A Cape Town Uber driver’s music is taking the city by storm, with customers singing his praises after hearing a selection of his songs.
Zimbabwean-bornEdington “The Big Master” Mushanyuri, 32, has been recording songs for the past two years in between his jobs as an Uber driver and running a VIP protection agency.
The uplifting, reggae and jazz-infused music, with titles like The Cape Town Theme Song and The Uber Theme Song, chronicles Mr Mushanyuri’s experiences of Cape Town and driving passengers around the Mother City.
He has also written a tune appealing to people to save water during the drought.
He was inspired to pursue a career in music after providing VIP security to African artists performing in the city, feeling that he could also entertain people with his melodies.
To date, he has recorded 40 songs, although he has had difficulty registering them with the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) due to his status as a refugee in South Africa.
This has presented challenges in respect of receiving airplay on South African radio, but this has not prevented him from winning fans in his taxi, where passengers lavish praise on him once they discover that he is the artist behind the music playing in his car.
“When I see people are liking the music, I just keep quiet, and let them enjoy it. Eventually they will ask who it is, and I tell them. They are always so surprised, and encourage me to keep doing what I’m doing.
“Sometimes riders will use the Shazam app to see if they can see who made the song, but it does not show up, and then they ask me about it. Then I will sing along with the music to prove that it is me. So I give them a live performance in the car.”
When he first did a song for Uber, the lyrics were in Shona, but his Zimbabwean friends insisted that it would make more of an impact in English, thereby resonating with a broader audience.
Uber has expressed interest in the song, and Mr Mushanyuri is hoping something will come of this down the line.
He wrote The Cape Town Theme Song prior to the start of the past festive season, and tourism companies had shown enthusiasm for it, he said.
Given the happy nature of the melodies, one might not realise their creator has endured an exceptionally troubled past at times. Like many Zimbabweans under the Mugabe regime, he has had to look for new opportunities to make a living for his family.
Prior to arriving in Cape Town in 2007, he spent several years “border jumping” in neighbouring Botswana in order to find work so that he could make money to support his late mother. Given his mother’s opposition to the ruling Zanu-PF party, his family was often targeted and beaten.
His regular forays into Botswana were incredibly dangerous. On three occasions, the group with whom he was walking great distances to Francistown with was attacked by bandits in the jungle.
“The armed robbers knew that we did not have passports, so we would be using the jungle path to Francistown. If the police caught you, they would arrest you and deport you immediately. I was always lucky to escape somehow, but there was a time when the girls we were walking with were raped.
“One time when I managed to escape, I tried to fall asleep under a tree, then there was a hyena about six metres away from me. I fled, and this hyena followed me for 6km.
“Eventually I thought I had lost it and fell asleep. But when I woke up there were six or seven wild dogs surrounding me, and I had to climb up a tree and sleep there for the night.”
In Botswana, Mr Mushanyuri did odd jobs and was eventually trained as a mechanic. For a long time he was able to avoid the police and deportation, but his luck eventually ran out.
The prison in Francistown was no picnic, with filthy conditions defining his time there.
He was also singled out by a police officer for abuse. That was when he decided to “bulk up” and build his muscles through weights and gym work in the yard. “That is how I first got the name ‘The Big Master’.”
Around 2007, Mr Mushanyuri and a group of friends decided to undertake a trip to Cape Town, hearing that people would be paid for “picking and packing grapes”.
They overslept on the train, missing their intended stop at Bellville, and arrived at Cape Town Station with R120 among the four of them.
They were fortunate to be taken in as boarders by a landlord sympathetic to the plight to refugee Zimbabweans.
Given his muscle-bound frame, Mr Mushanyuri was able to find work as a bouncer, first at a club in Observatory and later Sea Point.
The experience was not one he enjoyed, he said, as he had to enforce racist door policies and confront gang members who frequently looked for trouble in the clubs.
It was then, with the assistance of his Zimbabwean friends, that he decided to start the VIP protection agency for African artists visiting Cape Town, while also taking up a career as an Uber driver.
“It is all hard work, but making music is now something that I want to do with my life. I want to support my wife and my six-year-old by doing this, so hopefully I can start having my songs registered soon,” he said.
He is working with two producers on his music and records at several studios across Cape Town.
He also performs live with the band Hattah Fyah at Chicago Pub and Grill in Milnerton on Thursday evenings.