The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu , Sunday Life Reporter
IN 2012, the late Cont Mhlanga had an extraordinary rant about Lovemore Majaivana and South African group, the Soul Brothers.
Never one to bite his tongue, Mhlanga, told Majaivana, who had been exiled from Zimbabwe for over a decade even by then, not to bother looking towards Bulawayo again.
As has happened a lot since and before Mhlanga’s rant, there were murmurs coming from Bulawayo about a concert for old times’ sake, as fans expressed their desire to see Majaivana and his twinkle toes on stage in the City of Kings.
This cry has now become a chorus that picks up every few months after it has seemingly died down. On that occasion, Mhlanga was not having it. Majaivana, the proverbial prophet that was not appreciated in his hometown, needed to stay away from Bulawayo as its music lovers that had resoundingly rejected him over the years and Mhlanga felt that he was the man to make this abundantly clear.
“I hear there are calls for Lovemore Majaivana to come back and perform. Where? Here in Bulawayo? Did he not do that and you people and your families and friends stayed away and those that came were not willing to pay? Did you people not shout at him that you will only pay to see the Soul Brothers from South Africa and not him from Mzilikazi?
“Did you people not say his music was not up to standard (whose standard I wonder?) Majaivana did not re-do his music and acts, all he did was put down his tools and do something else and now all of a sudden, his music is great, he must come back on stage?” a fired-up Mhlanga said.
It was a stunning rebuke from a man who knew intimately how Bulawayo sometimes had a tendency to overlook its own, only to embrace them when they were out of reach or had been celebrated elsewhere. For Mhlanga bringing up the Soul Brothers was significant.
Throughout his career, the South African mbaqanga greats always provided fierce competition for Majaivana and any other burgeoning Bulawayo artiste. As small as the cake in Bulawayo for artistes, the Soul Brothers were always entitled to a significant piece of it because of it.
Writing in 1992, the late scholar, Themba Nkabinde, who had an intimate relationship with Majaivana, acknowledged this.
“The Soul Brothers provided the toughest competition. Their music was new, having evolved around 1978; slow, heavy bass and sharp keyboards. SB (Soul Brothers) music was fresh, or even novel; it infused American jazz saxophone, and Soweto lead guitar, while Jerry Mhlanga’s sax had been the sweet marabi as Kippie Moeketsi had played-Sophiatown, hard, mourning sax. Lovemore’s sound after the split with Jobs sounded like tired Soweto marabi. The Zulu Band, except for “Dabuka Mhlaba” on their debut album, merely took an old sound and hoped
Lovemore’s voice would salvage their shoddy instrumentation,” he wrote.
With this in mind, it is perhaps not far-fetched to think of the popularity of the Soul Brothers as a competitive cloud that hung over his head while Majaivana was a performer. It constantly served as a reminder of what true support looks like and perhaps, as people went through the turnstiles in droves at the Soul Brothers gigs, served as a reminder of just how little his hometown valued his music. In Bulawayo after all, the signs of the Soul Brothers’ fame were apparent. Their fashion sense, with their flowing viscose shirts that seemed to complement their energetic dance moves, was widely copied and in the shebeens, their music rang loud.
While Majaivana was widely admired, this was not backed up by numbers at times.
In the late 90s and at the turn of the century, the Soul Brothers were hosting shows that were pulling record numbers of people in Bulawayo. Off the back of these mbaqanga maestros, promoters got rich, walking away with tidy sums of cash whenever the group set foot in Bulawayo. Meanwhile, those who backed Majaivana, like Jeys Marabini, who promoted his last show in Bulawayo in November 2000, were left counting their losses.
“We had almost ten bands playing throughout the night and we thought that the crowd that would rival those seen at events like the gala,” he told Sunday Life in an interview. “For us, it was a major loss because hiring the stage, the public address system and all that took a financial toll. Majaivana himself was devastated because the outcome was bad even though people knew that this was something big happening in the city. For me it was a great loss because I ended up having to fork out money from my own pocket so I could pay Majaivana,” said Marabini.
According to Nkabinde, perhaps the low regard for Majaivana stemmed from the fact that he tended to lean towards more “serious” topics in comparison to his South African competition.
“Lovemore took old folk-songs that his mother MaTshuma sung and taped for him, re-worked them by sometimes adding new words and references and adapted them to the modern instruments, the guitar and keyboards. To many people Lovemore was therefore uncreative; songs like Ukhozi reminded the people of their cattle-herding days in the distant past.
“The commercial musician, the people reasoned, must sing about the immediate material conditions of the urban reality; cantankerous neighbours, drunken youth, irresponsible working-class husbands who squandered their pay on prostitutes, etc. This is the kind of stuff that South African musicians had turned into a money-spinning formula. Soul Brothers, Steve Kekana, etc,” he wrote.
Over two decades later, David Masondo, the Soul Brothers’ charismatic front man, has passed on while Majaivana has never been seen again in Bulawayo since. In a cruel twist of irony, the Soul Brothers are now hardly in demand in South Africa, suffering a fate that seemed only reserved for Majaivana when they were in their prime.
A month from now, however, Bulawayo will get another taste of their beloved Soul Brothers, while it continues to thirst for another taste of Majaivana.