HE is regarded as the pioneer of Bulawayo music, the one who coined the moniker “Kontuthu Ziyathunqa”.
Another feather to his music mastery was being called the “founder” of the popular Maskandi/Mbaqanga music in Southern Africa.
Not many in the music industry know his name or ever heard of his exploits in the music industry.
His music is still of significance, despite having been recorded about 80 years ago.
Does the name George Sibanda ring a bell or two?
Read on. . .
Without any recognition, Sibanda is however, one music icon who stands high in the showbiz hall of fame in the City of Kings.
His was a class act of lyrical content fused with folklore that told of the industrialisation of Bulawayo and the migration driven by the growth of the mining sector in Southern Africa.
Today, the second largest city in Zimbabwe is famously known as KoNtuthu Ziyathunqa (the smoke bellowing industries in the city), a term which was coined by Sibanda that can be revealed on his song Kwantu(thu), a piece which reflects on remembering back home, KoBulawayo.
How did Sibanda’s music charm many in Southern Africa and survive for such a remarkable period?
B-Metro Showbiz exclusively reveals that this talented man was discovered by a white music composer, Hugh Tracey, who dedicated his entire life to scouting for raw talent in what was called the dark continent of Africa.
While he was in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Tracey found a young Sibanda, the troubadour who was skilled in jangling a guitar and also talented in complementing his rhythm with well-crafted native Ndebele lyrics.
What made Sibanda a rare gem from other performers back then was his touch of commenting on issues that affected black folks of that period.
In his lifetime, Sibanda had a stint at Gwamazhula Mine, located soon after Turk Mine, in Matabeleland North.
Most of his songs were composed based on his experience at the mines.
As a migrant mine labourer, Sibanda sang about life at the mines.
His was a mix of experiences faced by fellow workers and their distant relationships with loved ones back home in Bulawayo, rural areas and elsewhere.
Because of such narratives on his offerings, arts doyen Cont Mhlanga said Tracey decided to polish the rough diamond in the name of George Sibanda and he was transported on a train to South Africa to record his music there.
His songs ranging from AmaNdebele, Ungahamba No Tsotsi, Sivele Sithandana, Kwantu, Gwabi Gwabi, Uma Lovie, Yini Ndaba Wena Boy, Emely Uyabuzwa, were all recorded at Gallo Record Company between 1948 to 1952.
“George Sibanda is the father of Bulawayo music.
He is the first Zimbabwean man to record music.
“Back then, whites came with machinery and other wares that black people deemed as a privilege to own like bicycles. But for George he picked a guitar from all those things that were considered precious.
“He took his time to master the strings while still working at Gwamazhula Mine.
His prowess of composing traditional music and fusing it with the guitar charmed Hugh Tracey — a white venerable during that time, whose interest was to scout for music talent across Africa.
“He then transported Sibanda to South Africa via train where he recorded his music there,” said Mhlanga.
Even after recording his music across the South of Limpopo charming the whole of Southern Africa, Sibanda still retraced his roots and came back home to perform at Kepis farm, an area which today is between Old Magwegwe and Old Pumula.
“In the 1950s, Bulawayo was divided into three townships.
The first one which was for performance and music was in Kepis Farm which today is between Magwegwe and Pumula.
“The township which was more of exhibiting culture was Sizinda area and the famous Mzilikazi and Makokoba was for inqindi (fist fights) which mainly took place at Erenkini.
“After recording his music in Mzansi and touring Southern Africa, George would come back home and perform at Kepis Farm.
“He was a regular there playing at pubs because many people could relate to his music from miners and industrial workers,” said Mhlanga.
Sibanda was a cut above the rest.
Even Mhlanga opines that the late muso was a creative whose craft will remain unmatched for ages.
But, as a musician who emerged from Bulawayo, he suffered the same fate like the current breed of musicians who are having a torrid time to please fans through their music.
Local music is not respected, appreciated and supported in Bulawayo.
In fact, locals prefer consuming South African content and this is a reason which led legendary Lovemore Majaivana to retire from music in the 2000s.
Not many fans thought Sibanda was that good when they listened to his music in the 1950s as well.
They seemingly thought it wasn’t his. It was South African, they misjudged.
Mhlanga said what most people perceive to be South African sound in music was actually rhythm from Bulawayo and it would remain a heritage to Bulawayo people.
“There is nothing like a South African sound in music especially the argument on Bulawayo artistes being termed as Mzansi copycats. Actually, it’s the other way round.
“George Sibanda is the first maskandi musician, a genre which many think is originally from South Africa.
Sibanda was an import in Mzansi music when he was fetched to go and record in that country.
“After him, then emerged the likes of Vusi Ximba the satirist and Mahlathini and Mahotella Queens who took Sibanda’s sound and fused it with numerous instruments (band).
“Even though those who followed were from Mzansi, it still remains, George was and is still a god in this kind of music.
“Many South African genres created their foundation through music documentaries from Gallo, which was the only company which recorded music in Southern Africa back then.
“Most content from Gallo music library was taken and recorded from creatives from other countries just like the case of George Sibanda.
“Another significant case is that of Bulawayo daughter Dorothy Masuka, who also migrated to Mzansi for recording.
“She is the first lady in Afro-Jazz but South Africa is crowning Miriam Makeba while she copied that sound from a Bulawayo offspring.
“The testimony to all this is Hugh Tracey’s 210 records in his “Sounds of Africa” series where he recorded every talent he came across during his stay in the continent,” said Mhlanga.
Sibanda’s death cannot be found on any records.
However, many reviews on him agree that he couldn’t cope with fame and fortune and because of that, he drunk himself to death by the end of the ‘50s.
His pictures are not even known.