This is a tribute to the Zimbabwean music legend Zex Manatsa who passed away on the 20th of January 2022 after succumbing to cancer. The tribute was written and posted on Social media by music critic Marshall Shonhai. We have published it in its original form. Some parts are in the Shona language.
Zex Manatsa is a man who needs no introduction to us Zimbabweans. He was one of the pioneering artists of local music. His music career started in the late 1950s when he was still in his teenage years. He rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s with his band, The Green Arrows which also included his brother Sabastian.
Manatsa was also inspirational to many artists from back then who went on to become big names themselves, the likes of the late national hero Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, who was also Manatsa’s in law, their children Tendai and Selmar are married to each other. Thomas Mapfumo who in paying tribute to Manatsa called him “Mukoma” meaning big brother.
The likes of James Chimombe, Tinei Chikupo, Loveless Majaivana, Leonard Dembo, Simon Chimbetu amongst many others drew inspiration from Zex Manatsa and learnt a lot from him.
Zex Manatsa was very active as a recording artist for decades between the 70s and 90s. His 1974 monster hit Chipo Chiroowa off an album with the same title became the first record by a black Zimbabwean (then Rhodesia) to be certified gold after selling over 25 000 copies. The song carries an obvious township jazz feel to it and it is one of the songs Manatsa proved his musicianship. No wonder it became a hit.
He churned hit after hit and he is one of the artists our generation grew up on. I remember clearly his music from the 80s
One of his biggest songs and one I believe is the biggest Zex Manatsa song, is the 1981 ballard Chivaraidze! What a beautiful gem, a song I have always believed needs to be given a new lease of life.
From the 70s he produced many hits that included Chechule Wavala Bottom, Musango Munehangaiwa, vaparidzi vawanda amongst many others off the about 15 albums from 1974 to 1979. Manatsa was at his peak in the years the war of liberation was also at it’s very peak, obviously he had to sing about it and encourage both the masses and the fighters themselves. The song musango Munehangaiwa was one such song.
Manatsa was also one of the Artists who performed at Rufaro Stadium at the eve of our nation’s independence in 1980 alongside Jamaican legend Bob Marley.
It is Manatsa’s music from the 80s that held some of us spellbound and the stories of our childhood can never be told and be complete without the mention of Zex’s music.
I have already spoken about Chivaraidze released in 1981, from that year came also the song called Dzvinyu Kuzambira Zuva. One of the things that captivated me as a young child was Manatsa’s songwriting which was really story telling. My mind at that age and I guess like every child was very literal, I took the music in its very literal sense and my mind was tickled and intrigued. Hanzi Dzvinyu kuzambira zuva komwena zvawakavharwa wotomhanyira kupiko? Wotomhanyira mugomo Wotomhanya. I would imagine a lizard running to mountain
The 1982 song Tea Hobvu was another crazy hit “Chingwa chine margarine kunaBaba, tinoda Tea Hobvu” tea hobvu, hobvu, tea hobvu, hobvu! Wanzai chingwa kunaBaba nekuti ndivo vanotenga, vanendebvu dzakachena, dzinenge mupunga wakawoma”
The song is comical, its setting is an apostolic sect prophetic session where the prophet is telling the woman that the tea and bread they have brought for the prophets is not “holy” because the tea does not have milk and the bread has no margarine.
His 1983 release carried popular songs like Mudzimu Uchakupa Chete, Gore Renzara (rino igore, gore renzara), Tipeiwo Ndege (baba tipeiwo ndege, kuti tibhururuke, tonovataurira, ndokuti nzara ipere) my little mind would imagine getting on a plane and flying to heaven to tell God to end the famine. Off this album too was another hit Kuwirirana Kwevanodanana (vanofamba seHangaiwa) a song that was redone a few years ago and has video with it on YouTube.
In 1986 came the song Gonzo NdiShefu! Oh my goodness, what a song, what a story. Again my mind would literally imagine the animals in this story having a conversation. You have to listen to some of these songs for yourself to get it.
If you don’t get it, forget about it !
Then there was 1987!
