By Ezekiel Putirwa
Top banker and rising jazz musician Robert Thomas Zawaira is no more. He passed away in the early hours of Friday 4 August 2017 after a very short illness at Citimed hospital in Chitungwiza and was laid to rest at Glen Forest Memorial cemetery in Harare on Monday 7 August 2017.
Hundreds of mourners, some from beyond the borders of Zimbabwe, thronged his residence in Chitungwiza when the news of his untimely death broke out. Eulogies and testimonies were given by mourners who included colleagues, musicians, ministers, friends, relatives and residents of Harare, Chitungwiza and Masvingo.
Childhood friend Bobby Chivaviro said that he got a lot of assistance from Thomas at Mathematics during their schooling years. Thomas’ sister Dr Felistas Zawaira said that the family has lost a pillar of strength.
One of the high-profile personalities who addressed mourners was Tourism minister Eng. Walter Muzembi who described Thomas as, “a professional and his smile was soothing making him a likeable character.”
Fellow musicians Clive Mono Mukundu, Wilbrod Muponda aka Willom Tight, Antony Kena Malama, traditional and contemporary songstress Tifa Haruna and members from his music platform the Steppers expressed shock on the untimely death of this innovative, humble and kind jazz exponent.
His music bears testimony to the wealth of talent in this ever smiling singer-songwriter and guitarist par excellence. His music blends Afro jazz, rhythm and blues with new age sounds and classical rock.
Thomas Zawaira was born in Masvingo on 9 April 1963 in a Christian family. He began his school career in Mufakose where he did grade one and two before proceeding to Don Bosco in Masvingo to complete his primary education.
TZ as he was referred to by many attended St Ignatius and Gokomere for his Ordinary and Advanced levels. He studied at the University of Zimbabwe for his first degree in Business Studies, he then went to study for his Masters in Business Administration in South Africa.
From a young age Thomas exhibited apassion for music and as a teenager he had already mastered the art of guitar playing.
“My parents[the mother led the church choir and the father an excellent orator and the first black mayor of the city of Masvingo] were devout Catholics and he learnt the basic aspects of singing at church and started playing the guitar in 1975 after relocating to Mufakose in Harare,” said his sister Felistas.
He got mentored by township jazz musician Steve Chikoti and seasoned guitarist the late Funny Kwesu. Then with his childhood friends Steve and Norman ‘Chikoman’ Chikoti they formed an outfit-CHIKZA, a name created through the joining of prefixes of their surnames. They played in and around the suburbs at different platforms.
In an earlier interview, before his death Thomas had told this writer how he would perform at mass and in church and how at one high school function a veteran jazz drummer joined and backed him on four songs.
He fondly and nostalgically said, “Mukoma Jethro Shasha was the first top class musician whom I played alongside during my school days. That one show shaped me to what I am today.”
He said this with a twinkle in his eye. The late Jethro was one of Zimbabwe’s finest talents, a drummer who played with jazz legends in the likes of vocalist and trumpeter Hugh Masekela and the late Miriam Makeba.
In 1987, TZ married Josephine Zvichanziwi Chivandire and the couple were blessed with two sons and a daughter. These are namely Kunengoni, Mayita and Runako who are currently studying accounting, mechatronics and law respectively.TZ and his wife have a grandson, Izwirashe Christian. Outside of work, he was a very active member of the Catholic Church, and a member of the St Joachim Guild.
His debut 12 track album Lost and Found is a narration and reflection of a man’s journey, his life history encompassing memories of childhood folklore, traditional church lyrics and social experiences. The album’s theme also upholds the saying that people meet to part-and meet again.
He qualifies this when he said, “For over ten years I had been trying to get hold of a friend who had the same passion for music as mine but to no avail. It was until I was invited to take part in one musician’s recording in 1999 that I bumped into my long lost friend.”
This ‘lost and found’ friend is Antony Kena Malama an experienced bass guitarist and excellent vocalist in his own right. This reunion inspired him to work on an album and subsequently titled it Lost and Found. Together they teamed up to work on this twelve track offering with Antony playing the bass on track ‘Harare drive’ and providing backing vocals on the song ‘Nziyo’.
The album has an array of amazing artists. It is also on this album that TZ as a singer-songwriter worked with the renowned and seasoned drummer Sam Mataure and versatile guitarist Clive Mono Mukundu, saxophonist Guus Symthe, harmonica player Charles Stuart, pianist Nick Nare, bassist Cassius Simbi and backing vocalist Ester Matanga.
TZ was passionate, ambitious and well organized and at the time of his death was rehearsing for his upcoming shows and also working on his second album which was going to feature the legendary musician Oliver Mtukudzi on rhythm guitar.
At the time of his passing, TZ was the Head, Group Corporate Strategy at ZB Financial Holdings.
One mourner rightfully summed up, “Needless to say that heaven has gained what family, church, friends and colleagues have lost, yet we live in celebration of the life and times of our dear and accomplished TZ.”
May the Lord provide abundant comfort, and may the soul of Robert Thomas Zawaira rest in eternal peace.