We’re used to envying musicians for their fame and their talent. Pop stars who have legions of cheering fans and rock stars who live a wild, hard-partying life: these are the lives that many aspire to emulate. But it’s not always easy being at the top, and destiny has a way of reminding all mortals of their fragility on this planet.
More and more, people are becoming mesmerized by music history, by tracing the ever-present lines that exist between musicians, artists, bands, and influences. And every so often in music history, an artist comes along who does something really great and is barely remembered for it; occasionally, this happens to an artist for the duration of their career, as they continue to produce quality music that for some dire reason goes unappreciated by the masses.
“Like many great men before and after him, Majaivana has perhaps been loved more in his absence than when he used to walk the streets and dance in stages in Zimbabwe. Absence, they say bring fondness, and this has been certainly true in Majaivana’s case. Where is he now? Does he even think about music? Is it true that he’s now a pastor? Is he going to come back? Well, I guess. Only time will tell.”
The quote above is a transcription from a narration in a new Lovemore Majaivana Tshuma’s tell-all documentary which sheds light into his ambiguous decision to renounce music two decades ago.
Entitled “The Story of Lovemore ’Majaivana’ Tshuma” and produced by Pride Bongani of Zazise Wide, the seemingly antiquated tabulated visuals, possibly made from undated interviews shows the man who has been a fixture amidst Zimbabwe’s recording scene for quite some time bewailing unrequited love and tribalism as the reasons that led him to take a detour from the performing arts.
An artist who has been called the voice of the counterculture having championed the Ndebele musical culture thematically and sonically, a figure so iconic that his fingerprints can be found in some of today’s popular music, Majaivana believes that his career would have taken off if he sang in Shona as music sales and the success of an artist in Zimbabwe follow “tribal lines”.
“My life has always been a sad one, I’ve been dealt blows below the belt,” 65-year-old muso said.
“First of all, it was the language that I sang in, it didn’t really bring me the fortune that one expects if you look at these other people that sing in the widely known languages. They get a better share of the profits. It’s partly why I left music.
“Whenever I went to get my cheque and I saw the other cheques of people that sang in a different language, they had better cheques than mine. Okay, you might say my music was not better than theirs, but fact is when we travelled to a lot of places like England, Sweden, Denmark and Canada we had full houses, but back home it was on tribal lines. This thing about tribes and all started years ago,” he said.
The “Istimela” singer who relocated to the United States in 2000 because he felt unappreciated also shared in the documentary that the deaths of two of his band members in quick succession from Aids in 1993 were also two blows that almost ended his career much earlier.
Said Majaivana; “Our bass guitarist he fell sick, and I would like to say although it’s painful, he succumbed to Aids. So, to get a replacement was a very hard thing to do. Shortly after his death, one of the guys again died, now this was the drummer, also from the same illness and there was nothing else I could do except give up.
“Although I would have loved to keep on playing, the situation again for the musician in the country was not the best that I could really say I could keep on pursuing my career. It was hard for me to keep on,” he remembers.
As the story proceeds, we learnt that by the time he released Isono Sami in 2000 (a project that came about his then producer Tymon Mabaleka of the Zimbabwe Music Company’s insistence), Majaivana was just jaded and ready to bow out.
In one of the song on the album – Zwangendaba – Majaivana sings rough and rootsy the historical narrative of the marginalisation of people from Matabeleland, saying his misdeed is being a Zwangendaba – a reference to offspring of King Zwangendaba who settled in Malawi from Zululand. He deplores the lack of appreciation he has suffered in the music industry. Regardless of how well he sang or danced, or fly his garb was, or how he has shared stages with prominent stars like the now-lates Bob Marley, Dorothy Masuka and Hugh Masekela and how didactic his records were, radio and journalists gave him little to no recognition to his success and influence.
At some point, he was forced to relocate and drift back and forth from Bulawayo to Harare because of how economic disempowered the second largest city in Zimbabwe was. Frustratingly, the hustle never paid off as he hoped that on ‘Angila Mali’ – another song from Isono Sami – he sings about his craving to return to his home in Bulawayo but says he is too broke to afford a ride.
Now, having vanished in the US and found a haven, Majaivana has turned to his late father’s calling of preaching. Asked in the documentary if he sees ethnicism and tribalism losing its grips off the creative sector, the cleric said he did not know and he was leaving it in “God’s hands.”
Tribalism is a notorious phenomenon in Zimbabwe. It is branded into the minds of people through our education, media, businesses, cultures and many other subtle acts that derive not only from or perpetuate stereotypes and prejudice but also contribute to the elimination of tribes. The tribal rifts are so deep that many Ndebele and Shona tribesmen have even attacked one another on social media.
Economists have blamed Matabeleland’s economic backwardness on rampant tribalism. The region, just like any other provinces like Manicaland, has been forthright about devolution for many years now, but they are quick to be singled out and made to look like troublemakers attempting to split the country every time they raise the issue.
This subtle exclusion, marginalisation and oppression draw a thick dividing line between ordinary people. Many people of Shona descent become uncomfortable when conversation touches on these issues, not necessarily because they agree with what’s going on but more likely because all of this is a consequence of the government’s dirt-under-the-rug attitude, and the people’s anger doesn’t care who it ricochets onto. So in many instances, it is unclear whether this anger is directed at the government or Shona people in general.
The Zimbabwean constitution acknowledges sixteen languages and, thus, cultures in Zimbabwe. Out of sixteen, only two -Shona and Ndebele- are taught in local schools, and of these two, one is dying at both the hands of the perpetrators of this dying and at the hands of the victims, the Ndebeles.
Consequently, the Ndebeles have become very passive about what becomes of their culture. As Tswarelo Mothobe, wrote in 2014, through the years of this physical and psychological oppression, “the Ndebele people have diluted their culture with cultures from neighbouring South Africa”.
“Many young men now play at being Zulu, Xhosa or Sotho instead of the Ndebeles that they are, descendants of Mzilikazi. This denial of self contributes to a ‘Self Tribalism’ that gnaws at our existence,” wrote Mothobe.
History shows that besides the Bathwa and the Kalanga, continued Mothobe, every other tribe came from somewhere outside of the area between the Zambezi and The Limpopo Rivers, yet today the former of these two tribes do not exist in Zimbabwe and the latter has been reduced to a minority only recognised by language yet not represented in the spheres influence or the direction and progress of the nation.
To get the intricacies of tribalism in Zimbabwe’s music industry, check out “The Story of Lovemore ’Majaivana’ Tshuma” below.