Catch them young . . . These young dancers joined Sulu on stage during a function held in Marondera recently. The three young boys proved to be true dendera fans through perfect dance routines — Pictures by Kudakwashe Hunda

Catch them young . . . These young dancers joined Sulu on stage during a function held in Marondera recently. The three young boys proved to be true dendera fans through perfect dance routines — Pictures by Kudakwashe Hunda

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“I will not hesitate to replace anyone who tries to present himself as bigger than the dendera brand,” declared Suluman “Sulu” Chimbetu in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Mail Leisure following an embarrassing incident that saw him cancel a gig after some of his senior band members boycotted a show last week.

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Sulu has long been portrayed as “his own man” since weaning himself from his uncle Allan Chimbetu in an acrimonious split in 2007.

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But now he has been held at ransom by senior members of his group who played with his late father, Simon.

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The veteran guitarists embraced Sulu when he decided to dump Allan — maybe because they wanted to call the shots and get preferential treatment.

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And now Sulu has decided that enough is enough.

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Last week the Orchestra Dendera Kings frontman buffered the storm that was threatening the group’s stability by firing one senior band member and issuing stern warnings to other culprits.

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1405-1-1-6Dancer and backing vocalist Phillip “Phidza Phidza” Dzirike, who had been with the band since 2002 was shown the exit door, while lead guitarist Knowledge “Nodza” Nkoma and bass man Moffat Nyamupandu were cautioned.

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And Sulu is not stopping there — the musician told this publication that he was prepared to let go of the old guard that has been the face of dendera for many years.

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He said he was tired of being “held to ransom” by threats of not fulfilling scheduled gigs each time the senior members thought they had issues to raise with him.

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While the band members have pulled similar stances on a numerous occasions, the major embarrassment for the dendera crooner happened late last year in Kariba.

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The band members held a silent protest and refused to go on stage when President Mugabe eagerly awaited the group’s performance after he commissioned the construction of the Kariba South Power Extension project.

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Thus according to Sulu, the behaviour has reached alarming levels and was giving him sleepless nights and had to be stopped.

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“I respect the fact that they are senior band members who played with my father. But they should not take advantage or mistake my respect for fear. The guys sometimes take their bargaining position way off limit. Business principles need to be respected every time. Therefore, I won’t hesitate to replace anyone who tries to present himself as bigger than the dendera brand,” he said.

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“I believe dendera should be free of rotten fish. I made a mistake by letting some of the rotten elements return to the group when they left before. I will from now onwards get rid of bad elements in the group, for good.”

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Sulu will not be the first one to make sacrifices for the greater good of his outfit.

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Sungura virtuoso Alick Macheso and Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi had to let go of some of their most talented band members who seemed indispensable in the past.

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Macheso had to let his biggest find, star dancer Francis “Franco Slomo” Dhaka, backing vocalist Elton Muropa, guitarist Noel Nyazanda, chanter Jonasi Kasamba and drummer Obert Gomba go.

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Though, Macheso’s outfit Orchestra Mberikwazvo was badly hurt, it did not collapse. Instead some of the deserters retraced their footsteps while others are still to find their footing in the dog-eat-dog music industry.

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Music superstar Tuku released some members of his formidable outfit that featured Clive Mono Mukundu and Picky Kasamba. He also set free band members that included marimba player Charles Chipanga, backing vocalist Namatayi Chipanga, veteran bass guitarist Never Mpofu and drummer Simba Dembedza. Nonetheless, the Black Spirits still stand.

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Can the aforesaid be good grounds for Sulu not to take into consideration the concerns of his band members? Is he not to blame for the crisis at the group?

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After all he hired extra talent that played most of the songs on his latest offering “Gunship”. The development sources say incensed some of the band members who felt betrayed.

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Moreover, some of the guys who featured on the album started making appearances at the musician’s live shows.

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And the reception to their style, given their dendera background traceable to Allan and Douglas Chimbetu, has been overwhelming, immediately sending shivers into the spines of the old guard. Subsequently this worsened the already frosty relations between the dendera crooner and his employees.

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Sulu thinks otherwise.

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He maintains the problem is far from the fresh blood joining his outfit but an ego thing. According to the dendera musician, the group has maintained the structure that was used by his late father Simon.

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“I do not have a separate band. Orchestra Dendera Kings has always been like that.

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“We have reserve instrument players just like any other band. And everyone had an equal chance to record on Gunship. I just chose people that had talent and met the standards that I was looking for.

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“This is the reason why some of the guys ended up recoding a few songs. But that style is not peculiar to me I take it from my late father. The door is and will always be open for talented people,” said Sulu.

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To attach weight to his stance, Sulu added that he would again be using the system when he goes back into the studio this year. Style and aptitude, he said, is what he will be looking for.

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A closer look at the late Simon’s band set up, however, seems to exonerate Sulu’s standpoint. Chopper had reserve band members for every position in the group.

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When he recorded “Nguva Yakaoma” in 1990, the group used Solo Makore and Joseph Black on the rhythm guitar, Never Moyo and George Fero for the lead guitar. Two gentleman, one by the name of Clayton and the other Tapera played drums. They all had a chance to add input on the album.

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Moffat is the only band member that has since the time of Chopper played without a reserve. In other groups, Chimurenga guru Thomas Mapfumo had two groups, Blacks Unlimited A and Blacks Unlimited B.

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The supposed disgruntled senior band members have, however, denied that there is any crisis at the band.

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“I’m still surprised with the level that this small misunderstanding has reached. But I can assure you that everything is now back to normal. I’m one of the longest serving members of the group and will not do anything to taint my career.

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“My interest is with the group and the dendera fans hence I’m not going anywhere. I respect the structure and was just misunderstood,” said bass guitarist Nyamupandu aka Mofela.

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Said Nodza: “There is no problem anymore. We have resolved everything with Sulu. In fact there was no issue at all.”

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Meanwhile, the musician refuted claims that he cut his groups salaries by half.

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“The issue of salary cuts is news to me. We have minimum payments that we give members but the money is subject to upwards variation depending with the outcome of our weekend outings. Instead of these trivial complaints, I should actually be complemented for making sure that my band members are paid on time every time,” said Sulu.