Lundi Tyamara: A happy soul who loved all

2017-01-29 09:54
Lundi Tyamara. (Photo: Herman Verwey/City Press)

Johannesburg - While many South African musicians have died poor, Lundi Tyamara’s cousin and manager, Anele Hlazo, slammed rumours that the gospel star – who passed away at Edenvale Hospital on Friday morning after a short illness – died a pauper.

“Lundi used some of his earnings, but he was still able to save some of his money,” said Hlazo.

“Our artists have been dying paupers, but we would not allow this to happen to Lundi.”

He was partly reacting to remarks made by musician Blondie Makhene on Thursday at jazz legend Thandi Klaasen’s memorial service in Johannesburg.

Makhene said most South African musicians were in a state of penury by the time they died. “We [artists] can have decent send-offs, but it is a fact that we die as paupers,” Makhene said.

Tyamara released his first album, Mphefumlo Wami, in 1998. He won a Kora Award for best male gospel artist in 2003 and an SA Music Award in the best African Traditional Gospel category in 2008. He was mentored by gospel legend Rebecca Malope and he even sang like her.

The heartbroken Hlazo, speaking at his home in Naturena in southern Johannesburg, explained why the family chose to use his house to mourn the gospel star, saying Tyamara lived in a flat which was inappropriate to host mourners.

Although he was Tyamara’s manager, Hlazo said the gospel singer fondly referred to him as his “uncle”.

Recalling his last conversation

The singer died on Friday morning after being diagnosed with stomach tuberculosis and liver complications.

The day before Tyamara passed on, family, friends and fans gathered to pray for his recovery at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg.

“We were praying for his recovery, but God had His [different] plan. He is at peace wherever he is,” said the distraught Hlazo.

Recalling his last conversation with Tyamara, he said: “Lundi requested me to bring his younger brother, Siyabonga, to Johannesburg. They were very close.”

Words failed the emotional Siyabonga when approached by City Press for comment. Tyamara’s younger brother simply shook his head in disbelief and could not speak to us or any of the hundreds of mourners present, including gospel singers and politicians, who came to pay their last respects.

“We are getting support from all South Africans. I did not expect this,” Hlazo added.

Tyamara’s best friend and backing vocalist

Thulane Mangona (36), Tyamara’s best friend and backing vocalist, said they had known each other for 20 years and were inseparable. Holding back tears, he said Tyamara started to get sick while on tour in China late last year.

He said that out of all of South Africa’s gospel singers, Tyamara loved Malope the most.

“He even came to Johannesburg to look for Rebecca in 1996. At some point, he became Rebecca’s backing vocalist and stayed with her for two years,” Mangona recalled, adding that there was never a dull moment around his friend, thanks to his weird sense of humour.

Malope told City Press that she was saddened and numbed by Tyamara’s passing. “Ukufa akujwayeleki! [One cannot get used to death],” she said.

She pointed out that it was only in December when the gospel industry had lost Sfiso Ncwane. Now Tyamara was gone.

“These are the two superstars who healed people with their music, and their music gave hope to the hopeless,” she said.

“Maybe God is saying something to us as musicians.”

A collaboration before his death

She recalled that two months ago, Tyamara told her he was busy recording and would like to collaborate with her on a song.

“He told me that he did not want to die before recording a new song with me. He was a happy soul. He loved people and everywhere he went, people would feel his presence.

“Let us leave his mistakes [behind] and look at the better person he was.”

Another friend of Tyamara, Nkululeko Khanyi (37), said he was still shaken by his death.

“I spent his last days with him in hospital. I used to bathe him and give him his medication. He did not want me to leave. He would hold my hand tightly.

“Lundi connected his life with God in his last days,” he said.

Khanyi added that, like everyone, Tyamara had made mistakes. “People are still writing about his unfortunate past [when Tyamara binged on booze and drugs], but he was a changed man. I do not care about how he started his life, I am interested in how he ended it.

“He had stopped drinking in the middle of last year and had stopped using drugs two years ago. Even though he was bedridden a few weeks ago, he still wanted to listen to Rebecca Malope and Vusi Nova’s songs,” Khanyi said.

Tshepo Nzimande, Tyamara’s former manager, described the singer as a straight talker but very respectful.

“The media never caught him red-handed drinking alcohol, but it is he who decided to come out publicly about his drink and drug problems, and his sexuality,” said Nzimande, adding that Tyamara used to tell him that “he owed his success to his fans” and wanted to practise what he preached by not using drugs.

Tyamara is survived by his son, Sibonelo, and daughter Bella. His memorial service will be held at Grace Bible Church in Pimville, Soweto, on Tuesday at 2pm. He will be buried in his hometown of Worcester in the Western Cape.

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