The Sunday Mail
Features and Arts Editor
In the music galaxy of his time, he was the sun that every planet orbited.
Long before there was Dr Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, there was Zexie Manatsa.
In fact, the lanky superstar was the incubator that helped hatch the equally talented Tuku.
And Tuku, for all the dizzy heights he scaled, would never forget the role played by the “Tea Hobvu” hitmaker in jumpstarting his career.
“I went on a countrywide tour with Zexie and I believe that was the time most people started appreciating me more,” the late Tuku said in an interview.
For his allotted time on the musical stage, Manatsa would leave it for the pulpit, and he did not disappoint.
His was one of the voices that boomed loud in spurring the freedom fighters and rallying the masses to support the liberation struggle.
Who has forgotten the catchy and inspiring tracks such as “Musango Mune Hangaiwa”, “Chitima Nditakure”, “Mukoma Nhongo”, “Tsuro”, Wasara Wasara”, “Zuva Rabuda”, “Hama Dzapera”, among many others?
“Mwari baba tine chichemo, chichemo chedu mvura ngainaye.
Mwari baba isanaye musango, musango umo mune hangaiwa,
Hangaiwa idzo ndedzemudzimu, mukadziona musadzibate.
Tangai maenda kuna Nehanda, Mhondoro huru yenyika ino . . . ” sang Manatsa in “Musango Mune Hangaiwa”.
Settlers completely failed to decipher the politically charged messages in the songs.
This was to inspire many other musicians and it became a trend in local music.
Such was the influence and genius in the late singer.
His loss is not only a blow to the Manatsa family, but the whole music fraternity and country at large.
The veteran singer also helped to bridge the gap between the old and new generation.
He was willing to work with the new breed of musicians, among them Mathias Mhere and his own children.
“Manatsa was a uniquely talented individual who was not only concerned about his own musical career, but also shared his talent with other musicians, notably leading to the formation of the Sunrise Kwela Kings at Jairos Jiri Centre in Bulawayo, where he advocated the inclusion of musical skills training,” said National Arts Council of Zimbabwe director Nicholas Moyo in his condolence message.
“The death of Zexie has once again robbed the nation of one of its most talented, celebrated and revered artistes who inspired many musicians such as Oliver Mtukudzi, James Chimombe, Lovemore Majaivana and Simon Chimbetu.”
Secretary for Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Nick Mangwana also sent his condolences via Twitter.
“Sad to learn of the demise of music legend Zexie Manatsa. May his legacy be of some comfort to his family and friends. May his soul rest in peace.”
Manatsa was not only a master of political messages.
He easily delivered religious, sport and social songs in a pulsating manner.
Songs that easily come to mind include “Chipo Chiroorwa”, “Tea Hobvu”, “Gonzo Ndishefu”, “Ishe Jesu”, “Chengetanai” and “Chivaraidze”.
He also had soccer fans in mind when he composed equally exciting tribute songs for the country’s top three football teams — Dynamos, Highlanders and Caps United. On stage, the singer and his backing group, the Green Arrows (formerly Mambo Band), were always neatly dressed.
He was a musical hero that back then was popular for being one of the few musicians who effortlessly filled to capacity Jamaica Inn, which is situated a spitting distance from the capital along Harare-Mutare highway, and Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield.
“My hero is gone. He was a beacon,” said his son Tendai.
However, one thing that most people who followed the musician, and those who did not, will forever remember is his ostentatious wedding at Rufaro Stadium on August 25, 1979 when he married Stella Katehwe.
The stadium was filled to capacity despite a $1 admission fee for adults and half the price for kids.
“It was a big day for us. We never had a proper plan for that wedding. It just came to my mind after we were not impressed by the way a district office in Rusape had attempted to formalise our union.
“We chose Rufaro Stadium because we knew people would come in numbers,” said the late singer in one of his many interviews.
Chimurenga maestro Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo, Mtukudzi, Tineyi Chikupo, OK Success, among other bands, performed at the event.
The couple, which hailed from Highfield, was escorted by drum majorettes from ZBC Mbare Studios to Rufaro Stadium.
Fans cheered them along the way.
Indeed, it was a blockbuster wedding; one that will take long to forget or even match.
But, how did the late
singer get into music?
He used to play home-made guitars with his brother Stanley at a farm where they grew up in Mhangura.
When their parents struggled to pay school fees for them, they accepted an invitation to perform at a club in Chinhoyi over the school holiday.
When the owner of the club failed to pay them, they took his guitars and moved to Bulawayo where their brothers stayed.
While there, they worked with Jairos Jiri for a while before being employed by a club owner.
Manatsa got a job at a confectionery company and would do music at night when he came from work.
He was later transferred to Harare and the group followed him.
Gradually, they began to make a name.
Later on, they were signed by a South African producer and worked on the hit song “Chipo Chiroorwa”, which became an instant hit.
That marked the rise of Zexie Manatsa.
Later on, songs like “Tea Hobvu”, which attempts to explore life in the apostolic sect, became national anthems.
But his career suffered a serious knock in 1987 when he was involved in an accident that left him in a coma for a couple of weeks.
It took time for the musician to recover.
In the process, he lost his house
in Harare, cars and many other
Eventually, his family decided to turn to God in 1994 when they had relocated to Bulawayo.
They later became ZAOGA church pastors in 1998.
In August 2021, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with a cancer known as Multiple Myeloma.
He unfortunately succumbed to the disease on Thursday.
He was 78.
Manatsa is survived by his widow, six children and several grandchildren.