The day Igwe revealed he had cancer
By Oliver Kazunga
October 15, 2021 marked exactly 10 years since one of Zimbabwe’s finest Sungura music icons, Tongai “Igwe” Moyo breathed his last at St Anne’s Hospital in Harare.
His demise on October 15, 2011 came as a major blow to the music fraternity.
Although for quite a while he had kept his illness a secret, it was Friday, the 4th of January 2008 that he decided to let the nation know what was “eating him”.
On that particular day, the Muchina Muhombe hit-maker had just returned from his two-week musical tour of the United Kingdom.
Upon his arrival, that same day, he proceeded straight to Bulawayo by road for a date with his fans at the Large City Hall that particular night.
While on his way to the City of Kings and Queens, I called him in the afternoon for an interview about the speculation around his health.
He promised to come to the newsroom before his night performance.
On account of the heavy rains that pounded the city that evening, Igwe called to inform me that he was unable to come to the newsroom for the planned interview.
Rather, we agreed to meet for the scheduled interview at the show venue when he takes a breather during the live performance.
Few minutes before 11PM, together with my work mate, Gabriel Masvora, we then headed to the show venue.
When we arrived, Igwe had just gone on stage after some performances by Assegai Crew, a rhumba outfit and a dance group, Girls La Musica, the supporting acts that night.
The former accounts clerk at Kwekwe General Hospital, who quit his job in 2001 to focus on full-time music, put up a show that wowed the crowd.
He performed wearing a cap.
Revellers at the Large City Hall wondered why he was losing weight and performing wearing a cap, concealing that neat shaven box cut, his trade mark hairstyle.
After about three hours of putting a scintillating performance, the Sungura legend took a breather.
When in the best of his health, Muchina Muhombe as he was also called, would go for four hours non-stop.
But, due to his ill health, which at the time had not been disclosed, the Utakataka Express frontman was now being forced to perform at short intervals.
While he took a breather, Assegai Crew and Girls LA Musica took over.
Accompanied by Masvora, I then went back stage to meet Igwe for the exclusive interview.
And after making formal greetings, he then went on to say: “A lot of people know that I had been ill, but they did not know what it was. The truth is that, I was diagnosed of a cancer called Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in November (2007) and the doctor indicated that the disease had spread to most parts of my chest affecting my breathing. He (doctor) was open and said if I had delayed treatment, I could have suffered from stroke or even worse,” said the late Sungura legend.
Igwe said he started feeling the pain in May 2007, but was not sure of the disease.
“Every time I performed, I felt dizzy and sometimes I would feel like I would drop any time,” said the Utakataka Express frontman, describing how his body started feeling the pinch of the cancer.
He said he got the shock of his life when he was diagnosed of cancer with the doctor indicating that the biggest tumour that was between the heart and the lungs had grown to about six centimetres.
Two other tumours – one four centimetres and the other 3, 2cm – were found in his chest.
The tumours, Igwe said, were the ones that caused compression of his breathing, making it difficult.
He said doctors had explained to him that being exposed to too much smoke caused the cancer.
“They explained that the cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) is caused by exposure to smoking. I think I got affected in the bars and nightclubs where I perform. The doctors explained that the disease was more prevalent to passive smokers,” said Igwe, who was a non-smoker.
According to him, he got relieved when the doctors explained that the disease could be cured.
Following the diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he started chemotherapy in December 2007 and at the time Igwe was getting treatment after every 28 days.
“Chemotherapy is very painful and that has partially contributed to my loss of weight. It affects the whole body and even my hair can just fall off, that is the reason I am performing with a cap, and I am no longer dancing,” Igwe said showing his head and plucking off a tuft of the hair.
Ten years after his demise, the Sungura great has left an indelible mark in the music fraternity.
With a career that spanned for close to 20 years after leaving Shirichena Band in the 1990s to form his own outfit Utakataka Express in the mid-1990s, Igwe had 14 albums under his belt.
Some of his albums include his first solo project, Vimbo released in 1996, Vise, Mano, Naku, Bvumavaranda, Samanyemba, Mudzimu Weshiri, Chingwa, Pinda Panyanga, Naye and Toita Basa as well as two other dual projects, Moyo Wekurera and Chirangano that he did with his long-time friend, Somandla “Mafia” Ndebele.
Following his demise, Igwe who was laid to rest in his rural home in Sesombe, Zhombe, left shoes that have proven to be too big for his eldest son, Peter to fit in.
Peter, who took over the reins of Utakataka Express at the age of 21 in 2011 without any musical background, has so far released five albums.
Peter’s younger brother, Tongai junior who was doing Grade 7 when their father died, needs time to prove himself having released his first album, Dhewa Venyu that has six tracks yesterday.
Tongai jnr has formed his own outfit also called Utakataka Express, which has over 20 members including Guyson
“Baba Gari” Sixpence who also played for Igwe and Peter.
The late Sungura great left an indelible mark in the music fraternity.
Good men must die, however death cannot kill their works!
Rest in peace Igwe. The Chronicle