24 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Themba Ndlovu's Musical Journey

Vereeniging — AS Zimbabwe counts down to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly scheduled for Victoria Falls in August, one track that aptly captures the beauty of the country, and deserves to be a theme song is "Meet Me in Zimbabwe".

The ditty that was penned by Themba Ndlovu; a talented and accomplished musician, producer, songwriter, bassist, guitarist and dancer; says in part: "Meet Me in Zimbabwe . . . Land in between two great rivers, The Zambezi, the Limpopo, With meanders full of wonders, Land of nature, Land of beauty, Every valley have a lily, Jacaranda and mimosa, Every hillside shows good summer, It's a pastime paradise . . ."

Themba Ndlovu, who has spent most of his life outside Zimbabwe, was born on December 21, 1959 in Gweru to a Baptist pastor who was a choirmaster in his church in Mzilikazi, Bulawayo where Themba grew up.

Themba's mother was also a musician in her own right. As such music runs in Themba's blood.

From an early age, Themba joined his five siblings in the church choir a development that saw him receive a prize for the best music pupil in primary school.

Themba was to lead the school band at Marist Brothers College in Kwekwe in the 70s.

"In 1977, I left the country for the US for educational reasons. I wanted to study medicine. All my sisters were studying there," Themba left for Greece in August of the same year he arrived in the States.

At the end of 1977 in Thessaloniki, Greece, Themba had his first professional gig with a band called Machedonomachi of which he was the frontman.

He lived in Greece till October 1978.

"In Greece I intended to study medicine but then I realised it wasn't my calling and decided I wanted to study sound engineering instead so I left for Germany which was offering better standards for sound engineering." He explains.

However, in 1980, while in Germany Themba had yet another calling. "I saw a band originally from Ghana called GEM Movement which was based in Hanover. They were a very good band. A few months later they called me saying that their bass player had left. So I said to my studies, 'See you later' and I never looked back," Themba quipped. So began the musical journey full of twists and turns, and even a few surprises.

After playing with GEM Movement, Themba went to Munich, where he played with a famous Jamaican drummer called Alonzo Tatum.

"We had a reggae band called The Avengers. On Christmas Eve I left Munich and went to Hamburg where I worked with Makoloko, a group founded by a South African guitarist/percussionist Tefo Hlaele. He was a fantastic songwriter who used to be part of Ipi Ntombi."

Themba had not reached his destination yet; in mid- 1981, he joined Soulful Dynamics, a band originally from Liberia and was based in Hamburg.

Themba says: "The band had a series of world hits in the early 70s with one which was also big in Rhodesia 'Mademoiselle Ninette'. Other hits include 'Coconuts from Congoville', 'Annabella' and 'Birdie' among others. 'Mademoiselle Ninette' sold more than 30 million copies and was among the bestsellers for 30 weeks in Europe.

"Our lead singer was the late Christine Clinton, a Liberian diva. She had worked with Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba before. The band was my college of music. I learnt so much at this time," he says.

Themba was with Soulful Dynamics for four years. In this period, they became the backing band for Goombay Dance Band, which was based in Hamburg as well, and named after a small bay on the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

The group was big in Europe and had a couple of hits with "Sun of Jamaica" being the most popular. It even topped charts in South Africa; "Seven Tears" reaching No. 1 spot in the UK in winter -- spring of 1982, "Aloha-Oe", "Rain" and "Eldorado" were among their popular hits. In the summer of 1983, DJ and Percussionist Kenny Boothe, Sam Hlatshwayo formerly of Ipi Ntombi, Bajabulile (Jabu) Zikalala formerly of Sounds of Soweto (Themba's wife) and Themba came together to start the band Soundproof.

In 1985, Sam, Jabu and Themba sat down to give their group a new name, "As Sam was Zulu from Msinga and so was Jabu from Pietermaritzburg and me from Bulawayo, we asked ourselves what our common denominator was. So we dug into our history and realised that without Shaka, there would not have been the Ndebele nation. At the same time if it was not for Nandi, Shaka would not have been there -- thus the name Children of Nandi," Themba explains.

Sam left the group in 1987 and is now based in Amsterdam ever since, the Children of Nandi have just been Themba and Jabu.

Some of their hit singles include "Meet Me in Zimbabwe" a song that was popular on Radio 2 now Radio Zimbabwe and Mvengemvenge.

Themba is currently preparing to launch his come-back in Zimbabwe.

Initially, it was on his birthday on the December 21 last year, but unfortunately, due to Jabu's health, he had to postpone.

He is, however, hoping to launch during Easter this year, firstly in Bulawayo then, in Harare.

It just goes to prove that no matter where we go, we always find ourselves back to our roots . . . Zimbabwe.

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