Nyathi is Zimbabwe’s premier performance dub-poet. His
performances are often backed by powerful music. At school he
used to perform traditional praise poetry, but was inspired
by the freedom struggle in Zimbabwe. He started to write plays
and poems at secondary school. At university in Zimbabwe in
the 1980’s he was so influential within the students representative
body, that he was invited for each rally or each meeting.
He gave up his rapidly advancing career in government service
as a very well informed senior member of Zimbabwe's National
Arts Council to concentrate on performance and the development
of youth training programmes in the arts in Harare's townships.
Albert says that he started fusing his written poetry with music
so as to blow life into them, to blow life into a dead word.
In 1989 while at university studying arts Albert was invited
to play the leading role of Nelson Mandela in a play called
"The Spirit of No Surrender" produced by the community
theatre company Zambuko/Izibuko and the ANC as a co-production
about a family's struggle in the townships through the period
of Mandela's encarceration.
Albert won the Zimbabwe national Poetry Award in 1995. As a
protest performer, Albert became the voice of the student body.
Chosen to lead the funeral procession for the late Joshua Nkomo
in October 1999, Albert created an outpouring of grief from
the Ndebele people. His address was a tribute to the only Ndebele
goverment member. Nyathi's fourth CD, entitled Welcome to
Zimbabwe (land of contradiction) the first released internationally,
takes off with "I will not speak", where he adapts
Chenjerai Hove's poetry to song.
Albert is known as “the voice of the invisible”
- the man who speaks the silent words of those without a voice.
His work is thought provoking, controversial and humorous and
his stage show is charismatic and energetic. As the Zimbabwe
Financial Press says, "He can make an audience howl with
laughter and he is also capable of bringing the whole nation
© Fred Hines
imbongi is a traditional praise poet, or a praise singer (like
Mali or Senegal's griots), are the custodians of oral tradition.
They are sometimes called 'praise poets' because they can exaggerate
the qualities of leaders at important public events, but they
also use their popularity and status as the 'voice of the ancestors'
as a 'mandate' for social criticism. Sure enough at one time
Nyathi took his National Arts Council and government to task
for exploiting him and his band.
Albert now performs with Imbongi, an 11-piece band. Fusing words,
music, dance and song into an exciting blend of traditional
blues, jazz and contemporary Zimbabwean and South African rhythms.
The group was chosen by the United Nations to represent African
Music at the youth congress in Hawaii in 1999.
Imbongi were in Britain for the first time in 2000, and were
an enormous hit at Glastonbury and WOMAD festivals. Imbongi
are fronted by three female dancers and vocalists in collaboration
with keyboard, guitars, trumpets and drums. They are both vigorous
and precise, blending and interweaving the beauty of the dance
and music with the power of Albert’s words. At the Africa
Centre in London in 2001 they delighted the audience with their
highly energetic yet remarkably polished show with Albert’s
larger-than-life presence (see photo above).
Look out for Albert and Imbongi in 2004 - they'll be on tour
with a new album!