By Fred Zindi
I regret not being able to speak Ndebele. That realisation came when I introduced myself as a Zimbabwean to a business partner in Johannesburg recently.
He started speaking to me in Zulu. He assumed that every Zimbabwean speaks Ndebele and therefore understands Zulu because he could converse very fluently with his previous partners from Bulawayo.
I also regret not being able to speak Ndebele because way back in 1987 I had an opportunity to learn to speak the language, but was too lazy to do so. In that year I recorded and produced Lovemore Majaivana’s album titled “Jiri” although I did not understand the lyrics behind most of the songs we recorded.
He and his brother, Anderson, kept talking to me in Ndebele, but I was too arrogant to learn. Now I regret it.
If I were the Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture today, I would make the learning of both Shona and Ndebele compulsory for every pupil in Zimbabwe. But all this is a digression from today’s topic, which is Lovemore Majaivana.
“Majaivana” means “a great dancer”. Lovemore earned his name because of his agility and dazzling act while on stage. Majaivana was born Lovemore Tshuma on December 14 1952 in Mambo Township, Gweru, where his father worked as a priest while his mother led the church choir.
The family later moved to Bulawayo in the 1960s where Lovemore continued with his primary education. Because his upbringing was now in a Ndebele environment, he found it only natural to sing Ndebele traditional songs at school.
This singing later developed into a singing career after leaving school. According to Lovemore, both his mother and grandmother used to sing to him some Ndebele folk songs which he in turn translated into pop music, better known as inquzu in the southern region of Zimbabwe.
Like many youths of his time Lovemore became a singer without the approval of his parents. Most parents thought that music could never be a career for anyone.
As a result Lovemore used to sneak out in the evenings to rehearse with groups such as The High Chords and the Echoes in Bulawayo.
It was only after he had won the best vocalist slot at the Trade Fair in 1977 that his parents became aware of the fact that Lovemore was now taking music seriously. Because of his thick baritone voice and his excellent choreography on stage, a lot of musicians became interested in working with him.
This led to stints at places such as Honde Valley Hotel and Marisha Nightclub where Lovemore became a local hero. He also made an attempt at playing the guitar and drums. After the death of his father he joined the Elbow band which only lasted for a short period.
In 1980, after playing in Bulawayo for four years, he returned to Harare and formed his own band, The Job’s Combination (named after Job’s Nightclub which was owned by then businessman Job Kadengu) where the group was the resident band. It was not until 1983 after he had moved to Harare that Lovemore started churning out albums with his backing band, the Job’s Combination.
Memorable tracks from some of the best LPs include “Okwabanye” (some people only take but never give), “Mama Ngivulele” (Mother please give me your blessing) “Istimela” (a lover blaming the train for going with his girlfriend, “Ukhozi” (the hawk taking away a child) and “Salanini Zinini” (farewell all my friends).
Lovemore had the opportunity to share the stage with Bob Marley during Independence celebrations in Zimbabwe in 1980 and later with musical giants such as Dorothy Masuka and Hugh Masekela.
Job’s Combination involved teaming up with blind singer Fanyana Dube, performing various popular musical idioms including Ndebele songs. They had several successful singles early on, and their debut album, “Istimela” was a big seller.
Despite all this, the band broke up shortly thereafter, and Majaivana sang with the Real Sounds for about two months. The turning point in his career came when he joined the Zulus, a band from Victoria Falls which featured two of his brothers.
Finally having a stable base from which to work, Majaivana and his band released an album of traditional folk songs, “Salanini Zinini” that he and his brothers had learned from their mother in 1984. From then, popularity steadily grew especially in Harare where he had bought a house in Bannister Road, Braeside.
After some misunderstandings while playing with Job’s Combination at Job’s Nite Spot in Harare, Lovemore was forced to leave the band and worked as a Dairibord milk salesman for a short while.
However, the passion for music grew even stronger after he had stopped playing. In 1985, he could not resist this passion any longer. He travelled back to Bulawayo to team up with his brother Anderson and several other musicians. They called themselves the Zulu Band. Without wasting time an album was recorded. This put Lovemore back on the music scene.
In 1987 while touring England, he recorded the album “Jiri” with the Zulu Band which was dedicated to the late Jairos Jiri, a man who had been responsible for establishing a charitable organisation which looked after disabled people.
The album sold very well during the UK tour and it was during this period that I interacted with multitudes of Ndebele-speaking people based in Britain who came to support Majaivana’s concerts.
In 1993 after the death of his bass guitarist, Lovemore decided to quit music. By 1995 he still had not staged a show and was now concentrating on his private business of buying and selling furniture items.
A few years later, Majaivana left Zimbabwe for the United States of America. He has kept a tight lid on what he is up to over there and although news came out that he had recorded an album in the USA that album has not yet reached these shores.
We are not sure whether Majaivana has quit music for- ever or will make a comeback. It is a question of wait and see. What we know for sure is the fact that Majaivana has been a great inspiration for most of the musicians that have come from Matabeleland such as Jeys Marabini, Solomon Skuza, Sandra Ndebele, Africa Revenge, Willis Watafi, Busi Ncube and Albert Nyathi.
Fred Zindi is a professor at the University of Zimbabwe. He is also a musician and an author of several books on music.