One of the greatest enigmas of the music scene in mid- to late-1970s Harare was the New Tutenkhamen, a band which played an eclectic brand of Zimbabwean township music combining traditional rhythms and western influences.
The band’s most famous release, “Itai Cent Cent” was a sad lament of the poverty afflicting black people confined to poorly-built and overcrowded settlements. The song was so popular that after independence, it became the theme song for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s insurance advice programme, Mari Nehupenyu Hwevanhu (Money and People’s Lives).
The original Tutenkhamen band would play at Mushandirapamwe Hotel, in Marondera’s high-density Dombotombo suburb. The hotel was owned by George Tawengwa, Zimbabwe’s first black millionaire, who operated a fleet of buses of the same name. It was during this time that they recorded “Itai Cent Cent” and “Torai Kapadza Muchirima”, propelling them to popularity and success. The group then disbanded after moving to the new Mushandirapamwe location in Harare’s Highfield, and were the first band to play at the popular hotel which catered for black people who weren’t allowed into the city centre after 7pm.
After the split, the band assumed the name New Tutenkhamen, and included some luminaries of Zimbabwean township music. Elisha Josamu was an alumnus of the fabulously-named Hallelujah Chicken Run Band (alongside Thomas Mapfumo), and Green Jangano’s long-running Harare Mambos, and would later form Two Plus Two with bassist Christopher “Chex” Tavengwa. Jethro Shasha played the drums, and would arguably become the New Tutenkhamen’s most famous export, making continental waves working with likes of Salif Keita. Paul Sekerani played the rhythm guitar, with Amos Chatyoka on the organ, while the enigmatic Maggie Mbuli provided vocals and F. Manda played the sax.
This new band went on to record the rock classic “Joburg Bound” at a time when many Harare youth were leaving, either for Mozambique to join the liberation war, or for South Africa to work in the mines.
It was against this backdrop that New Tutenkhamen recorded I WISH YOU WERE MINE at Teal Records, produced by Crispen Matema, a talented jazz drummer in his own right who had played drums on the all-time classic “Skokiaan”, and had backed Louis Armstrong on his 1960 Rhodesia visit. Combining the heavyweight producing talents of Matema and the writing chops of Josamu, the New Tutenkhamen band created an album showcasing various musical styles popular at the time.
From the afro-jazz jam session aesthetics of “Tutenkhamen Theme”, “Big Brother Malcom” and “Forever Together”, to the almost Van Morrison-sounding “Sunday Morning”; from the upbeat rock ballad “True Love”, to the funk-infused dance song “Togetherness”; from the bouncy jazz exhortations to work hard in “Ane Nungo”, to the brassy, raunchy foot-stomper “Me & Dolly”. The title track “I Wish You Were Mine” is a ska-infused ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in post-war Birmingham, while the star of the show is “Joburg Bound”, itself a fast-paced rock piece with Motown undertones and funky guitar lines.
The New Tutenkhamen eventually moved from Mushandirapamwe Hotel to Saratoga, and then to the Kambuzuma Garden Party Hotel. The liberation war was intensifying, and one anecdote has a young schoolboy seeing the New Tutenkhamen band at the Garden Party Hotel, the Friday night before taking the train to Mutare, from where he crossed over to Mozambique to join the liberation war.
With intra-party fighting creating designated areas of political influence in the townships, patronage dwindled and the New Tutenkhamen’s shows were affected, with members gradually moving on.
As a collective effort, I WISH YOU WERE MINE provides a fascinating insight into a fraught time in Zimbabwe’s history, and the bands plying their trade through the turmoil, making music for young people, by young people.