Article by Ogova Ondego
Published September 18, 2007
The book Joyce Jenje-Makwenda has written
Joyce Jenje-Makwenda is a unique filmmaker and journalist. She has risen from the humble position of a house wife to that of a multi-award winning researcher, author and filmmaker through hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. She speaks to OGOVA ONDEGO in Harare.
First of six children, Jenje-Makwenda married soon after completing her Ordinary Level education. She had then given birth to four children in quick succession. For most African women, the position of a full time home-maker would have been a cul-de-sac. But not to Jenje-Makwenda who decided to grab her destiny by the throat and pursued her dream like a wounded buffalo.
While expecting her fourth child in 1984, she was conversing with her father, one of the earliest inhabitants of Mbare town, Harare, on the development of music. Unknown to her, this conversation would lead her into serious research that would result into a documentary film and book on the development of music in the southern African nation known today as Zimbabwe.
“My dad, a music enthusiast who had made a living as an accountant, gave me the names of one of the first musicians who I talked to and gave me leads to other musicians,” she says.
“I was also lucky because my mother was one of the early African journalists in the 1950s. She sent me to the archives where I found lots of material that formed part of my research.”
Having been allowed to do what she liked by her parents as the eldest child, Jenje-Makwenda says it was this that enabled her to become a researcher, author and filmmaker.
“I didn’t even like cooking. If I were a kitchen person I probably wouldn’t have been as
adventurous as I am. I just completed form four and didn’t do much till after my children
had grown up. I funded the research on my book and film from making and selling samosas. I slept for less than three hours as I brought up my children while studying journalism via
correspondence,” she says of how she juggled her wifely and motherly duties with studies.
From the leads she got from her parents and pioneer musicians, she secured archival material on Zimbabwean musicians from GALLO Records of South Africa and also from the government
archives in Zimbabwe.
Having collected what she deemed to be adequate material on Zimbabwe urban music, Jenje-
Makwenda produced her first documentary film in 1992 that won an award and catapulted her to the limelight. As a result of this she travelled abroad for the first time. Since then she has been giving lectures on Zimbabwe township music both at home and outside.
“I got money from NORAD in 1994. I got further funding from Ford Foundation in 2003 to
complete the publishing of my book,” says Jenje-Makwenda, who describes herself as a third generation of the early urban settlers to Harare, her grandparents having come to the south Rhodesian town in 1931 when her father was merely six months old.
In her book and film, Jenje-Makwenda says people from all over Zimbabwe, Malawi, South
Africa, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania mixed in this melting pot of cultures that
spawned the township culture that gave birth to township music.
Saying “I was just a house-wife when I embarked on this project,” Jenje-Makwenda adds that “It was after I started getting invitations to give lectures in colleges and universities
that I realised what I was doing was valuable to humanity. This was also the time I got
my first funding to do the project when I visited Sweden.”
She says she has an archive of music of 300 songs dating from 1929 to the 1970s. The first song to be recorded in Zimbabwe was in 1929.
“I had just wanted to write the book but I was persuaded by people to make a documentary film on it as well. I funded my research from making and selling samosas.”
Jenje-Makwenda has since made 10 documentary films since 1992. Five of these films, she says, are on music while the others are on women.
She is currently pursuing studies leading to a Master’s degree in music in South Africa.
“The thesis I am writing is on women musicians which is going to be a book as well,” Jenje-Makwenda says, adding that she has recently publishesd two book: a Shona novel and a children’s book a story. “I have published a music album–Women’s
Voices–which will be released by Gallo Records of Johannesburg, soon.”
While the children’s book is based on what Jeje-Makwenda says was a story she heard from one of her grand-daughters, the novel–Gupuro–is “about a divorce token in the Zimbabwean culture.”
She says of the music recording, “When I came up with the idea of a CD and I teamed up with one of the best southern African producer, it was just our project but it turned out that a big company like Gallo got interested in it.”
On her earlier work, Jeje-Makwenda says “Early urban settlers fused traditional music with jazz. Jazz, that had come from Africa to America and back via electronic media, became the main fusion. Jazz is our tradition. It
isn’t western but African. Early township music was not just jazz, though, but also Kwela,
Amarabi and others that all used jazz as a fusion.”
She says Zimbabwe township music changes according to time and environment.
“Out of this realisation, I am now writing another book on Zimbabwean township music from
the 1970s to the present,” the author says.
Joyce Jenje-Makwenda rose from a humble house-wife toa globe-trotting author and filmmaker
Among the awards the self-taught Jenje-Makwenda has won include Best TV Producer of the Year
at Reuters’ National Media Awards (1993), Freelance Woman Journalist of the Year at UNIFEM –
Federation of African Media Women of Zimbabwe (FAMWZ) 1999, and Population and Gender Writer
of the Year (UNFPA – Zimbabwe Union of Journalists) in 2002.
Jenje-Makwenda credits her success to what she terms as her being “born in an artistic family.’
“My uncle was one of the first to make a living from painting while my mother was a journalist.”