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Zimbabweans mourn jazz pioneer Masuka

By Nqobile Tshili

Renowned Zimbabwe-born jazz singer Dorothy Masuka who died on Saturday in South Africa has been described as one of the pioneers of African jazz and mother in the music circles.

The late Dorothy Masuka
The late Dorothy Masuka

Masuka, who was born in Old Pumula, Bulawayo lived in Johannesburg, South Africa and died at the age of 83 at her home. She had been suffering from complications related to hypertension after suffering a mild stroke last year.

Zimbabweans and South Africans alike yesterday paid tribute to Masuka for her music contributions.

Art guru and former Amakhosi Cultural Centre director Cont Mhlanga described Masuka as one of the country’s music pioneers and music human capital export to South Africa.

“We used to call her ugogo uDorothy and it’s difficult to describe her role in the Zimbabwean music. I’m at a loss for words about the people and generation that started and developed Bulawayo Jazz and took it across Limpopo River to South Africa.

“They took it to South Africa because of the resources that were there at the time. That jazz became Africa’s jazz, South African jazz yet its Zimbabwean music, Bulawayo music,” said Mhlanga.

Masuka’s career, Mhlanga said can be easily traced to Amakhosi and her performances to McDonald Hall and Stanley Square.

“That triangle of creative spaces is what was exported to South Africa. Carrying those South African documents, she did not hide being Zimbabwean, that’s why she would come here to perform,” said Mhlanga.

He said despite Masuka launching her music career in South Africa, she remained a proud Zimbabwean.

“Even though she went for career opportunities in Johannesburg, she did not hide her identity. Never did she pretend she was South African.”

He added that Masuka should be a lesson for young people who follow career opportunities to never hide their Zimbabwean identity.

During her career, Masuka shared the stage with locals, Oliver Mtukudzi, Cool Crooners and Paul Lunga. One of the remaining Cool Crooners, George Salimu said the group was saddened by Masuka’s death describing her as a mother figure in music.

“To musicians, we have lost a mother in music. That woman, in everything that she did, was always jovial. Her mood musically made her somebody who people could easily work with. She had humour and losing such type of a person is very difficult, especially for us older artists.

“I don’t think there can be anyone like Dorothy again,” said Salimu.

He said his colleague Timothy Mkandla wrote a song for Dorothy in 1963 titled Nontsokolo that became a hit.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa twitted:

“While the spotlight of stages all around the world were trained in her, she shone a light on the joys and struggles of life across the lines of race, class and nationality that were so starkly entrenched in the world and era in which she first emerged as an artistic force.”

Last year when Masuka was in Bulawayo to bury her sister, she said she was saddened by the fact that Zimbabweans were not doing enough to honour their artistes.

“Zimbabwe owes me a lot. Here at home, no one is bothered to do anything about anybody. When I die, this means people will forget about me as people don’t want to acknowledge what I’ve done and contributed to the music industry in my home country.

“They’re reluctant to invite me to festivals, especially here in Bulawayo. They’re afraid to pay me money.

They want to pay me peanuts,” she said in an interview before challenging the then Minister of Sport, Arts and Recreation, Raymond Kazembe to do more to honour musicians and artistes who have put the country on the world map.

Masuka whose career started blossoming in the 1950s was born to a Zimbabwean father and South African mother. Just like many artists of her time, her music touched on the injustice black people faced.

Her most popular songs include “Hamba Nontsokolo,” “MaGumede,” “Khawuleza,” “Suka Lapha” and “Five Bells”. The Chronicle

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