Reliving the true UB40 experience

Robert Mukondiwa, [email protected]

It had been a few weeks of absolute mayhem and unfortunate drama. Two sides of one dream, UB40, pitted against each other.

Except, it was the one side that was being belligerent and pretty much being a big girl’s blouse as the Ali Campbell fronted faction of UB40 which was embarking on a worldwide tour whose dates included Harare on Africa Day, was being repeatedly denigrated on social media by his erstwhile band members.

Would-be attendees should have been made to understand that there were in fact two UB40 ensembles after the split as there were those just bent on selling controversy and clickbait with every passing story in the media who decided to foment the idea of a “fake UB40” visiting our shores and ripping people off.

The irony was, with the number of fake products this country has embraced from fake designer apparel, to fake hair and counterfeit shoes, it was on UB40 that many started developing a standard and insisting on purportedly the ‘real deal’.

Suffice to say those who knew what they wanted and what they knew to be the real UB40, yours truly included, had long bought tickets to the show which we expected to be quite the extravaganza.

And what was the litmus test used? Simple. Ali Campbell is to UB40 what Jesus is to the New Testament. If Jesus is not in the New Testament, it becomes an interesting novel and not a sacred text. Ali Campbell is a real rump steak, the other UB40 is soya chunks.

Ali Campbell is Michael Jackson and the other outfit is Tito Jackson. Still a Jackson, but definitely not the real deal. Ali Campbell is Mr Bean, and the other UB40 is Pat Bean.

Ali Campbell performing in Harare

And yes, because the lead singer and iconic voice to all the classics that we love were done by UB40 when it was united, the bulk of them anyway, are voiced by Ali Campbell and they haunt our ears bearing his iconic voice. He is what Adam Levine is to Maroon 5 or Chris Martin to Coldplay.

So when Ali Campbell slid like a haunting spirit onto the stage on that chilly Africa Day night at Old Hararians Sports Club and broke out into song, that signature voice was too difficult to ignore.

That “bright-eyed boy” that had literally grown up before our very eyes albeit ahead of us who were much younger than him, has aged gracefully physically, but that voice had remained frozen in time, sounding crisp, heavenly and persuasive for over four decades of performance.


The crowd could not help, but break out in song along to Ali Campbell and UB40, shaking off the winter chills. The icicles melted from glossed lips as a mature appreciative crowd savoured what they knew to be a moment in history. A history that is cruelly ebbing.

It was not lost upon the crowd that these musical geniuses, these iconic voices, were switching off the lights one by one in a rapture of talent. We had lost Tina Turner barely 24 hours before and Ali paid tribute to the Queen of Rock n Roll.

Soon voices like his, as gloomy as it would seem, would have to be retired in spite of how beautiful they were.

The last time he had been in Zimbabwe was in 1982. Who knows the next time he will grace a stage in Zimbabwe before he retires if at all he returns to “sing our own song” as it were?

And this adult crowd was fully appreciative of the music and the magic that the night afforded all true connoisseurs of the music.

Belting classics like Kingston Town, Rat in Mi Kitchen, and I Can’t Help Falling In Love, Ali showed why he was the face and voice of the united band. Indeed if a true UB40 lover closes their eyes and imagines UB40, that mischievous face of the blonde-haired boy pops up before, well, nothing really.

The rest are vague creatures apart from the distinct Astro who unfortunately passed away last year, hanging his guitar and microphone.

Ali Campbell on stage at Old Hararians Sports Club
Image: Twitter/jimshinky

And so after a brief encore, the show ended and the smart, well-groomed and sophisticated crowd glided out orderly. No fistfights. No snatched phones. No poaching of alcohol. No cussing. Just pure and shocking decency.

I suppose good music attracts good people.

The irony however was people ignored the call by the other UB40 to in effect, not attend the Ali Campbell gig. But perhaps the greatest irony is that UB40’s entire discography barring a handful of songs is made up of cover songs.

How one can kick and scream to claim the crown of the “authentic” copycat is remarkably sad. But a signature voice silenced those critics.

And Zimbabwe was left smiling in unison, hearts beating to one rhythm united in song and appreciation.


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