Sax appeal: Zimbabwe sweethearts send surprise serenades

Sax appeal: Zimbabwe sweethearts send surprise serenades


HARARE: Soaring romantic melodies reverberated among the homes and office blocks of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare on Wednesday, as squads of saxophonists became surprise messengers of love.

Despite decades of economic suffering, and a sometimes conservative culture that discourages public displays of affection, Zimbabwe has embraced Valentine’s Day.

The cards, flowers and chocolates mirror the similar celebrations around the world, but this southern African country has also fallen for the idea of hiring a saxophonist to ambush and serenade one’s sweetheart.

Arundel Matoi, known on the sax scene as Sir Arundel, took his mission to play for lawyer Tarisai Leoba at her office seriously.

Hired by her Canada-based spouse to spring a musical surprise, he first pretended to be seeking legal advice as he toured her workplace.

Then, sure of the terrain, he came back in with his instrument and launched into a solo rendition of “Love Nwantiti” by Nigerian artist CKay.

Leoba was astonished but, luckily for her absent spouse, delighted.

“What just happened is as special as the music is,” she gushed.

“This has never happened to me before and I was shocked. I felt very special. The feeling was overwhelming,” she said.

Matoi said he had spent a lot of time rehearsing with his saxophone for Valentine’s Day, his busiest of the year.

Mixed emotions

“I trained for this day. I have many visits scheduled,” he told AFP. “Saxophone music, I would say is gaining momentum.

“I will say it’s our time. People book us for parties, for weddings. It appears like it’s a must: You must have a saxophonist.”

One small disappointment: 2024 being a leap year, some feel women should take the plunge in gift giving, and the numbers hiring saxophonists to play for their men are lower.

The bouquets that accompany the solo are no less lavish.

In a country where hyper-inflation has rendered local currency all but worthless, the flower arrangements are often intertwined with high-value US dollar bills.

The saxophone was invented by a Belgian, but its exotic music has become more and more accepted in Zimbabwe, according to the busy musicians.

In Zimbabwe, which has suffered for decades with hyper inflation, hard currency like the US dollar is a priceless Valentine's gift
In Zimbabwe, which has suffered for decades with hyper inflation, hard currency like the US dollar is a priceless Valentine’s gift © Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP

“Here it’s very exotic in our traditional lines of music and, looking at it being a new thing in Zimbabwe, people have fallen in love with it,” said Stephen Nyoni, known to fans as “Stavo Sax”.

Hard cash

Saxophonists are fully booked for Valentine’s Day and can charge between $60 and $200 — a small fortune in Zimbabwe’s inflation-haunted economy — to surprise a loved one.

“It’s a good vibe. It’s overwhelming, it’s too busy but I appreciate it because we are getting a lot of engagements with the Zimbabwean crowd,” Stavo said, as he rehearsed for his own packed schedule.

“People are really appreciating it and the demand of calls has been rising, but then there are a lot of saxophonists in Zimbabwe, so we share the clients and everything,” he said.

So, plenty of work for musicians, but how do the lovers feel about the intrusion?

“People cry, they get confused, sometimes they don’t even know what to do. It’s a whole mix of emotions all the time.”