amazing musicians. He is still alive and going strong. His son, Tendai, is also doing amazing things.
Zexie Manatsa is a founder member of the Green Arrows Band. Originally, the Green Arrows were formed in 1968. At the age of 17, in 1959, Zexie Manatsa launched his musical career in Mhangura when he joined the Green Arrows.
In 1972, they began writing their own songs to mass appeal. South African saxophonist West Nkosi, who was also a consultant for Gallo Records, discovered the band and became their producer in 1977. The resulting album, “Chipo Chiroorwa”, sold so well that the band re-formed as the New Green Arrows and moved to Harare. Their success continued in the 1970s and 80s, as they continued to produce well-received tours and hit records.
Some of their most memorable songs include their protest tunes “Nyoka Yendara” and “Tsuro”. Their 1981 album “Mudzimu Wuyayi” was also produced by West Nkosi.
The Green Arrows are known for their Manatsa brothers. Zexie’s low, raspy lead vocals and bass playing defined the group’s sound, while his brother Stanley played lead guitar. The Green Arrows are best known for their hits “Chipo Chiroorwa” and “Dzvinyu”. Their track “Musango Mune Hangaiwa” stayed at number one in Zimbabwe’s pop charts for a staggering 17 weeks. At the peak of his career, Zexie inspired and was hero-worshipped by many top musicians who include Oliver Mtukudzi, James Chimombe, Lovemore Majaivana, Tinei Chikupo, Leonard Dembo, Thomas Mapfumo and Simon Chimbetu.
In the 1970s and 80s, Zexie Manatsa released many tracks which have proved to be all-time hits such as “Chipo Chiroorwa”, “Bambo Mwakwatila”, “Vaparidzi Vawanda”, “Mwana Waenda”, “Chechule Anavala
Bottom”, and “Chimwamuna Chamimba”. ( I guess the use of Malawian language in some of their compositions was to appeal to the Malawians who in those days made up the majority of the migrant labour force in Mhangura).
Zexie Manatsa made history in the late 1970s when he married his long-time partner, Stella. His musical promoter, Jack Sadza, had a brilliant idea. He exploited Manatsa’s popularity and decided to make capital out of it. He called it the “Wedding of the Year” where he chose Rufaro Stadium as the venue for the wedding, and fans would pay Z$2 each to witness the ceremony. On August 29, 1979, Rufaro Stadium was full to the brim with excited fans who had come to witness this amazing event.
One eyewitness who attended the event recalls: “It was one of the most memorable events ever to take place in Salisbury. The festivities took place at Rufaro Stadium where a huge concert took place, with some of the most important bands in the country performing in honour of one of the legends of Zimbabwean music.
“A crowd of people, about 60 000, packed the stadium. As soon as Stella and Zexie made their entrance, Thomas Mapfumo started performing one of his most popular tunes ‘Africa’. Later that afternoon, things started to get out of hand when Tineyi Chikupo and the Mother Band started playing the song ‘Sirivia’ . . . a monster hit in Zimbabwe. The crowd became really wild and started tearing fences apart to get closer to the stage. Two people were hospitalised as a result”.
It seems Zexie’s wedding became a major music event on that day to the extent that everything else came to a standstill.
Bishop Abel Muzorewa, who was at that time prime minister of Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, and who was campaigning for the forthcoming elections, had made the mistake of organising a political rally on the same day. Muzorewa later blamed Manatsa for the poor attendance at his political rally. The Daily Mail had a screaming headline on their front page the following day: “Zexie’s Wedding Spoils Muzorewa’s Rally”.
Manatsa remained popular in the post-independence era, producing hits such as “Chivaraidze” and the swooning “Tii Hobvu”. The band’s popularity declined as the 1990s approached when Zexie was involved in a horrific car accident and attributed his survival to the workings of God.
He eventually retired to pursue religious work. When things became tough, he joined Zaoga Church where he used his musical skills and knowledge of interaction with the crowds to preach to worshippers.
Zexie has recently risen out of religious duty to produce a new album, “Mutungamiri Wakanaka”. A greatest hits CD is reportedly in the works as well.
Zexie has always been a strict, religious and disciplined parent as evidenced by the way he has brought up his family. Just like any other parent, Zimbabwe’s music legend, Zexie Manatsa would not allow or encourage his or her children to become musicians or to be associated in any way with a band.
Zimbabwean parents always encouraged their kids to read books and study hard so they could have better professions, as well as live better lives. Playing music was regarded as a job for vagrants (chirombe) – who indulge in something that won’t give any money at all.
Today, the tables have been turned, many local musicians are realising a lot of success and fortunes from the industry, and so is Zexie Manatsa’s son – Tendai – who decided to defy his father’s orders to seek a different profession. Tendai is married to Oliver Mtukudzi’s daughter, Selmor, who is also a musician.
Tendai Manatsa says he is following his father’s footsteps, and is currently aiming at establishing his name and success.
“I only started learning music when I finished school at the age of 18. Generally, I have been a guitar player for the past 10 years or so,” said Tendai.
“I got the guts to start singing when my wife would perform at various joints and shows around the country,” he adds.
“I would play one or two songs, until I got it all right. I used to think I didn’t have the voice, but now people tell me I sound like my father,” said Tendai
As a guitarist, Tendai has worked with the likes of Chiwoniso Maraire, Tanga wekwaSando, Pax Afro, Africa Revenge and Shingisai Suluma, among others.
In the country, a lot of artistes like Oliver Mtukudzi, Alick Macheso and Shingisai Suluma, among others, have succeeded and to a larger extent are surviving on music earnings.
Tendai Manatsa’s album, with the title track “Kudzoka Kwababa”, is about a rural father who goes to the city, to work and doesn’t return home. His family is now in pain, and asking him to return home.
“I wrote all the songs on the album including a favourite of many at shows, titled “Mugona”, except for one originally done by my father.”
“With the help of my wife and family, I now have a reasonable following, and my fans love my music considering the response I have been getting especially at shows,” said Tendai.
Despite the initial protests, it seems all of Zexie’s sons have turned to music and the family has now decided to change their mind about their children following non-musical paths.
The Manatsa family now strongly supports Tendai and his brothers too – who are his and Selmor’s band members.
Green Manatsa plays keyboards while Freedom Manatsa is on drums.
It looks like the Manatsa family legacy will live on forever.
- Fred Zindi is a professor at the University of Zimbabwe. He is also a musician and author of several books on music. He can be contacted via e-mail on [email protected]