For those of us who Setswana is a home language – a beloved mother tongue – hearing for the first time on commercial radio stations the music of one Jabulani Tsambo being played, inexplicable joy overwhelmed us. Hearing those songs affirmed us as a people. Jabulani Tsambo made us proud to be Batswana or to be speakers of Setswana, because one doesn’t necessarily have to be Motswana to speak that beautiful African language.
While Stoan Seate – a third leg of that famous Afro Pop group Bongo Maffin – and a few of his generation might have paved a way for Setswana rap, it was not until Jabulani Tsambo arrived in the music scene that it became acceptable to rap in the language of Motsogapele – she who saw it all before everyone else. As he once put it in one of his smash hits, Tsambo made Setswana fashionable. But Tsambo stopped being a Setswana or Motswako – rap music produced in Setswana – rapper a long time ago. He had transcended that label, as powerful as it is, ages ago because his music was not limited to a tribe, a race, a town, a country, or a continent. The term had become too small for him. HHP cemented his place in history as a complete artist – a poet of the early 21st century.
With his musical talents and magical lyricism, Jabulani Tsambo touched hearts and souls around the globe. Thus, when he passed, a part of our being left with him because we were HHP and HHP was us.
Ladies and gentlemen, bagolo le bana, Jabulani Tsambo aka Hip Hop Pantsula aka Jabba is no more. That raging ball of energy that once posed the question, ‘Bosso ke mang?’, has forever left our midst. When he lived, because of his unmatched energy to bring light in any room, we thought Jabba would live forever. Now that he is gone, we realise that death has no match. Simply put: it is cruel.
Bagaetsho, the King of Bokone Bophirima is no more. Alongside the millions around the world who tuned in to watch as we paid tribute to our beloved Jabulani Tsambo, we buried him over three weeks ago. In his homage to the late struggle icon, Alfred Nzo, former president Thabo Mbeki spoke these mournful words at the funeral of this stalwart: ‘When he passed on, yet another great African heart ceased to beat.’
In a period of a year, South Africa has lost some of its giants from all walks of life; those who contributed immensely and generously to this country. People such as Cebo Manyaapelo, Robbie Malinga, Professor Keorapetse Kgosietsile, Bra Hugh Masekela, Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Pro and now HHP. To numb our pain and in a way declaring our defeat to death in light of the passing of Jabulani Tsambo, we elect to borrow the words of comfort from former president Thabo Mbeki: When HHP passed on, yet another African heart ceased to beat.’
A few years ago, another giant of Motswako and Hip Hop, the contemporary poet Motlapele Morule aka Mr. Mo Molemi praised his fellow musician and close friend thus:
‘Morwa Tsambo in this game,
o starring, o Rambo.
Gareng ga dituckshop,
o wholesaler, o Jumbo!’
In his heartfelt elegy to Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela earlier this year, she who was both a warrior and a nurturer, embracing her and equally acknowledging her greatness, her glory and magnanimity, Deputy President David Mabuza conveyed these beautiful words to the departed soul of the Mother of the Nation:
‘Nomzamo wethu, only newborn babies will open our eyes to the true wonder and fortune of our generation. They will say blessed are we who in our lifetime had a fine-looking African goddess living in our midst. Unborn babies will envy us for our blessing of having seen, touched, and felt the love of you Nomzamo we sizwe.’
Jabba wa rona, just like they would do with Mama Winnie, only newborn babies will open our eyes to the true wonder and fortune of our generation. They will say blessed are we who in our lifetime had a fine-looking African king living in our midst. Unborn babies will envy us for our blessing of having seen, touched, and felt your love Kgosi ya Bokone Bophirima – Jabba wa bana.
Ladies and gentlemen, bana le bagolo, to have had Jabulani Tsambo exist during our lifetime can only mean we were the chosen ones. One day we will each look back with a sense of pride, cloaked in a blanket of nostalgia, and mutter to ourselves, ‘I once lived in a period of greats…I lived during a time of HHP.’
Now that weeks have passed since we bade farewell to the shining star that was HHP, a pain of grief still stubbornly refusing to be soothed, a question remains, lingering at the back of the mind like an itch you cannot scratch: how does one pay tribute to one as accomplished and great as Jabulani Tsambo? You simply let his beautiful music play on until eternity. Pula!