HomeStandard PeopleBla Rodger: A rare breed of music promoter

Bla Rodger: A rare breed of music promoter

By Moses Mugugunyeki

On October 24 last year l set off for yet another pilgrimage across the Limpopo. My destination was Boksburg, a town on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

I had gathered information that Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo was going to perform at a hotel in that gold-rich town of Boksburg on October 26 and November 2.

A number of Zimbabwean artistes were billed to warm up the stage for the United States-based singer for the two-leg gig dubbed Bira Pahotera.

After seeing a star-studded line-up comprising Zimbabwean and South African artistes, l became so curious and wanted to be part of the show.

At least attending one of the two shows would have been suffice to quench my curiosity to watch Mukanya again after having attended his Welcome Back Bira held in Zimbabwe in April 2018.

I reached out to a close friend Tongai Mbidzo of Xtratime Entertainment, based in South Africa, who quickly introduced me to Rodger Muzawazi, who was organising the show.

I had heard a lot of “good things” about this Muzawazi from sungura musician Alick Macheso and a number of local artistes, who on many occasions performed at Ekurhuleni Boksburg Hotel.

It did not take me time to get to talking terms with Bla Rodger as l would later call him.

He invited me to the Bira Pahotera concert, something that I welcomed with both hands.

“Do you want to fly or you need to travel by road?” Muzawazi asked me then.

“It’s up to you. Let me know as soon as possible so that l can arrange for your trip on time.”

As someone who was dealing with a “stranger” and a music promoter, l thought by choosing to fly, l would have asked for too much, so I opted to use the road.

It took a few days before l received confirmation of a booking in one of the luxury busses plying the Harare-Joburg route.

On October 24, I set off for the 1 123km voyage to the unknown.

Leaving Harare was reminiscent of the 1968 British television anthology show Journey to the Unknown, when Hank and Ann eerily embarked on a trip to an outlandish destination.

It was a torrid 18-hour trip as l tried to figure out the kind of person this Muzawazi was.

When we were around Louis Trichardt in South Africa’s Limpopo province, Muzawazi sent me a WhatsApp message to ascertain where we were and this provided some form of affirmation and it gave me some insight of the kind of person I was to meet.

Yes, the South African environment is not that kind and pleasant for visitors, more so, if you are from Zimbabwe.

By the way, a few weeks before my trip xenophobic wars had claimed the lives of many foreigners in communities on the periphery of Johannesburg, Boksburg included, hence the anxiety.

Muzawazi had arranged transport to pick me up at Park Station, and the driver Tonde, was some jovial chap, who quickly spoke of the humility of this businessman.

“Mudhara asked me to come and pick you. I am told you are a journalist and you are coming for the Thomas Mapfumo show. I know you will enjoy your stay here because Mudhara is a man of the people,” Tonde said.

For real, when l got at Ekurhuleni Boksburg Hotel, l was greeted by a warm reception from both Muzawazi and his wife Sibongile.

“How was your journey? How is Zimbabwe? “And how is your family?” he asked.

He quickly introduced me to his wife, who was part of a team of workers preparing the venue for the show the following day.

Just like in the TV series Journey to the Unknown, I was taken aback by how friendly Muzawazi and the wife were.

They had to break for the night and instead of getting a room at the hotel where the Black’s Unlimited were booked, save for Mukanya and lead guitarist Gilbert Zvamaida, who were booked elsewhere, Muzawazi told me that l was his guest and he took me to his home in one of the leafy suburbs of Boksburg.

We got to know each other as we drove around the following day, as a hands-on man he wanted to be involved in the preparations of the Bira Pahotera.

“Feel at home. I want to prepare for the show, but you can hang around and see how Boksburg looks like,” he said.

“I am doing all this not because l want money, but most importantly I am doing this to help Zimbabwean music grow.

“This hotel is under renovation and when it’s done, it will be home to every Zimbabwean artiste both at home and in South Africa.”

I later established that a large chunk of the work force at the hotel and at his electrical firm were Zimbabweans.

“Here I employ people from Zimbabwe. “Things are tough at home and I try by all means to assist my home boys with jobs at the hotel and my other business ventures,” he said.

The Bira Pahotera concert went on well and it attracted Zimbabweans from across South Africa, with some fans coming from as far afield as the United Kingdom, Dubai and Harare.

As Liverpool supporter, the following day we watched an English Premiership League game pitting our team against Tottenham, which The Reds won 2-1.

After two more days in the company of Muzawazi, I got to know much of him and we became “great” friends. I preferred calling him Bla Rodger or by his totem Sambiri.

I left South Africa, a content man that Muzawazi was just a rare breed of music promoters to ever emerge in Zimbabwe.

We have been in touch sharing social, economic and political developments happening on both sides of the Limpopo until I got the sad news on Thursday morning.
The music scene will never be the same again without Bla Rodger.

Go well Sambiri. Rest in Peace.

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