It took Bekezela Bothwell Nkomo nine years before he finally got the chance to meet some of his music idols.
The guitarist had always pictured himself arriving in South Africa, casually bumping into the likes of Ringo Madlingozi, having a chat about music and going into a studio to record with him.
But it didn’t quite happen like that.
“We left Zimbabwe during the most difficult economic times. Imagine a life where you graduate, look to start a career, but can’t do anything because there is just no drive for it or resources.”
Nkomo, who goes by his first name Bekezela, said that for the music he wanted to do, the market was here in South Africa.
“I studied creative arts, communications and multimedia as a sound major, so I’ve been growing with music since my childhood. I came here with no contacts or anything. All I had was faith. I was so bold and brave.”
He arrived at the height of the xenophobic attacks in June 2008.
“It was a crazy time and I quickly had to adjust. I found a job as a cleaner at a hotel, and the blessing is that as I was cleaning – taking dustbins to the basement – I bumped into a recording studio,” he said. That was where he met his producer, Papy Nsenga.
“The chemistry that we have is what has brought us here.”
Coming to the country also helped Nkomo explore the cultures that he found so fascinating and the diversity of the languages spoken. He started his guitar playing in 2007.
“I studied keyboard and piano for studio producing and programming, but I wanted to be a performer.
“To be able to go out into the world and talk to the people. Keyboard would limit me, but with guitar I could move around, so I started transferring the knowledge so it was more self-taught, using the same dynamics of music basics.”
His hit song Bekezela was recorded in 2011, even though the album was only released this year. Back then he was using the stage name Bozoe.
“Here’s how the story goes. I got here and pushed through on my own. I did menial jobs, and one day when I was digging a trench in Sandton for a construction site as a casual worker, a melody hit me.
“I had left a girlfriend at home at that time, so it was a long-distance relationship. I put my pick and shovel on the ground and recorded the melody.”
When he got home that day, he felt the need to write a message to his girl.
“The first thing that came to mind was “Bekezela, ndilinde ngiyabuya dali” (Stay strong, wait for me, I will be back, darling). It hit me so deep in my veins, it was in my heart. I called my producer and we went into the studio and recorded the song.”
The song grew on its own, finding its way to Ikwekwezi FM and later Ligwalagwala FM.
“People loved the song without knowing the face behind it. I got booked for a few gigs but it wasn’t really happening for me. I had to pay rent and food and survive.
“My career was seasonal because I would get the gigs in December, a few shows, but for the rest of the year there was nothing, so I took up a job as a waiter,” he said.
For him to end up at Muthaland Entertainment/Ghetto Ruff, his song was played at a session some months back.
Nathi Mankayi’s manager, Sipho Nyathela, heard the song and searched for Nkomo.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got the call. I took immediate leave from my workplace and haven’t gone back since.”
Nkomo said the album production of his “world music” took just three days.
“I had hope that things were going to turn around. I’d write songs in the morning going to work, and that phone call was a turning point. I was always ready.
“I’m now so busy with promotions and interviews and getting the music out there. I’ve been with the stable for two months and it has been a true story of Bekezela. A question of timing.”
Now he gets to finally rub shoulders with or bump into the likes of Caiphus Semenya and Madala Kunene, people he has looked up to for so long.
His self-titled album is a 13-track “call and response” music production and he is happy that he can put a face to the song that so many people have known.
“I think most of all it was submitting to a higher power. I asked God to take care of the music and I would do the work.”