A: The hardest thing for me as a composer in Zimbabwe is not having access to a high standard of players of certain instruments that I really want to work with such as the double bass, and having access to a full trained orchestra or other facilities that are available in other countries. I address this problem in pure Zimbabwean fashion, I make a plan, I work with what I have access to and try to make it of the highest standard and quality possible...I always work towards doing whatever I put my mind to really well and with all of my mind and heart.
Q: What comes easiest to you as a musician?
A: Listening.
Q: Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.
A:  A lot of people don’t know that I speak Ndebele fluently and are really shocked when they hear me suddenly start to speak in that language.
Q: What do you plan to have accomplished in five, 10, 20, and 50 years — personally or professionally?
A: I read a beautiful quote from my friend the other day; It read “Don’t die with your song still inside of you”. That’s my life plan, personally and professionally. To get all of the songs inside of me out and have them heard by my fans, friends and all the people that I love and care about and for posterity.
Q: What was your favourite toy (or game) as a child, and why?
A: I used to love playing with matchbox toy cars, really fond childhood memories there.
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: Life makes me laugh a lot of the time. Just observing how people work and the things they say. Life can be a beautiful, hilarious miracle if you approach it with the right attitude.
Q: Best compliment you’ve ever received?
A: That actually happened recently and very unexpectedly. Comfort Mbofana, the legendary radio DJ once wrote on my Facebook timeline something that will encourage me to continue upping my game for a very long time. This is what he wrote:
“My man. Heard two tracks from your new album this morning out in the bushes of Mash East and I am writing on behalf of jazz lovers in Zim to say ‘thanks’ for restoring our faith in the younger guys’ ability to look after the genre. Bravo, Vee. Can’t wait to hear the rest of it.”

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