The Sunday News
YEARS after he had died, Biggie Tembo’s wife Ratidzai narrated how the musician had got up one day while they were watching TV in Bristol in England, convinced that something was burning in the house.
It was months after Tembo had left the legendary Bhundu Boys and the seeds that would lead to his eventual suicide five years later had already been planted.
“I remember one day while we were staying in England, we were watching television and he started saying he could smell something burning in the house and he paced up and down the house looking for smoke, even though nothing was alight.”
A man who had been well and healthy for most of his life seemed to have suddenly lost his compass, perhaps plagued by the stress and anxiety that came with his split from the group he had made his name with.
“My husband became ill a while after separating from the Bhundu Boys. He suffered terrible stress. He began to drink whisky straight from the bottle. He said it would help him sleep, but he couldn’t sleep. He was up for days. And all of a sudden, he started to behave strangely,” explained Ratidzai.
Tembo’s split from the Bhundu Boys is now the stuff of music lore. His story has been used as a cautionary tale for young artistes who are warned about the hazards of fame. Hot on the heels of a fast rise may come an even quicker and tragic fall.
The alleged suicide of South African rapper Jabulani Tsambo, better to fans as HHP, bears a striking resemblance to that of one of independent Zimbabwe’s first breakout music stars.
Like Tembo, HHP was a juggernaut who transmitted happiness wherever he performed.
On stage, his electrifying presence seemed to give off a kind of energy that seemed to mock the big frame that was transmitting it.
It is perhaps befitting for this now departed larger than life character that one of his most glorious achievements came when he did not even have a mic in hand.
Competing in the popular reality show, Strictly Come Dancing, the heavily built wordsmith let his feet do the talking, waltzing his way to the title and introducing a pair of unheralded nimble of feet to millions of watching viewers.
The world seemed to be at his feet and like Tembo before him no one could have guessed that a dark cloud hovered over him, a cloud probably only he could see.
When success deserted them and the applause of adoring fans were replaced by long silences that characterise ordinary, everyday life, both Tembo and HHP unravelled.
As depression is still looked upon likely in most communities and because most people seem to care about performers only when they are on stage, most stars are likely to nosedive into depression when their fame is on the wane.
“This is something I really love and so sometimes when I’m down the stage is like therapy,” rapper Asaph told Sunday Life.
“This is because people, even though people want to be entertained, they’re still uplifting you, they’re still shouting your name and that makes you feel like everything is going well. However, whenever you get off stage, that’s when the drama starts and reality sets in.”
HHP is not the only musician to succumb to depression and allegedly commit suicide this year.
In 2016 Swedish house prodigy Avicii had to retire from touring at the tender age of 27 because of stress and poor mental health.
Earlier this year, he committed suicide by cutting himself with a wine bottle in a hotel in Muscat, Omen.
His death, just like HHP now and Tembo in 1995, was treated as a bolt from the blue.
How could one who seemed so happy, one who made thousands squeal in joy suddenly and so abruptly take their own life?
The truth is that for all three of them the signs had been there to see for years. HHP’s father, a psychologist, said his son had moved like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders for the last few years.
At the height of his troubles in 2015 he had allegedly tried to end his life three times. Tembo’s demons had stalked him from Bristol all the way to Harare and for years many had seen him deteriorate.
Many remedies were prescribed but in the end there was no science or herb which could help him.
Despite his obvious agony, he was treated like a pariah for the last few years of his life and was perhaps not given the help he needed. When he needed a bit of cheer, the thousands who he had made smile in the past deserted him.
“Whenever you tell people that you’re going through some things in your real life people don’t believe you because they think you’re trying to sale some music and pull a publicity stunt,” rapper Cal_vin said in an interview.
“In most cases your private life suffers because we mostly live our lives for the satisfaction of the public. Among ourselves we have conversations about what our next moves as musicians are but no one cares about the stuff that happens in your private life. When your private life hits the news you’re not ready because that’s when artistes get ridiculed and slammed and it gets you down,” he said.
According to Cal_vin life for artistes dealing with problems in their private life was particularly hard because it is hard to confess to a public that only demands perfection from its stars.
“It’s sad that we’re losing artistes to depression. What’s even sadder is that you wouldn’t even know that they’re going through that stuff. I think people sometimes idolise celebrities so much that in the end they have a hard time communicating their humanly problems.
“Celebrity problems don’t really matter that much. It’s the problems away from the mic, away from the stage and away from the studio that are really difficult to communicate. People don’t value celebrities as humans, they just see their star status and that’s it,” he said.
For Asaph, like Tembo, coping with stress has sometimes meant that he drowns his problems in intoxicating substances.
“I do have a couple of people that I turn to when things are low. I won’t lie, sometimes I just get high. When I start overdoing it someone asks me what’s wrong with me, I do have a couple of people that I can turn to and talk to. Maybe this is because of my history in church,” he said.
While alcohol might exorcise demons for a moment, there’s nothing to fend off depression when it comes knocking when one returns to their sober state.
“When you go to events and people are talking about you as one of those big personalities in Bulawayo it feels good, but as soon as you leave that building the life stresses come back. That’s where I feel like our personalities in Bulawayo need to cope and adapt because personally I have to balance between being Asaph and being Tafadzwa,” he said.