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Mbhaqanga loses loyal bassist, Berthwell Bhengu

The late musician and bassist player Berthwell Bhengu with Poppy Mondi.
The late musician and bassist player Berthwell Bhengu with Poppy Mondi.

Seasoned musician and bassist player Berthwell Bhengu has died.

The 68 years old musician who was a member of the legendary mgqashiyo/mbhaqanga group Izintombi Zesi Manjemanje passed away on Saturday morning due to stomach cancer. Bhengu died at his home in Eshowe, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

According to Izintombi Zesi Manjemanje leader Jane Dlamini, Bhengu had been in and out of hospitals since December when he was diagnosed with stage four of stomach cancer.

Dlamini said the African traditional music has lost one of the most valuable and talented bass players. She defined Bhengu as one of few musicians who remained passionate about mbaqanga/ mgqashiyo music.

Bhengu joined Izintombi Zesimanjemanje in 1978 while the group was still under CBS, a company that was under Gallo Records.

“We used to call him Malume (uncle). He used to come to 'Esibayeni Eskhulu' (the big kraal, this is how CBS offices were known) in Goude Street in downtown Joburg. We realised that he was talented and he joined the band. He has been with us all these years and when others left the band, he remained.”

Malume was a talented musician and passionate about mbaqanga. He was a perfectionist of note. He was the first to arrive at rehearsals. He would put the band together and by the time the women (core members and vocalists) arrived [for rehearsals] the band would be ready. We will miss such a person because he was the group’s biggest critic. He was able to analyise each member’s performance and give feedback. That is how he cared for the group.”

Bhengu did not only play for Izintombi Zesi Manjemanje but he also played for Zamambo, Isigqi Sesimanje John Moriri, and maskandi legend Thanda Yiphi.

Nelisiwe Dladla, the  band leader of Zamambo, said: “Berthwell was a lovely person who enjoyed working with other people. He was a hard worker and was very dedicated to his work. He understood mgqashiyo and was passionate. He was also funny person making everyone laugh.”

Dlamini said when travelling, Bhengu always made sure the female singers were well taken care of.

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