Man oh Man! The album. This was at a time when local football had national attention, soccer was a big deal then. People used to fill up stadiums then. On Sunday afternoons people would throng Rufaro Stadium and Gwanzura Stadium in Harare and Barbafields in Bulawayo for some serious soccer action.
Zex Manatsa went on to compose four songs in honor of the top for teams in the land then. The songs went on to become anthems for the respective clubs. We were young then and so going to the stadium was a once in a while thing, we listened to soccer commentary on the radio by the likes of Evans Mombasa and Charles Mabika. Nothing then would beat hearing one of the anthems playing on radio after your team had one the Harare derby between Dynamos and Caps United or the Bulawayo derby between Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints or the battle of Zimbabwe between Dynamos and Highlanders .
I would feel things hearing “Makepekepe Shaisa mufaro, Makepekepe wooo huyai muzovawona. Gore riye, vakatora mukombe, mukombe weZifa, huyai muzovawona” and indeed my team were the cup kings. I’m feeling all nostalgic already.
For Dynamos it was Tamirireiko? Tamirira? Dynamos igowese. Moses wagowesa here, Mhoze wagowesa here? Munemo wagowesa here? Zuze wagowesa here? Chirwa wagowesa here? Makanza wagowesa here? Ntawantawa wabata here? And those names were big big names who always came through with the goals for the blue half of Harare.
For Highlanders is was Highlander Iwinile “Ibhola seliphelile, Highlander Iwinile” Oh man, who can forget that Bosso of the 80s?
Many might not know about a Bulawayo team called Zimbabwe Saints or Chauya Chikwata, hanzi “vakomana vanotamba bhora sevanotamba tsoro, ukadyiwa neSaints wadyiwa nebhobho”!
Man, the memories. Good times for Zimbabwe right there!
Off the same album was the crazy song Soccer Star. In the song Manatsa was basically saying use the talent that you have and he likened the gifts that strengthens that animals have to what they would do if they were human. Hanzi “dai tsuro uyo ari munhu, aitora soccer star pakutamba bhora”
In 1988 he dropped a song called “Handisirini Ndakaimba kuti Jah” a song that was set in heaven where Manatsa had died and good went to heaven and God was asking him “who sang a song saying Jah?” And Manatsa was saying it wasn’t me.
Zex was a real superstar to the extent that his wedding was held at the popular Rufaro Stadium where tens of thousands of people were in attendance.
25 August 1979 will go down in history as the day where one of the biggest weddings ever to be witnessed in this nation was held. It was a big show where some of the country’s biggest names took to the stage. Amongst there were legends Thomas Mapfumo, Tineyi Chikupo and many others, the late Oliver Mtukudzi was billed to perform on the day but did not mange to as he was said to have had some other urgent business to attend to on the day.
The Wedding was so big that the Prime Minister of the then unrecognised state called Rhodesia Zimbabwe, Bishop Abel Muzorewa blamed it for the poor turn out at his political rally. People opted to go and pay to watch a wedding than get free food at a political rally. Manatsa was a larger than life character.
In 1994 Manatsa and his wife converted to Christianity and were ordained as pastors in the ZAOGA church in 1998 where they served since then the until the time of his death as a retired pastor.
We could go on all day about Mudhara Manatsa’s life, music and legacy. The man left us an incredible legacy of song but that is not the only legacy he left us. One of the legacies he has left us, a legacy i admired in him most is the legacy of family. A legacy you can see manifesting in his six boys Green, Aaron, Tendai, Freedom, Shingirirai and Taku Zex Jnr. They are all married, with stable families of their own and I have never personally heard any untoward stories about the Manatsa boys. I always marvel at my friends Selmor and Tendai, the way they are crazy about each other and so into each other.
Many of his contemporaries struggled in the area of marriage but Manatsa was married to the same woman until the time of his death a marriage that lasted over 40 years. That right there is success! Today we celebrate and salute a life well lived.
To me Manatsa is a national hero, I do not know what criteria we use to decide who is a hero and who is not. In a nation where we are short of positive role models, we ought to be celebrating prominently man like Zex Manatsa.
We say go well Mudhara, go well baba, go well Mfundisi Manatsa. May your soul rest in peace. Thank you for the music, thank you for the legacy!
By Marshall Shonhai