Jonas Gwangwa is one of the most successful South African musicians of his generation.
He is among a crop of successful SA artist who at one point dominated Botswana’s night life.
Dubani-wa-Dubani chatted to the legend at the Majestic Five Hotel in Palapye where he headlined the inaugural Be Mobile Ke Ya rona Festival
Q. Good morning sir and thanks for taking time to talk to us.
Its’ my pleasure to talk to you.
Q. This is your first performance in Botswana after a long time. How does it feel?
It’s great. I am so happy to be back making music in a country that has given so much not only to my music but my life as well.
I have friends here and it was good to see them again after all these years.
I must point out that I have been here a few times recently to visit relatives.
The last time I was here was for the journalist and musician Rampholo Molefhe’s funeral. Chumza was a great friend and artist.
Botswana will always have a place in my heart.
I have had great times here in the past and my hit song “Batsumi” has its roots in this country.
I must say music has improved a lot from the last time I was in this country.
Q. Tell us more about Batsumi and its connection to Botswana.
I was living and playing here in the eighties and a lady by the name of Pelonomi gave me the song.
I cannot remember her surname. She was working for the government and was a great friend.
I am grateful to her and the people of this country for that song.
Q. Have you met her and thanked her for giving you the song that many say made you?
No. I have not met her since I left this country way back in 1985.
I would love to meet her. I hope she is still alive. I say this because many people who were my friends in those days have passed on. I pray she is still alive.
Q. What other memories do you have of this country?
There were great musicians in that time with whom I made great music and put on great shows.
We had great times playing at such places such as The Woodpecker and the Holiday Inn.
The people were also great and made our stay here as refugees comfortable.
It was unfortunate that I had to leave the country after the (Boers) Afrikaners bombed Gaborone in 1985.
Botswana had become a second home for me.
I had left South Africa for the US in the late sixties because the (Boers) Afrikaners wanted me for taking part in a show that toured the world raising funds for the African National Congress and spreading the anti apartheid message.
I lived in the US for about 15 years before coming to Botswana as part of Caiphus Semenya’s band and decided to remain behind.
I had been away from my family for a long time and was terribly missing them. Being in Botswana gave them the chance to visit me.
Fifteen years away from home is a long time and one gets homesick and lonely.
Besides family I missed South African food. In America one eventually gets tired of hotdogs.
Q. What challenges did you have to face living away from home?
The first thing one has to deal with is the cultural difference. You have to adapt to the way things are done.
You miss simple things like family, friends, food, everything.
Americans are very arrogant and one has to deal with that.
One of the first things they notice is your accent and once they realise you are from African they assume you know nothing about a lot of things and you have to deal with the prejudice that comes with that.
It’s tough to survive in such an environment.
One has to be tough skinned to stand up to this and prove their worth.
Eventually one earns the respect they deserve.
Musicians who have a desire to go overseas have to know their stuff; which means learning not only how to play music but read it as well.
They must also learn time management which is a very important part of the business.
Q. You are one of the most decorated South African Artists. Tell us about that
I got nominations for my work on the film “Cry Freedom” which was great.
The theme song “Cry Freedom” got a Grammy nomination for best song specifically written for a motion picture, it also got an Oscar nomination.
The musical score for the film won the BATFA Film Best Score award and got Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
It was a great and rewarding experience.
Q. Any other highlight?
Yes. I worked with Harry Belafonte and Mirriam Makeba on the 1965 Grammy Award winning album An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba.
What made working with Belafonte special was that at that time he was the highest paid black artist in America.
What could be more rewarding than working with two musical greats?
Q. Music involves a lot of travelling and I guess you have done your share.
I have been to more than a hundred countries. Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas. I have seen my fair share of the world.
Q. Of all these countries which one did you enjoy most?
There was no time for joy. It was work all the time.
Remember I was also part of the struggle against apartheid and there was no idle time.
When we got to any country we played in nearly all the major towns and cities.
I may not have had time to enjoy the countries I visited but I enjoyed my musical and political work.
Q. You worked with the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe. Did you get any military training?
I wonder why you want to know that. I won’t answer that question.
Q. Why not?
I am working on a book and you’ll get some answers from there.
Q. One thing that strikes many people about you is that you have remained humble despite your fame and success. Why is that so?
I guess I was born a humble being and being a Ndebele humility was part of my upbringing and it has served me well so far.
Q. Your son is your manager. How do you juggle business and home affairs.
I respect that he is my manager and he appreciates that I am his father. It works perfectly for us.
Q. Thank you sir for your time
Thank you too.