The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Correspondent
WHILE he was never shy to talk about his roots, few knew that Dan Tshanda, the music legend and founder of the music movement known as Splash, was actually of Shona extraction from Zimbabwe.
This would be a surprise to most people, particularly in Bulawayo where his music has remained a staple for the best part of three decades.
South Africa is awash with many who seem reluctant to reveal their Zimbabwean roots. In what is perceived to be a largely xenophobic country, some feel that revealing their true identity might set the dogs of bigotry on them. So they cower and pretend to be South African, blending into multi-ethnic metropolis like Johannesburg.
Tshanda was not one of those people. In an interview with veteran broadcaster Ezra Tshisa Sibanda while they were in the United Kingdom,
Tshanda was candid enough to reveal that he had Zimbabwean roots, born of a Shona father.
“Remember my father came from Zimbabwe. My father is a Shona,” Tshanda said as an incredulous Sibanda, who had initially only asked how one of his children was named Rutendo, which pressed the musician to reveal more about his roots.
“(He was) vaChihure. He changed his surname, he changed his surname, I just forget this (Shona) name but I’ll get it for you,” he said.
Tshanda suggested that despite the fact that his parents were married, his father had other women, largely due to traditional ways of life at the time.
“My father was very busy. Yes, he was married to my mother. As I said there’re no restrictions (one the number of wives) in Venda so my father was very busy,” he said with a chuckle.
His father had, according to the late musician, changed his identity when he settled on the southern side of the Limpopo in South Africa.
“He got that surname in Venda. He was changing everything to be a Venda,” he said.
It was ironic that Tshanda, a man thought by some to be a typical South African musician making a quick buck from Zimbabwe and particularly Bulawayo’s love of all things South African, was actually a Zimbabwean. To suggest that he was a closet Zimbabwean would perhaps not be fair, as maybe before Ezra Tshisa Sibanda, no one had asked the question of his true origins.
Even in South Africa, Tshanda’s roots were the object of much dispute after he had passed away.
Social media eulogists and even reputable media outlets like the Sowetan claimed that he belonged to the bright lights of Johannesburg, where they said he was born in Chiawelo, Soweto 54 years ago. This was immediately disputed by those from the northern parts of South Africa, who pointed out that he was in fact born in Matangari, Venda and only grew up in Chiawelo.
As that dispute raged, maybe a few of his followers from the City of Kings would have watched it with a smile on their faces, because despite the fact that he was undoubtedly born in South Africa, Dan Tshanda belonged to Bulawayo.
Besides the Soul Brothers, it is hard to think of an artiste who has had such a lasting impact on Bulawayo as the man who helped propel the likes of Dalom Kids to stardom.
Tshanda was largely a forgotten man in South Africa, even in Venda. To illustrate this, his loved ones have been spared the media stampede that followed the deaths of other stars in South Africa in recent memory. The rumours and speculation around his life have also been kept at a minimum. With this in mind one would think that Tshanda, who made his entry into the world of music with 1985’s Mr Tony on Gallo Music, is not the legend that most of Bulawayo fancies him as.
In a sense this was true, as he was largely regarded as yesterday’s man on the South Africa music scene.
“We will always talk about how an artiste can still survive even if South Africans are no longer interested in your music,” Kwaito legend Arthur Mafokate said while acknowledging that Tshanda was loved more in Zimbabwe and Botswana than at home.
To South Africans Tshanda was a bugglegum artiste from the 1980s and as the name of the genre suggests, its flavour was supposed to diminish with the passage of time and in that country it did, giving way to kwaito and other genres at the end of apartheid.
Artistes like Tshanda and Freddy Gwala, headline acts in some parts of Zimbabwe on a fair day, largely play in rundown nightspots in places like Hillbrow, which itself has a strong community of Zimbabweans.
However, the taste and flavour of “Splash” seems to have endured in Zimbabwe even though its proponents were considered well past their sell by date in their own country.
In Bulawayo, particularly in the informal and illegal watering holes known as shebeens, Tshanda and his acolytes’ music has a stranglehold and it does not appear that their grip will loosen up any time soon.
Together with the Soul Brothers, Tshanda has managed to cultivate a fan base that seems to transcend generations. Perhaps Zimbabwe,
Bulawayo in particular, is in a musical time warp. Music that was great a few decades ago still gets people on their feet. While today’s popular music has no shortage of takers, music lovers continue to yearn for music that defined their earlier lives, it seems, do not move on and this perhaps explains why many are still hoping and waiting for the return of Lovemore Majaivana.
“Old school” music always strikes a chord anywhere but some will wonder why Tshanda’s school of Splash did not find any takers in his later life in South Africa.
Music always brings a flood of pleasant childhood memories and Tshanda’s Splash provided the soundtrack to the childhoods of many, particularly those in the western suburbs whose houses were within earshot of shebeens and other places of pleasure.
Although his music spoke the language of the shebeens, Tshanda’s songs found itself in most homes and it is there that, together with the Soul Brothers, their legacy continues to be cemented.
Their music has become a gift that one generation leaves to the next and it is for this reason that, although his body succumbed to heart illness on 5 January, Dan Tshanda, that shebeen poet, will never die. He will be buried this week, but his music will live forever.