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A soldier of fortune

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A soldier of fortune
THE BIG BOSS: Jeff Matheatau

From BDF to Kwasa Kwasa to Property Investor

With nine albums under his belt, Jeffery Matheatau, 50, easily qualifies as a music legend in Botswana.

The Machaneng born Rhumba muso is amongst the notable names who dominated the airwaves at the start of the new millennium and forever changed the local musical landscape.

When he left the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) in 2002 to focus on his music career, few people gave him a chance in a highly competitive and congested industry.

Sixteen (16) eventful years later and Jeff Matheatau’s music has stood the test of time.

The former soldier, who recently remarried after splitting from his wife, has shrewdly invested his money in a number of properties in Francistown and plans to become a property magnate in the not-too-distant future.

The Voice reporter Kabelo Dipholo tracked down ‘The Big Boss’ to his posh home in Phase Five, where Matheatau reflected on his ups and downs in music, as well as discussing his new found passion for property.

Q. You are regarded as a Rhumba legend in the country?

A. Kindly share with us your musical journey since your days with the BDF.

I have come a long way with music. Around 1997, I was a member of the Military Band and in 1999 I joined the Dance Band.

It was with this latter group where I learnt how to play musical instruments.

I learnt to play a bassoon, piano and guitar and became a complete musician.

In 2002 I formed a group called ‘Yakho’ and we released our first album “Di lala di tshameka” which was received well in the market.

Q. After the release of that album you quit your job. Was that necessary?

A. Yes! BDF did not allow soldiers to engage in arts privately.

I was in demand musically and my job as a soldier was getting in the way, so I decided to follow my heart.

Q. Was it a wise decision?

A. At the time it was. Remember, I was only a Lance Corporal in the BDF and the money that I made in a single weekend as a musician tripled and sometimes quadrupled my salary.

Nothing was holding me back, I worked on my music from morning till evening and I still believe that had I kept my day job, I’d never have achieved half the things I did.

Q. This trend of soldiers quitting the army to follow their dreams continues today. Some, for instance, leave BDF XI to join big clubs like Township Rollers. What is your advice to these youngsters?

A. It is all about taking risks. It is a gamble! My advice to them is that things are tough out there.

If you quit, you have to know that every minute counts; you have to earn a living everyday because there’s no salary coming at the end of the month.

Music sales have gone down – even shows are not as profitable as they used to be.

As far as footballers are concerned, I’m not sure quitting the BDF to play for a popular side is the right thing to do.

Our football is semi professional and there’s no job security.

A broken leg is all it takes for one to regret ever leaving their day job.

I’d encourage these youngsters to focus on getting an education, and think hard before they decide to quit their day time jobs.

Q. Well you quit and you don’t seem to be doing too badly!

A. Yes. Around 2000 there was business, we were on top of our game and locals bought our music in large numbers.

I could tour Kasane and make P40, 000 in a single weekend without the support of any other artist.

Today you can’t have a show on your own, no one will turn-up – they’ll even call you crazy!

To make that kind of money you need about six or more other artists and probably have to tour more villages.

Believe me, it’s tough! We all want a piece of this cake and the slices are getting thinner by the hour.

Q. Who inspired Jeff musically?

A. The funny thing about my music career is that I grew up listening to guys like Steve Kekana and Bapsy Mlangeni.

I was never into Rhumba until I saw the late Lawi Somani, who used to play with Alfredo Mos in Mogoditshane.

I was still a soldier and I frequented their gigs.

I fell in love with Rhumba music and also realised that I mastered all the Rhumba dance moves.

Anyone who attended one of the biggest shows this country ever hosted, which featured Koffi Olomide, will tell you I held my own against the highly rated Democratic Republic of Congo dancers.

Q. Kwasa Kwasa seem to have lost its spark. The music is no longer dominating the airwaves like it did during the time of Alfredo Mos, Franco and Nata and Capricon. What changed?

A. We have only ourselves to blame. All these artists released a new album every year.

We flooded the market with music and I think the sound became a bit monotonous for a lot of people.

When a new sound (House Kwasa) came it was a breath of fresh air and Rhumba was relegated to the very bottom.

The era of social media and new mediums like USB has also contributed to loss of income for most artists, many of whom were forced into early retirement.

Q. The likes of Olomide are known regionally and internationally. Why didn’t you take your brand across borders?

A. It didn’t go as planned.

I have, however, collaborated with renowned artists, mainly from Zimbabwe.

I went to Zimbabwe where I worked with Alick Macheso and also fell in love with Sungura music.

I also worked with the late Tongai Moyo in Zimbabwe and here in Francistown.

Q. You are currently based in Francistown after spending some time in Gaborone and Orapa. Why did you relocate?

A. I came here in 2012. I was battling personal problems and Francistown people welcomed me – the city has been my home ever since.

It was from this city that I managed to pick myself up and married again in 2015 after my divorce.

I also managed to build myself a house and invested in other properties at Gerald Estates which I leased to tenants.

Q. And what a beautiful house it is! Is this now your new line of business?

A. I wish to acquire more property. I’m however not in a hurry, I’m taking my time and by the grace of God I’ll get there.

Q. Rhumba has very strenuous routines, which require one to be in tip-top shape. How long do you think you can keep up with the youngsters?

A. I’ll dance for as long as my knees can carry me!

I however intend to go back to my roots and play more slow and mature music.

Remember I play a couple of musical instruments and I intend to release an Afro jazz album in the future.

During my days with the BDF Dance group we did song covers of popular South African musicians – all I have to do is tap into that knowledge to put together a good album.

Q. Jeff thank you very much for this interview, but before we part ways, Thank God It’s Friday – what do you have planned for this weekend?

A. I’m free this weekend.

I’ll spend time with my family.

Next week Friday I’ll be in Palapye alongside Tumza, who’ll be launching his new album and DVD.

These are some of the things that make me look back with pride.

Tumza, just like Chris Manto Seven and Rider Son, are my protégés and I’m happy with their progress in this dog eat dog industry