The singing guerilla

T

racy Chapman, Sting, Bruce Springsteen…. These are big names in the music world. Those lucky people who saw them at the ‘Human Rights Now’ concert in Harare last year are still clicking their fingers and tapping their feet.


But it was not only the ‘big names’ that thrilled the music lovers. The people of Zimbabwe were proud to have one of their own stars on the stage. His name is Comrade Chinx.


Together with his group llanga, Comrade Chinx sang about his people’s long, hard struggle for freedom — and about his dream for peace and unity in Zimbabwe.


SONGS OF LIBERATION


It is a struggle that Comrade Chinx knows well. For five years, from 1975 to 1979, Comrade Chinx was a freedom fighter in Robert Mugabe’s liberation army, ZANLA. Together with comrades in Joshua Nkomo’s ZIPRA army, they fought against Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government.


It was in the ZANLA camps that Comrade Chinx started to sing. He warmed the hearts of his comrades with his songs of liberation.


After the people’s victory in April 1979, Comrade Chinx put down his gun — but not his guitar. Since then, the sweet sounds of Comrade Chinx and his band llanga have spread to the far corners of this big country. So it was no surprise to people in Zimbabwe that he was invited to sing at the concert.


WHAT’S IN A NAME?


Learn and Teach asked Comrade Chinx to tell us how a freedom fighter became a famous musician. But before he told us, we had one question. Is Comrade Chinx his real name?

“No,” he says with a smile. “My real name is Richard Chingaira. But in the war everyone called themselves comrade something or other. I thought about my surname — Chingaira. I decided to make it short and called myself Chinx.


“And anyway, I like being called comrade — it is better than ‘Sir’ or ‘Mister’. So that is how I became Comrade Chinx.”


DREAMS OF YOUTH


Comrade Chinx was born 34 years ago in a town called Rusape in eastern Zimbabwe. When he was a boy, his dream was to become a doctor and he studied hard. In Form Three, he won a scholarship to study overseas. His dream was going to come true!


But when Comrade Chinx applied for a passport, Smith’s government refused to give him one.

It was hard to find a job in Rusape, so, in 1973, Comrade Chinx went to look for work in Harare. “I found work as a machine operator,” he says.”


The work was very hard and I was paid seven dollars a week. We asked the bosses to give us more money. The bosses promised us an increase. We thought they would give us one dollar more but when we got our increase, it was only three cents!”


LIKE WILD FIRE


By 1975, the struggle for freedom was spreading like wild fire all over Zimbabwe. Many people left the country to train as guerrillas.


Comrade Chinx decided it was time to leave Harare and his stinking job and go back to his family in Rusape. When he got home, he learnt that his brother and two cousins had already left the country to join the armed struggle.


“There were hundreds of guerrillas from our area,” he says. “In early 1976, I crossed the border into Mozambique to join the other comrades.”


“GIVE ME ANY GUN…”


“In Mozambique we were given military and political training. We were trained in everything. We were good fighters. You can give me any gun and I’ll show you how to use it.


“In the training camps, Comrade Chinx found that he was good at more than just fighting. He found that he could sing and that his singing made people happy.


“In my free time, I used to sing for the other guerrillas in the camps. I used to listen to Chimurenga music — (liberation music) —played on the Voice of Zimbabwe radio station. This gave me the strength to write my own songs of freedom.”


BARRELS OF PEACE


When Comrade Chinx wasn’t singing, he was sent back into Zimbabwe to meet with the people. It was dangerous work. “My job was to organise meetings with the people and the guerrillas. These meetings were called ‘pungwes’ — meetings held at night.”


Later, when he was back in Mozambique, he formed a choir in the camps. “We called ourselves the Barrels of Peace. I also began to write my own Shona songs. Soon my music was played on the Voice of Zimbabwe.”


In 1980, the struggle for freedom was no longer a dream — Zimbabwe got its freedom and black majority rule. Comrade Chinx and his comrades went home to celebrate.


THE HAND OF FRIENDSHIP


But after independence, there were still problems. One of the biggest problems was that many white people left the country.


The new president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, wanted the people of his country to be united. He wanted white people to stay in the country and not to fear majority rule.


Comrade Chinx joined Mugabe in putting out the hand of friendship. “Those who were our enemies before independence were now our friends,” says Comrade Chinx. “I put that message in a song and it was played all over the country.”


Soon Comrade Chinx and the Barrels of Peace were known all over the country.


‘ILANGA’ IS BORN


After the war, Comrade Chinx worked for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. But music was still in his blood. He still wanted to sing. So, when he was not at work, he used to sing with his group.


In 1983, some people from a recording company heard Comrade Chinx and his friends. They liked their music. “But they also told me that they wanted something with musical instruments,” he says.


Three years later, in 1986, a new group — llanga — was born. With llanga’s funky music, Comrade Chinx and his messages of peace became very popular.


THE BEST MOMENT


But the best moment was still to come for Comrade Chinx — that was playing with llanga at the ‘Human Rights Now’ concert last year. His message of peace and unity was heard all over the world.


“When I stood in front of that huge crowd and sang my songs, I knew that anything is possible if you aim for it,” he says.


Learn and Teach asked Comrade Chinx if he wanted to give a special message to the people.-“Sure,” he says, “if you discover a talent, please water it!”


Anything else?


Comrade Chinx gave a big smile, shrugged his shoulders and said: “Nix!”


NEW WORDS unity — when everyone joins together aim for something — when you aim for something, you decide what you want and you work hard to get it a talent — something you are good at

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