Sjava’s bizarre backstage rituals . . . Promoters’ nightmare encounter with SA star

The Sunday News

Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter 

WHEN music star Sjava stepped on stage well just after 2am, few among the hundreds dancing the night away on the Bulawayo Athletic Club’s well manicured turf would have known that the South African performer almost failed to make it for the gig. 

For a while, with a blockbuster crowd eagerly anticipating his debut in the City of Kings, the South African performer’s availability for the show was touch and go. On that day, it had not been by chance that the South African performer had not been seen doing the rounds earlier in the city, a ritual that all foreign performers observe before they eventually get on stage in Bulawayo. 

There had not been any radio interviews or the usual media blitz and there also had not been the usual pictures from the airport as the star landed. 

In fact, such pictures had only started circulating close to midnight when most of the star’s fans were already at the venue. 

Unknown to the throng at BAC that night, Sjava and his management had almost come close to cancelling that gig at the eleventh hour.

“Sjava was supposed to have travelled to Bulawayo on the earliest flight on that day but instead they cancelled it,” said one of the promoters that spoke to Sunday Life anonymously. 

“Although the agreement had been that he comes here early as is usually the case, he instead had taken other bookings in South Africa at short notice. By doing that, however, they compromised our own show but we were patient because we thought he could take the later flight,” he said. 

Promoters discovered the gravity of the situation that faced them when that flight was later cancelled, leaving them scratching their heads on how to bring the South African performer to Zimbabwe.

“Luckily, we learnt that there was a Fastjet flight for later that night and so we decided to settle on that. Our plan was to whisk him straight from the airport right onto the stage. We didn’t want to dilly dally, because we were running out of time and people in Bulawayo can be impatient especially when they’ve spent their hard-earned money,” the promoter said. 

As the night wore on, inching closer to midnight, the promoters were hit with a bombshell. There was a possibility that the Fastjet flight could also be cancelled because of inclement weather. 

With the crowd swelling by the minute at BAC, the promoters knew that they had a crisis on their hands. 

“The crowd had gathered and people had spent their money for the show. We couldn’t cancel and it was too late to make an alternative plan. We had a potential riot on our hands,” the source said. 

However, by a stroke of luck and much to the relief of the promoters, they got news that the flight had been cleared to take off. Sjava was in the air and it seemed that the worst was now behind them. 

To their surprise and anger, however, that was not to be the last bit of drama that they would witness that night. Sjava, renowned for his reverence for Zulu traditional customs, gave them a taste of what promoters have to endure when they book him. 

“The guy just disappeared into the night at the airport. No one knew where he had gone. His manager said this is what he does before a show so we waited. We waited for at least 30 minutes but at the back of our minds we knew that the crowd would be growing impatient by the minute,” said the promoter.

That would not be the last of Sjava’s pre-show rituals. After a tense drive to the venue, the promoters were eager for him to get on stage as soon as possible to pacify an impatient crowd. This was not be, however, as Sjava once again went into a bushy area near BAC to do another round of rituals. 

The promoter’s patience was tested when the performer came back but instead of going on stage, once again went into the dark for a third round of rituals. This time, the KwaZulu-Natal crooner set alight herbs that seemed to be impepho (incense) which is used to invite or call the ancestors in and to cleanse away bad energies and make way for good clean energies. 

It is also used as an offering when praying and to appeal to trance conditions.

“At this time, we lost all patience with him. We told his manager to go and get his artiste because we had spent a lot of money hiring them for the gig and here he was wasting our time when they had already been late. It was ridiculous because as a person he is not as traditional as he pretends he is. He is a typical boy from the suburbs so we felt the act was unnecessary,” he said.

After Sjava’s late but satisfying performance, he and the promoters did not depart on friendly terms, as instead of being accompanying him to the airport as usually is the case, they told them to find their own way there. 

The last straw was Sjava’s initial refusal to take a picture with fellow headline act, Freeman. 

“He just refused to take the picture and after we had a talk with him, he agreed but he was sulking throughout. He instead distanced himself from Freeman and we felt that it was uncalled for. It would have been great to show solidarity with a fellow African artiste especially for him as a person who touts himself as a traditionalist,” said the promoter. 

Sjava’s gig illustrated the difficulties that promoters face with South African performers in the festive season. Due to the abundance of gigs in their home country, they are likely to renege on agreements made earlier as they target shows nearer home. 3D Events in particular had a nightmarish festive season with artistes from Mzansi. 

DJ Zinhle only revealed that she could not perform on Friday when promotional posters were already making the rounds, throwing her much anticipated gig into disarray. The gig had to be moved to Thursday despite the fact that Friday was a working day. 

Black Motion’s gig at Cosmopolitan also suffered from another last minute cancellation, as it emerged that one person in the management team had forgot to inform the group about the gig, only to later claim that they did not want to perform in Bulawayo because of fear of reprisal for xenophobic attacks that happened a few months ago in South Africa. This was despite the fact that DJ Zinhle had a spectacular gig in the same city a week before.