Bongani Ndlovu, Showbiz Correspondent
THE story of the late August Musarurwa’s hit song Skokiaan which went “viral” in the 1950s will from today be told through an exhibition at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.
The exhibition is titled: “Moving Stories and Travelling Rhythms: Penny Siopis and the many journeys of Skokiaan” will run until August 31.
The track, within a year of its 1954 release in South Africa, at least 19 cover versions of Skokiaan appeared with musicians such as jazz music greats Louis Armstrong and Hugh Masekela (both late) having their own versions.
The exhibition is by visiting South African artiste, award winning Penny Siopis and curated by Olga Speakes, an art historian and lecturer based at the University of Cape Town.
Speakes said the exhibition chronicles how the song recorded in the 1940s became an instant hit worldwide.
“The exhibition aims to set in dialogue the many narratives and memories, fictional and documentary accounts that were inspired by the story of Skokiaan, a famous piece of music composed by August Musarurwa and performed in the 1940s by his band Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms. It was later performed around the world by many musicians, including Louis Armstrong, who visited the country in 1960 and met Musarurwa,” said Speakes in a statement.
Speakes explained that the exhibition will include installations, paintings in ink and glue, and a video artwork, “Welcome Visitors!” – all by a South African artiste Penny Siopis.
“A documentary film by Joyce Jenje Makwenda (Welcome Visitors), a Zimbabwean historian, as well as references from the literary works by another famous Zimbabwean, Yvonne Vera, a former director of the National Gallery in Bulawayo, evoked through the works by the artiste, form an important part of the multilayered narrative of this exhibition,” said Speakes.
She said the whole exhibition takes a journey between the past and the present.
In 1947 the song Skokiaan was originally composed and first recorded as a sax and trumpet instrumental by the African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) under leadership of Musarurwa. A second version of the tune was released in the United States by London Records in 1954 under the name of the Bulawayo Sweet Rhythms Band, as Musarurwa’s band was now called.
Louis Armstrong met Musarurwa in November 1960 during his African tour. According to his daughter, Armstrong gave Musarurwa a jacket and invited him to visit the United States. The visit was cancelled due to the death in 1962 of Thandiwe, Musarurwa’s spouse.
Musarurwa died in 1968 and is buried in his family cemetery in his village near Zvimba in Mashonaland West province in Zimbabwe.