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Composer of Zimbabwe’s National Anthem Music, Lecturer Freddy Changundega Speaks Out

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Composer of Zimbabwe’s National Anthem Music, Lecturer Freddy Changundega Speaks Out

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa expressed dissatisfaction with the rendition of the national anthem played during an event in Harare end of February, Mr Lecture Freddy Changundega found himself challenged and affected despite not being present at the event.

By Dickson Bandera

Changundega, a highly esteemed music composer and lecturer with a career spanning over four decades, holds the distinction of composing the music of Zimbabwe national anthem back in 1994.

In his view, the president’s comment rightly emphasized the importance of the national anthem.

“I felt challenged as this reminded me of the perfection that was emphasized when I composed the national anthem music in the early ’90s, and all the processes that we went through until the anthem was commissioned in 1994,” said Mr. Changundega during an exclusive interview at his home in Beatrice.

Changundega recounted the journey he traveled in the process of composing the music of the national anthem, the role played by the late Professor Mutsvairo, and the experiences he had with other people involved in the process.

“When I arrived at the Police Band, they were playing ‘God Save the Queen’ in honor of the British Queen, but at independence, we adopted ‘Ishe Komborerai Africa.’ We didn’t play this song for long because the government then began the process of creating a new song that resonated with the ethos and aspirations of Zimbabwe,” he said.

The switch to a new anthem spanned seven years, involving two national competitions—first the National Anthem Words Competition in 1987 and second, the National Anthem Music Competition in 1989.

A total of 1,685 competitors entered the Words competition, and a four-verse poem by Dr. Solomon Mutsvairo won the contest.

“I didn’t enter the first competition because I knew there were expert writers who would do this job well. But for the music composition contest, I knew not many would compete with me,” he added.

“When an announcement was made that Dr. Mutsvairo had won the Words Competition, I was satisfied because I knew him as a prolific writer. When I read his poem, I was satisfied that even musically, it was a perfect piece,” said Mr. Changundega, popularly known as “Simbi Boy” in Beatrice.

Professor Mutsvairo’s winning poem underwent review in Parliament, where some amendments were made. The fourth verse was condensed and integrated into the three verses, resulting in the final version comprising three verses. Parliamentarians emphasized aspects of the liberation struggle, incorporating words like “Neropa” to underscore that Zimbabwe’s independence came at the cost of bloodshed.

After finalizing the poem, the government announced a second competition to find experts capable of composing music for it. The criteria specified that the music should be dignified in tempo, simple and easily sung, and capable of encouraging public participation. Moreover, composers were mandated to surrender copyright to the state. Submissions were due by March 30, 1990.

With meticulous precision, Changundega orchestrated the rhythm, melody, keys, tempo, and all the elements that coalesced into a soul-stirring anthem, to become the winner. This earned him a certificate of recognition and a prize money of $7,500.

“I was on the train heading to Bulawayo when a melody came to my ears, prompting me to wake up and jot it down in my notebook. Upon arrival, I then arranged the music, and this was the piece that went on to win the competition,” he recounted.

“About 300 people entered the competition, and the selection process occurred in phases. The final two songs, mine and another, were then broadcasted on national radios, allowing people time to listen to them and choose the one they felt was best. Following this final contest, mine was selected as the winner.

“The task was challenging, particularly due to the poem’s irregular verse structure, which complicated its adaptation to music,” explained Changundega.

“Music is easier to work with when the lines have even numbers. Our anthem does not, so it was difficult to adapt.

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“At this time I had just graduated with my band masters diploma so I was at my peak,” he further elaborated.

Despite the option to submit in either solfa or staff notation, Changundega chose both, further demonstrating his musical proficiency by recording a four-part harmony version of his composition assisted by his colleagues.

Asked on how he dealt with the irregular verse challenges, Changundega said I had to find a way to prop words such as “Neropa,” highlighting the significance of sacrifice in Zimbabwe’s history.

Many scholars and media practitioners alike have gotten the facts wrong by attributing the music of the anthem to the late renowned writer, Prof Solomon Mutsvairo.

This prevalent historical inaccuracy arises from the conflation of the anthem’s two distinct components: the lyrics(the words) and the music (the melody, rhythm).

“A frequently posed question in schools, “Who composed the national anthem of Zimbabwe?” fails to specify whether it refers to the lyrics or the music. Given that the anthem had two creators, one for the lyrics and one for the music, the question is fundamentally flawed,” noted Changundega.

A glaring example of this error is evident in some VPA textbooks, which mistakenly attribute both the anthem’s words and music to Dr. Mutsvairo, thus overshadowing Mr. Changundega’s contribution.

Speaking on this issue, Mr. Changundega remarked, “I have school children who come here after arguments on who composed the national anthem. Some deny that I did that composition so what I do, I take out these certificates and show them.

“Now that we have this subject Visual Performing Arts (VPA) on schools, there is a need to ensure accurate information in these books,” he emphasized.

In addition to composing the national anthem, Changundega has also created numerous songs performed by the Police Band during national events, including the burial ceremonies of national heroes. He composed “Shamwari Dzakanaka,” a nine-track album recorded by the Police Band in 1995, with the title track currently featured on the Police tv program Crime Watch.

At ZCC Mbungo, he has composed and arranged popular hits like “Ndire Ndire” and “Samere” after mentoring new musicians within the band.

Furthermore, he contributed to the composition of the SADC anthem, where he was invited to collaborate with other national anthem composers from the region.

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