HIS deep baritone voice whether talking or singing makes him the darling of his legion of fans.
Since bursting into the music scene 11 years ago Ndingo ‘Satjilombe’ Johwa has carved a name for himself in the local and regional music arena and his star seems to be shining even more brighter as years go by.
As 2012 comes to an end The Voice sat down with the famous artist well known for singing in his native language Ikalanga and for participating in the Goledzwa (New Year) tour to find out more about him and what inspires him to continue entertaining masses.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born in Ramokgwebana in 1950 by a young mother who never got married to my father. Because of that I was brought up by my grandmother.
When I was six years old my grandparents moved and settled in Marobela. And my name should actually be Ndingawana-mbili meaning if only I can find two, a name, which was given to me by my grandmother when I was born.
I understand the old lady had a song which she always sang, if only I could find two mice to make thick broth for the children.
Q. The name ‘Satjilombe’ is it your totem or just a stage name?
For the sake of those who don’t understand Ikalanga Satjilombe means baboon and I adopted the name for the sake of music.
It’s the characteristics of this animal that made me like it.
It’s a clever animal which is protective of its own. Did you know that a baboon sleeps only on a branch that supports its weight so that when any enemy approaches it’s alerted.
People may have thought it’s my totem because of my looks which are not so striking either (runs his hand over his faces jokingly).
I don’t blame them because even at school l was not popular with girls.
Q. Ok, so how did you get involved in music?
From the stories my grandma told me, when I was a toddler I used to play around with sticks and tins.
I guess it began with the drums. But I fondly recall the days when herding cattle, I had an African flute which I played and I was so good at it.
So in short I believe I was born with the talent.
Q. And when did your love for the guitar develop?
At the age of about 11 years or so I made my first makeshift guitar from old cooking oil tins but my grandmother never wanted to see me play it because she was convinced I wanted to be a gipsy.
Whenever, she caught me playing the guitar she would beat the hell out of me. To save my treasure I would hide it under the granary.
(Pauses) I recall one time when she sneaked on me and my cousin Jabulani when we were fooling around with the guitar, she snatched it from me and as she tried to break it she struck a chord!
Boy we laughed and teased her, “old lady had played the guitar”.
But it was only some years later when I joined the Baptist centre in 1970 that I learnt to play the six string guitar, I also met up with Louis Mhlanga from Zimbabwe who taught me one or two things about the instrument.
Q. When did you buy your first proper guitar?
My first guitar was a gift. It was given to me by the Baptist church in 1973 where I was an interpreter and also coaching table tennis, volleyball and softball.
After getting the guitar, I got together with a few buddies Eric, the late Brazing Manyanda and formed a band.
Q. How far did you go with your buddies?
We didn’t record anything but played in hotels and bars songs of famous artists we heard on radio.
Then in 1973 I met a very beautiful lady whom I passionately pursued and she only accepted or gave her hand in marriage on condition that I abandoned my music career.
(sighs then smiles) it was a tough choice, but because I had vowed to achieve three things in my life I accepted her condition.
Q. Where did you meet your wife and what are the three things you vowed to achieve in life?
I met her at the Baptist centre, she was one of the young people who I coached table tennis.
Due to my tough upbringing as a child by my grandmother who at one time had 14 children to look after I never knew the love of my mother or my father.
So I made a decision to achieve three things in my life, to build a house, get married and buy a car.
Q. And have you achieved those things?
By God’s grace I have achieved all of them, I am still married to the same woman I married in 1978.
Gees I have been married for over 30 years and we have two daughters and a son together, not only that I have six grandchildren and expecting three more soon.
I have managed to build several houses for myself and own a few cars.
Q. So you broke your promise to your wife because you still went back to music.
Not really. I attempted once in the late 80s, to make a comeback and recorded three songs in 1987 at Radio Botswana, that’s when I decided to sing in my indigenous language.
Because I had made a promise I didn’t pursue it that much and besides I was a family man already with children to raise and didn’t want to upset my wife or for her to divorceme.
But I would play my guitar at home for leisure; I always kept a guitar in the house.
Q. So when did you make the final comeback?
I decided to revive my career and give music another shot in 2000.
In 2001 I released my first album Phonda Nyama; most of the lyrics for the songs were after the 1985 drought.
All I was saying was we must go back to our roots and find out from our ancestors what the cause of such disasters and problems were.
Q. And how did your wife take your going back to music?
She understood because our kids are all grown up now. Actually she’s now my number one fan.
Q. It seems you are the only jazz artist who sings strictly in Ikalanga, what plans do you have to encourage upcoming artists to follow in your footsteps?
I used to have a recording studio while I was still based in Gaborone, but since relocating to Marobela I have temporarily stopped. But I have mentored other Ikalanga artists such as Moseki and others.
I am currently mentoring Kahvuthu, a dancing troupe known as Ku Njelele. And during my tours I invite any young people who are interested to come on board.
Q. What inspires the lyrics of your songs?
Events which affect people’s lives or things happening around us. Also at times I turn a story into a song. Ikalanga idioms are also source of inspiration when it comes to penning songs.
After writing I deliberately try out the songs while seated next to my mother who is now 82 years and if she stands up and dances, then I know the song will be a hit.
Q. How have you managed to control fame from getting into your head?
Fame has actually humbled me, I know that I am not perfect but I think of other people and respect their feelings. It is the people who have contributed to my success.
Q. Do you ever have a free week end? And how do you spend that leisure time?
Yes, I now concentrate on corporate functions such as, Domboshaba and the Goledzwa tour. I spend quality time playing with my grandchildren.
I cycle a lot since I moved back to my home village of Marobela, read newspapers and engage in cattle and arable farming.
Q. You barely look your age, what’s the secret?
Really, you are pulling my leg right? I eat well, a big bowl of fruit salad every morning. My wife knows that if I don’t get fruits I shout and make noise about it. I also eat a lot of vegetables with every meal.
I don’t smoke, besides health reasons it affects the voice.
Q. You are such an eloquent speaker. Your English is very fluent considering your level of education, how come?
(Smiles) I will take that as a compliment, I have never considered my English to be very good.
I stayed with missionaries for some years and also being an interpreter at church when I was a young man helped to sharpen my English.
I also read a lot and interacting with people from all corners of the world has also broadened my vocabulary of the queen’s language.
Q. Lastly, what are your plans for Christmas?
I will be going to the annual Pan African Music festival in East London but will be back in time for the Goledzwa tour.