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Title: Take One
Artist: Hallejulah Chicken Run Band
Label: Alula Records
Series: Analog Africa No. 2
Catalog No.: ALU2002
UK Release: October 8th 2007

Analog Africa have done it again – unearthed textured uplifting music from Zimbabwe’s rich musical past with the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band’s 1974-79 recordings that will set you on your toes even today. The 16 page booklet draws on extensive veteran members’ recent interviews giving a real insight into the interwoven Zimbabwean music scene at the time with archive photos and discography. ‘HCR’s’ sound became the roots of Chimurenga music with politically charged lyrics, as well as some love songs, in Shona and original compositions which was both a major cultural and political pinpoint. The spiritual mbira plucked guitar style and key range developed by HCR’s guitarist Joshua Hlomayi Dube is still the keynote of the Zim sound . The band won competitions and attracted a major record producer, Crispen Matema, who guided most of their studio work.

Unlike many government-backed contemporary African bands HCR was funded by the white Mangura Mine owners to entertain workers after their shifts and, security guard’s son, trumpeter Daram Karanga was given free reign to gather the best musicians he could find. Two of them, including one Thomas Mapfumo, found work in the local chicken farm causing the mine manager to exclaim “Hallelujah” and give the band its name. The band’s history is intriguing in filling in Mapfumo’s early musical background as drummer/vocalist and refreshing in that it leaves room for everyone else in the story as well. Already outspoken TM was eventually fired (by the mine) in '75 when he refused to accept lower wages after miners complained that the musicians were being paid more than them.

HCR’s awareness of their audience shaped their unique sound – one track Alikulila is sung in Malawian languages as many of the miners were migrant labourers and seeing what excited them encouraged the band’s traditionally rooted style innovated by Thomas Mapfumo and Joshua Hlomayi Dube. Ngoma Yarira, Mutoridodo and Murembo are the most distinctive mbira styled tracks with Thomas Mapfumo’s vocals already sharing that mixture of urgency and timelessness becoming as much instrument as voice. The interplay of trumpet and guitars gives a township feel on some tracks and also doffs a hat to the soul base they grew out of, notably Manheru Changamire, Mwana Wamai Dada Naye and Chaminuka Mukuru (leave it playing for bonus track!) and the runaway Gore Iro explodes with just about everything!

Experimenting with traditional vocal styles, honed by the covers experience and playing to the musicians’ skills, the tracks on Take One leap off the laser beams and repay randomly selected listenings as well as playing through the compiler’s order. As pertinent today as then, Kare Nanhasi, is about the high cost of living for ordinary people attacking the colonialists, and commentators have been quick to point out that Mugabe fares no better!

HCR members went on to join better known groups like Dvera Ngwena and Four Brothers and Thomas Mapfumo went stellar! On listening to their music again after 25 years Daram said “I just didn’t realise how good we were” – damn right!

[Musicians: Original core: Daram Karanga (trumpet) , Thomas Mapfumo (drums, lead vocalist), Joshua Hlomayi Dube and Elijah Josam (guitars), and bassist Robert Nekati
Later guests/core: Patrick Kabanda (drums), Wilson Jubane and Abdulah Musa (guitars) Robson Boora (saxophone), Bothwell Nyamondera (percussion), and Lovemore Nyamasvisva, Patrick Mukwamba, Elias Jingo, and C. Rupango (vocals)]

© Debbie Golt