Commuter Omnibus Drivers and Conductors : THE FORGOTTEN DISTRIBUTORS OF MUSIC

In the 80s and 90s Radio, Record Bars, Juke Boxes and the national TV were the main platforms of music distribution and consumption. In the late 90s Flea Markets were a major disruption to the distribution channel, albeit aiding piracy too. There is one key player whose role is seldom ignored, the public transport operators mainly Commuter Omnibus (Kombi) drivers and conductors were at one point the main drivers of music distribution and they were influencers too.

By Argus Mepo

Recording music is one thing and getting it to the public domain is another, both stages are critical in shaping and moulding a hit song. Pushing and distributing music involves a lot of key stakeholders, amongst them are the artists themselves, music distributors, PR personnel, artist management team,  bloggers, deejays and fans, to mention just a few. 

The kombi (commuteR omnibus) operators, the drivers and conductors played a very pivotal role in pushing music, especially the Zimdancehall genre in many special ways.

Commuter Omnibus driver and conductor in Harare waiting for their turn to ferry passengers.

Kombis broke records, they were the major plug to get in touch with when looking for new music and for dancehall the new Riddims.

The ZimDancehall foundation

They had it first, if Soul Jah Love was still alive, he would attest to the fact that the Kombi crews acted as a bridge between artists and the general public by premiering new music first. “Wangu pane chinamba cha Sauro chandanzwa mukombi nechimwe chiriddim chana Fantan haa  ma1 chichapisa” (Translated) I have heard the latest song from a Kombi and its a banger. 

Considering that data is expensive in Zimbabwe, accessing Youtube, Facebook and other online musical sites is a challenge to many, yet they could still stream trending music in a Kombi.

It was easy for passengers to listen to a whole EP, album or projects in a kombi and was difficult for some to do the same comfortably at their own houses. This was a manifestation of power the drivers and conductors in shaping the direction of music. 

Commuter Omnibuses at the Copa Cabana taxi rank in Harare.

The plays and rewinds made in kombis heavily influenced public opinion which was key in determining a hitsong. Rotation in kombis was a starting point of a hitsong. The likes of Killer T, Soul Jah Love, Seh Calaz, Blot, Jah Signal, among others  had many hits that made it big without much airplay due to the support they received from the Kombi guys. 

Being played in a Kombi provided an opportunity for many artists who received little airplay and less visible on social media. Artists like Hwindi President, Kinnah and the Helmet guys owned rotation Kombis.

A lot of upcoming artists could distribute their Cds for free to passengers in the Kombis in a move to push their music.

Its been more than  a year now since the Kombis were banned and music will definitely never be the same. The implications are that many projects have been swept under the capert, some artists have been singing but to  no avail and it is now difficult to know whats trending off the internet streets.