The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
WHEN Timothy Sekane left then Rhodesia for neighbouring Zambia his daughter, Sheilar Sibve, was only six years old.
The next time that he would see her, his friends would question if he remembered what his daughter looked like. The little girl that he had left all those years ago was now a grown up woman aged 41.
Rhodesia was dead and Zimbabwe was now a teenager, having won its independence 16 years before that reunion with his daughter.
Things had changed. Zimbabwe was free and the man who had left Zimbabwe named Selane had changed his surname to Sekane in order to better fit in the Zambian Copperbelt where he settled. It was time for him now to go back home.
“I wondered why he didn’t come back especially if things weren’t going well for him. There was an outbreak of cholera in Zambia in 1996 and he almost died. He sent a letter to me saying he was very sick and he wanted to come back home. When his friends led me to him, they said let’s see if he can remember his daughter. He identified me immediately although he had last seen me when I was six years old. Immediately I started crying,” Sibve told Sunday Life.
His return to Zimbabwe signalled the end of a journey for Sekane. Life had come full circle for the musician turned freedom fighter. From the streets of Makokoba to those unforgiving military camps to the Copperbelt, he had lived an eventful life.
It was time to once again walk the path that for him began in the 1940s and abandoned in 1961.
The Masuka “romance”
From his earliest days, Sekane’s talent as a composer and guitarist was obvious. Before the Golden Rhythm Crooners were formed, Sekane would lend his pen to other artistes on the city’s vibrant township jazz scene. One of those artistes was a young songbird that was about to shake Southern African music with her golden voice.
“He started in the early 40s. He was interested in playing the guitar and composing as well. I think that’s when people started using him as a guitarist and composer. I remember he composed the song Nonsokolo by Dorothy Masuka. People thought she wrote that song but he was the one who wrote it,” said Cool Crooners member George Salimu.
According to Salimu, that romance with the pen turned out in the end to be a fling. Whether he stopped writing for other artistes because of a lack of acknowledgment is a question whose answer was buried with the man that now lies six feet underground at Athlone Cemetery in Bulawayo.
“Funny enough he did not want to write anymore after composing for the likes of Dorothy. I just don’t know why. We could sit as a group and plan our songs, have arguments and then fix whatever needed to be fixed,” said Salimu.
Sekane was a powerful figure on the township jazz scene and together with fellow musicians they gave Makokoba an early taste of what stardom looked like.
“Stanley Hall is the mother of everything. Then after it we played at McDonald Hall in Mzilikazi which started picking up popularity as time went on. Those were the main venues. There were no major promoters back in those days. You would pay whoever was in charge of a venue and maybe give them five shillings to book a hall.
We used to have groups like Manhattans from South Africa and that’s where we got the idea to do the kind of township jazz that we did. The crowds back then were amazing. People would leave the beer gardens and come to the halls. We would fill up those halls every time we had a gig,” Salimu said.
When he died some questioned and wondered how such a great man could pass away with barely a cent to his name. After a career that spanned almost seven decades, many expected the jazz legend to live in some degree of comfort. However, while jazz was popular and gigs were plenty during Sekane’s heyday, the exploitation of artistes was rife.
“There were people calling themselves promoters because they had music equipment. For that they called themselves promoters but they were using us the musicians. The equipment was not expensive but for us as musicians it was a bit much. So, you’d get these businesspeople that would buy that equipment and then exploit us. That’s why you’d find bands named after certain businesses,” Salimu said.
With life worsening under colonial rule, it was not long before Sekane put down the guitar and picked up a gun.
The soldier that never came back home
Sekane’s first wife, jazz musician Faith Dauda, followed her husband to Zambia. There their relationship fell apart. While he fell out of love with his wife, he began a love affair with the country that became his home for over three decades.
“My mother joined him in Zambia. She followed him but things didn’t work in their relationship. She passed away in 1970 and we were left with my grandmother. We hardly had contact with him and when we would get in touch it was through letters but at times we wouldn’t get even those. He would send money and it would be sent back because the Smith regime had grown so arrogant.
“While he was in Zambia he was also involved in music at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Lusaka. He was very popular in Zambia and he moved to the Copperbelt and he stayed there until there was a ceasefire and we later gained independence,” said daughter Sibve.
While the war was over, Sekane was now reluctant to come back to the country that he had been willing to sacrifice life and limb for.
“After the end of the war Lord Soames was offering travel documents and my father said he missed the bus to take him there. I think he just didn’t want to come back home,” said Sibve.
A sad farewell
When Sekane was buried on Wednesday morning, the surviving members of the Cool Crooners were the last to leave his grave side. Perhaps it was a chance to give a last and final farewell to a friend who they described as one person who used to lift up their spirits when times were tough. They will never hear the sweet sound of his fingers on the guitar again. When times get tough, who will crack a joke to lift their spirits? But more than anything, there was relief on their faces. They had managed to give their dear friend a dignified send off. At time point, it looked like the legend would get a pauper’s burial.
“The one thing that you should know about my father was that he was so discreet. He didn’t want to worry anyone,” said Sibve.
“But I could sense that there was something wrong with him even though he didn’t want to tell me. He got ill and I said stop this drinking because he used to drink a lot. He refused and claimed that he was very strong. But when the doctor said stop he stopped. After the show last month he got sick. I sent my son to get him but he refused and said he would not leave his wife and we couldn’t do anything about that. When I came to see him the week before he died, things were really bad. You could tell he was going.”