God, music & overcoming drugs: How Tsepo Tshola built a solid 50-year career

A product of the wave of legendary musicians who started paving their musical careers in the 1970s, Tsepo Tshola started out as a vocalist for the iconic teen boy band, The Lesotho Blue Diamonds, in his home country.

Tsepo Tshola. Picture: Tsepo Tshola Facebook page.

JOHANNESBURG - The candle of yet another African arts and culture pioneer has gone out.

Tsepo Tshola passed away on Thursday aged 67 after contracting COVID-19.

A native of Lesotho but warmly embraced and adopted by South Africa, he was the son of devout Christians who were also music lovers who sang in choirs.

Tshola previously said that he grew up knowing God and music.

This upbringing would be the backbone of the classic African jazz and gospel sound that he perfected over a period of 50 years.

A product of the wave of legendary musicians who started paving their musical careers in the 1970s, such as the late Steve Kekana, who also recently passed away, Tshola started out as a vocalist for iconic teen boy band The Lesotho Blue Diamonds in his home country.

He was very close friends with the late Hugh Masekela, even during the apartheid years when Masekela had been living around the world after having left the country in his late teens.

While with Sankomota in London, Masekela introduced Tshola to another South African, Julian Bahulo of Malombo.

Bahulo encouraged Tshola to bring the band to England, where they subsequently stayed for some time performing across the country.

He went on to become the lead vocalist in the other bands, The Anti-Antics and Uhuru - which became Sankomota.

After going solo, Tshola continued travelling across the continent and the world, and in recent years, he was joined by his two sons Kamo and Katlego as part of his band.

While most musicians of his time were more comfortable working with each other, he stepped out of that comfort zone, collaborating with musicians of the 20th and 21st century such as Thandiswa Mazwai and Cassper Nyovest.

Tshola’s personal life was not without numerous challenges over the years. He lost his wife, Mona, 30 years ago and never remarried.

Four of his fellow Sankomota bandmates passed away before him.

A two-decade addiction to substances saw him booked into a rehab facility in Cape Town in the early 2000s, where he successfully overcame the addiction and was able to carry on with his career, which inspired his 2002 album, New Dawn.

At the time, he spoke fondly about how Masekela, a drug and alcohol addict himself who was able to kick the habit years before Tshola, encouraged him to follow the path to sobriety – something Tshola admitted took him a long time to wake up to.

Singer-songwriter, Yvonne Chaka Chaka shared her fondest memories of her friend and how his loss has impacted her and the rest of the music industry.

"It's a sombre day, with what is happening and the loss of our musicians. I mean, two weeks ago we lost gospel singer Peter Mokoena, then two days ago it was Pat Shange and today we lost Tsepo Tshola. We are losing our legends and it's sad, unbelievable, and unbearable.

"Working with Tsepo was something I cherished, with him being in the industry for a long time. He was able to guide and place so much in me."

Listen to the full audio below for more.

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