By Fred Zindi
Way back in 1975, in the month of January, a pop group known as Pilot came up with the song: January
Sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me
You make me sad with your eyes
You’re telling me lies
Don’t be cold
Don’t be angry to me. You make me sad
Come and see.
I am not sure what it is with the month of January, but as we have come to witness, this is the month when music legends such as Hugh Masekela, Oliver Mtukudzi and now Zexie Manatsa have died.
I received the shocking news of Zexie Manatsa’s death through his son with whom I had been working the whole of last year to get his father receive some recognition in the form of a ZIMA Award and and an honorary doctorate from the University of Zimbabwe for his great and iconic contribution to the Music of Zimbabwe.
Accompanied by his wife, Stella and son, Freedom, early last year, Zexie Manatsa paid me a visit. As soon as he sat down, he declared: “Ndinoda tii hobvu” (“I want a cup of tea with plenty of milk”). I explained to him that the price of both milk and sugar had skyrocketed in 2021 and these things were no longer affordable let alone “Chingwa chine margarine kuna baba” (the cost of bread and margarine.)
“Indeed that was possible in the 1970’s when one could buy a loaf of bread for less than a dollar. Not now”, I told him. He understood.
If Josh Hozheri, 2 Kings or Chipaz, Zimbabwe’s premier music promoters, were grown-up men in 1979, they would have certainly jumped on the theme: ‘Zimbabwe’s Big Five’ and ended up filling Rufaro Stadium to its full capacity with music fans.
The top five musicians of the time making up the big five would have been Thomas Mapfumo, Zexie Manatsa, Oliver Mtukudzi, Tinei Chikupo and Lovemore Majaivana.
Tuku and Chikupo as we know, are now late. Majaivana and Mapfumo are exhiled in the United States of America. Out of the top five music stars of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, we were only left with Zexie Manatsa living in Zimbabwe but sadly he passed away on January 20, 2022.
In 1979, Zexie Manatsa made history when he decided to get married to his long-time partner, Stella. His music promoter, Jack Sadza, had a brilliant idea.
He exploited Manatsa’s popularity and decided to make capital out of it.
He called it the ‘Wedding of the Year’ where he chose Rufaro Stadium as the venue for the wedding and fans would pay $1 each to witness the ceremony.
On August 25, 1979, Rufaro Stadium was full to the brim with excited fans who had come to witness this amazing event.
One eyewitness who attended the event recalls: “It was one of the most memorable events ever to take place in Salisbury. The festivities took place at the National Rufaro Stadium where a huge concert took place, with some of the most important bands in the country performing in honour of one of the legends of Zimbabwean music,” the witness said.
“A crowd of people, about 60 000 (!!?) packed the stadium. As soon as Stella and Zexie made their entrance, Thomas Mapfumo started performing one of his most popular tunes Africa.
Later that afternoon, things started to get out of hand when Tineyi Chikupo and the Mother Band started playing the song Sirivia ….a monster hit in Zimbabwe at the time.
The crowd became really wild and started tearing fences apart to get closer to the stage. Two people were hospitalised as a result.”
It seems Zexie’s wedding became a major music event on that day to the extent that everything else came to a standstill.
Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who was at that time prime minister of Zimbabwe /Rhodesia, and who was campaigning for the forthcoming elections, had made the mistake of organising a political rally on the same day.
Muzorewa later blamed Manatsa for the poor attendance at his political rally. The Daily Mail had a screaming headline on their front page the following day: Zexie’s wedding spoils Muzorewa’s rally.
Zexie Manatsa, born in 1944, is a founder member of the Green Arrows Band originally known as the Mambo Band.
At the age of 15, he began his musical career which started in Mhangura.
In 1974, the Green Arrows began writing their own songs to mass appeal.
South African saxophonist West Nkosi who was also a consultant for Gallo Records, discovered the band and became their producer in 1977.
The resulting album, Chipo Chiroorwa, sold so well that the band became known all over Zimbabwe.
