From the days of Jimi Hendrix, a Black American musician in the 1960s, up to now, the causes of premature deaths among musicians are more or less the same. Hendrix died from a drug overdose on September 18, 1970 at the tender age of 27.
Decades later, Whitney Houston was found dead in a bathtub in a Beverly Hills Hilton hotel room just before the Grammy Awards in 2012. The coroner confirmed she died by accidental drowning at the age of 48, but heart disease and copious cocaine use were contributing factors.
It looks like drug abuse, violence, alcoholism as well as HIV and Aids have been the main culprits in the deaths of many a musician. Alcohol is known to influence negligent behaviour even among non-musicians. Psychologists have also attributed deaths at a young age to hardships and traumatic events during childhood. They claim that if one was neglected and never got any attention as a child, then suddenly rises to music stardom and begins to get everyone’s attention, they are bound to become reckless and will soon die if they fail to control themselves.
Did you know that fame and fortune encourages music stars to throw caution to the wind? This often affects lead singers in a band.
Fans are often attracted to the main singers and in response, some of these lead singers exploit such situations and become reckless in their behaviour.
It could also be that risk-taking and wild behaviour predate fame as a way to cope with a difficult past. Careers as music stars might be attractive to people trying to escape an unhappy childhood, but they could also provide the resources to feed a predisposition to unhealthy and risky behaviours, which might not be so easily available to other people.
We recently lost Soul Jah Love at a young age of 31. Up to now, the cause of his death has not been established. Some say he died from diabetes while others say it was due to drug abuse. There are others who have not ruled out Covid-19. Soul Jah Love was also a subject of neglect during childhood. Whatever the cause of his death, it is an established fact that many musicians, especially lead singers, die before they reach the age of 50.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, we had artistes such as Brian Sibalo who was a Zimbabwean gospel musician. He was well-known for his song Tinokutendai Baba and hit albums such as Revival Time, BusaNkosi, ThulaMoya, Jerusalem, and Ndiri Mufambi. He died at the age of 32 in 1997. That is also young.
We also had the reggae superstar, Jamaican musician Bob Marley who died at the age of 36 on May 11, 1981. He is said to have died from cancer. There are many reasons how cancer can kill someone.
In Marley’s case, conspiracy theories went as far as suggesting that his cancer was inflicted through his toe when he was given football boots by a member of the CIA in America. However, Marley was also known to be a regular smoker of ganja. He smoked two joints in the morning, at 2pm and two joints at night which, according to him, made him feel “irie” (alright). Scientists have long shown us that smoking causes cancer.
There are hundreds of young musicians who believe that, right or wrong, they cannot go on stage before they smoke a joint. They believe that smoking ganja will enhance their creativity since its intoxicating effects will inspire them to do more magical things on stage.
Many young musicians, especially in the United States of America, die from drug overdose, Aids or drunk-driving accidents. Studies have found that the average lifespan of American musical stars is only 45 while the average European stars die on average at age 39.
There are many examples of stars dying young and it’s hard to pin down exactly by how many years a star’s life is cut down when he or she becomes famous
According to child abuse paediatricians, experiencing childhood trauma or abuse makes the body and brain age faster. Could this have been the case with our own Soul Jah Love without going into detail on how he was raised by his step-parents after his own mother and father had passed away?
I can give many examples of our own Zimbabwean pop stars who died prematurely before attaining the age of 50.
One example is Chiwoniso Maraire who died at the age of 38. She was known to use drugs, but the final autopsy was never revealed to us. Information doing the rounds at the time is that she died from suspected pneumonia.
Another female musician, Susan Mapfumo, who had actively participated as lead vocalist in bands such as Tutenkhamein, Pied Pipers and the OK Success before forming her on band, the Boogaloos, died aged exactly 40. She was a known alcoholic and it is suspected that the drinking got the better of her.
When the Aids pandemic took hold between 1990 and 2000, many young musicians who lost control died.
There was System Tazvida of Anodyiwa Haataure Manyepo fame who, like Soul Jah Love, also died at the age of 31 in 1999. In the same year, John Chibadura, the hit maker of 5 000 Dollars Kuroora, Mudiwa Janet, Sara Ugarike, Zuva Rekufa Kwangu, Usandivengera Simba Rangu and many more, died at the age of 42.
Paul Matavire, the blind singer who came out with songs such as Dhiabhorosi Nyoka, Tanga Wandida, Basa Rinopera, Gwagugwa Negugwe, Gomba Harina Mwana, Mutserendende and Taurai Zvenyu, also died aged 42 years. He was followed by Tongai Moyo of Murozvi Mukuru fame who died aged 43 in 2011.
The Bhundu Boys, who had become world-famous (remember Simbimbino and Let’s Jit-Jive, Let’s Stay Alive), lost four of its members, David Mankaba, Biggie Tembo, Shakie Kangwena and Shepherd Munyama, all aged below 45. Three of them are said to have thrown caution to the wind and died of Aids while Biggie Tembo committed suicide in the end.
Gideon Neganje, lead singer of the famous Pied Pipers Band, who was still in his twenties in 1981, died after a car accident near Kwekwe.
Musicians sometimes take the risks of driving at night after concerts because they either do not have accommodation to stay the night near the venue they have played at or they are trying to cut down on expenses. Instead, they decide to drive back to their respective homes in the middle of the night and in Zimbabwe, driving at night can be dangerous because there are no lit highways such as those found in Europe and America.
Another musician who died at a young age was Fortune Muparutsa. Muparutsa, born in 1968, was a popular Zimbabwean rhythm and blues singer, songwriter and producer, who at the time of his death was about to be signed to internationally renowned singer Akon. As one of the pioneers of urban grooves music, Muparutsa made his name on the Zimbabwean musical scene in the 1990s with the hit Kanda Matombo Kanda Matombo Ini Ndinokanda, which encouraged the use of condoms. He died on October 25, 2008 in the United Kingdom aged 40 and it took six months to have his body flown to Zimbabwe with the help of another late musician, Prince Tendai Mupfurutsa.
Researchers have revealed that solo artistes and lead singers were twice as likely to die before their time as some other musician who is simply an instrumentalist in a band. There are exceptions to this rule of course. Sebastian Mbata, who was Thomas Mapfumo’s Blacks Unlimited drummer, died at an early age, while Oliver Mtukudzi’s Black Spirits percussionist Kenny Neshamba also died in his 30s.
The above-mentioned musicians are well-known. There are hundreds who died before we even knew them, such as Peter Tembo of the Scanners International who died at the age of 17, Newton Kanengoni, David Matondo, Ernest Jacko and Gilbert Neganje, to mention only a few.
It is unfortunate that many musicians die at a young age, mostly due to their own carelessness and leave behind young families. There is need to look after one’s self if you are a growing musician. Look at the likes of Thomas Mapfumo and Zexie Manatsa who are still alive today and now aged 76 and 78 respectively. Even Mtukudzi, who died two years ago, was careful with his life. He neither drank nor did he smoke. That extended his life to the age of 66. So take heed.