Mthabisi Tshuma, Showbiz Reporter
WHATEVER he touched turned to gold, whatever he sang became a hit, whoever he groomed listened, whatever he desired he achieved, and wherever he stepped on, he left a mark.
That’s the tale of Zex Manatsa.
When he first touched the guitar in 1974, he formed the Green Arrows that was to sell out copies.
When he sang Tea Hobvu, the African continent shook. When he groomed the likes of James Chimombe and Simon Chimbetu, they matured like fine wine.
When he agreed to his music promoter Jack Janga hosting his wedding at Rufaro Stadium on 25 August 1979, he filled it to the brim, causing a rally in the then Salisbury by Bishop Abel Muzorewa who was then Prime Minister to flop.
When he campaigned for Zanu PF, he was a marked man for the Ian Smith regime but achieved to ensure the country was liberated from Western colonisation.
In his own accord and to followers of his music and congregants he led, the talented contemporary musician and bass guitarist will always be a hero who sadly lost a battlle against cancer.
A dreadful Thursday afternoon is how many will forever remember January 20, 2022, as the nation was plunged into mourning.
In every mourning moment, whether having mingled with the person physically, emotionally, or telephonic, vivid memories will appear in one’s imagination.
Saturday Leisure caught up with a number of arts gurus who gave a glimpse of their relationships with Zex who died at the age of 78.
All concurred that a national hero status would be most befitting for the man who holds the Zimbabwean record of the most attended wedding that had a stadium packed with 50 000 people when he wedded his long-time sweetheart, Stella in 1979.
Fred Zindi, a legendary music analyst gave a glimpse of the life of Zex.
“At the age of 10 is when I met Zex Manatsa.
He was singing with the band called the Green Arrows and I was playing the guitar.
I approached him and his brother, Stanley who was playing the lead guitar and told them that I wanted to join their band.
“He had some very interesting songs including the popular Chipo Chiroorwa which I fell in love with,” Zindi recounted.
He said it was unfortunate he was not able to work with the group as he later went overseas.
“I left for the UK and started a band of my own.
Chipo Chiroorwa is the song that we always opened with and it was a favourite for many Zimbabweans.
I was very shocked to learn of Zex’s death because we were working on him getting an Honorary Degree with the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) but didn’t manage to go through because of the process it undergoes.”
Zindi said all hope is not lost as the legendary musician is set to get an honorary award from the Zimbabwe Music Awards.
Recalling one of their best moments together, Zindi said: “Recently, Zex Manatsa paid me a visit at UZ and he sat down and said ‘ndoda tea hobvu mfana’ and I thought it was a joke and told him the price of sugar and milk had skyrocketed, even ‘chingwa chine margarine ndechababa.’
“That’s how we opened up the meeting with that joke and I’ll forever cherish the moment,” said Zindi, referring to an old Manatsa hit in which he sings about good tea and bread with margarine.
Zindi said Zex was a legend.
“Back in 1979 where Zex, Oliver Mtukudzi, Lovemore Majaivana were the biggest stars, I remember when Zex made history when he married his long-time partner Stella.
His music promoter had a brilliant idea and exploited Zex’s popularity to make money out of it.
The wedding had posters all over, written Wedding of The Year and it was on 25 August, 1979. Fans were charged an entry fee of a dollar to celebrate the day.
“The first to take to the stage was Thomas Mapfumo who played his popular tune, Rolled Africa with Tendai Chikupa starting off with Sylvia.
“I remember Bishop Abel Muzorewa was the Prime Minister at the time and was campaigning for the forthcoming elections but he made the mistake of organising a political rally on the same day with the Daily Mail having a screaming headline that said Zex Manatsa’s wedding spoils Muzorewa’s rally,” said Zindi.
Also rocking the airwaves in the 70s was Ebba Chitambo who was one of the artistes behind Watch out, a song that was an instant hit. He said his music career was influenced by Zex.
“I knew Zex well when they were based in Bulawayo before relocating to Harare.
We used to watch them practise at Pelandaba and they were popular in the township for amarabi.
“They were a big influence in me taking up music because when I started playing, Zex treated me like a brother.
I remember him giving me his brand new Alpha Romeo for the weekend and I last saw him when he stayed in Nketa where I helped him with some equipment so he could hold shows,” said Chitambo while passing his condolences to the family.
Arts guru Cont Mhlanga said: “I only met him later in life when I directed the first Zimbabwe Music Awards events in Harare.
I only worked with him when I directed those ceremonies when he came to collect his awards.
“He was a wonderful sociable communicator.
He generated authority across the room even if he was sitting quietly on a chair far away. Mr Manatsa had a very powerful presence.
“Although I was yet to join arts, I knew that he was a regular in the music scene of Bulawayo during the heydays of the Happy Valley Hotel in Nguboyenja when it was still the prime music venue of the time.
Our home is just opposite the hotel so we got to know all these music giants early on in life.”
Artistic director Daves Guzha said: “One Wednesday early morning, 5am to be exact, in November, 10 days before the Zimbabwe Music Awards ceremony of 2006 that was to be held at Meikles Hotel, Oliver Mtukudzi called and said I am at your gate.
A few months before, we as Rooftop Promotions had been approached by Joseph Nyadzayo (Zima’s founder) to take over the proceedings of that year.
“Naturally I saw it as an opportunity to rekindle my long relationship with the gifted Cont Mhlanga as director and myself as producer.
I digress, it turned out my guest had a specific request.
In between him having tea with bread with sun jam, he laid bare the reason for such an intrusion on my sleep.
‘I wouldn’t be where I am had it not been for Zex Manatsa.
He contributed a lot to who I am in my formative years.
As such, I’d like to support a new category which I’ll sponsor myself called Cheuka Shure/Bheka Emva within Zima.’
“And so it was.
For the first time at an awards ceremony in Zimbabwe, we witnessed the selflessness of one artist acknowledging the other.
True to our thinking ‘Zvikomo zvinopanana mhute’ (a proverb that means ‘cooperation leads to success’) makes became real before our eyes on the night of the awards.”
If not for the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, a send-off at the Rufaro Stadium surely would have been a befitting ceremony.
As a musician who played a very pivotal role in the attainment of the country’s independence, national hero status could be a deserved honour for Manatsa.
For his contribution in the arts sector and beyond, as Chronicle Showbiz we pay our condolences to the family of Manatsa, his friends and his fans across the globe.