Their success continued in the 1970s and 80s, as they continued to produce well-received tours and hit records.
Some of their most memorable songs include their protest tunes Nyoka Yendara and Tsuro.
Their 1981 album Mudzimu Ndiringe was also produced by West Nkosi. Manatsa also introduced Oliver Mtukudzi and several other bands of the time to West Nkosi.
Zexie’s low, raspy lead vocals and bass playing defined the group’s sound, while his brother Stanley played the lead guitar. (Alick Macheso claims that he learned most of his bass-playing styles from Zexie Manatsa).
The Green Arrows are best known for their hits Chipo Chiroorwa and Dzvinyu.
Their track Musango Mune Hangaiwa stayed at number one in Zimbabwe’s pop charts for a staggering 17 weeks.
At the peak of his career, Zexie inspired and was hero-worshipped by many known musicians at the time who include Oliver Mtukudzi, James Chimombe, Lovemore Majaivana, Tinei Chikupo, Leonard Dembo, Thomas Mapfumo and Simon Chimbetu.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Zexie Manatsa released many tracks which have proved to be all time hits such as Chipo Chiroorwa, Bambo Mwakwatila, Vaparidzi Vawanda, Mwana Waenda, Chechule Anavala Bottom, and Chimwamuna Chamimba. ( I guess the use of Malawian language in some of their compositions was to please the Malawians who in those days filled up the migrant labour force in Mhangura where Zexie and his band gave performances).
Manatsa remained popular in the post-independence era, producing hits such as Chivaraidze and the swooning Tii Hobvu. The band’s popularity only declined in the early 1990s when Zexie was involved in a nasty car accident.
He temporarily suffered a loss of memory during his hospitalisation. .He attributed his survival to the workings of God.
For this reason, he decided to pursue religious work. He then joined ZAOGA church where he used his musical skills and knowledge of interaction with crowds to preach to worshippers.
Zexie Manatsa made significant contributions to the development of the arts in Zimbabwe. He directly or indirectly nurtured the likes of Oliver Mtukudzi, James Chimombe, Tinei Chikupo, The Four Brothers, Susan Mapfumo, Jordan Chataika, Martin Ndlovu, Devera Ngwena Jazz Band, The Bhundu Boys, Alick Macheso, Leonard Dembo, Leonard Zhakata, System Tazvida, Simon Chimbetu, Khiama Boys, John Chibadura and many other artistes to become the stars they ended up being.
In short, he was the father of pre and post-independence Zimbabwean music as he was instrumental in playing traditional music as evidenced by his hits such as Musango Mune Hangaiwa, Madzangaradzimu, Nyoka Yendara, Mudzimu Ndiringe and Tsuro; songs which had pro-liberation innuendos.
Many guerrillas had used his house as a base and he had become a marked man by the Smith regime for singing pro-liberation songs.
As Manatsa himself proclaimed: “If Zanu had lost elections at independence, I would have relocated to Mozambique as I was a marked man”.
While in Bulawayo, he encouraged the inclusion of musical skills at Jairos Jiri Centre and hence through his efforts, the first Jairos Jiri Band known as the Sunrise Kwela Kings was formed.
He was also involved in giving performances at most ZANU PF star rallies.
Manatsa was a strict, religious and disciplined parent. Most of his children are musicians with Tendai, married to Oliver Mtukudzi’s daughter, Selmor, playing the lead guitar, Green Manatsa playing keyboards and Freedom Manatsa playing drums.
Manatsa, at first was reluctant to have his children becoming musicians. He encouraged his children to study hard in order to achieve what he considered better professions but as we know it, the apple does not fall far from its tree.
In Zexie Manatsa, Zimbabwe has lost a true music mentor, advisor and a legend who died of cancer on January 20 aged 78.
How people die remains in the memory of those who live on. We will forever remember Zexie Manatsa and pray that his dear soul will rest in eternal peace – .
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