His father, a psychologist, ‘tried everything to save him’
It was as though the president of motswako was carrying the world on his shoulders.
And after a lifetime of depression and three suicide attempts, he could no longer handle the pain.
On Wednesday, Jabulani Tsambo – known to his fans as Jabba, Hip Hop Pantsula or HHP – exited the stage by hanging himself with a rope at his home in the Johannesburg suburb of Randpark Ridge.
Three of his close friends, who attended a prayer meeting at his home on Thursday, told City Press that his helper discovered his lifeless body lying on his bedroom floor.
“The helper was apparently busy with her day-to-day chores and when she opened his bedroom door, she got the shock of her life when she saw his body on the floor,” said one of them.
The family, however, has not confirmed HHP’s cause of death and requested privacy as they mourn him.
In a statement this week, the family said: “It is with heavy hearts that we confirm that Jabulani Tsambo, known to his fans as Hip Hop Pantsula, passed away today.
"At the time of his passing he was 38 years old. He is survived by his wife, his parents, two sisters, his son and a nephew.”
‘Depression is real, it has no cure’
The two sources who attended the intimate prayer meeting said that the legendary rapper’s father, Rocks Tsambo, told the gathering of more than 20 mourners that his son was a troubled soul who suffered greatly from depression.
Tsambo senior, a retired psychologist, told the gathering that he had tried everything he could to save his son’s life by sending him to different psychologists for help.
The prayer meeting was attended by Tsambo’s close friends including DJ Lamonka; his producer, Thaso Tsotetsi; rapper Amu; church pastor Selwyn Ngwenya; and the South African Music Organisation chief operating officer Thobela Dlamini, who was the master of ceremonies of the meeting.
“It was more than a prayer meeting – we were celebrating Jabba’s life. We started the service by playing his music,” said another source.
Although they were mourning their fellow rapper, his father, who has the same sense of humour as his late son, gave them strength and encouraged them to remember how he touched so many lives though his music.
Although Tsambo senior did not go into details regarding the cause of his son’s death, he told the mourners that he was always complaining to him that the music industry did not afford him the respect he deserved.
The troubled rapper also spoke to his father about how life no longer made sense to him.
The source said Tsambo senior told them that “depression is real and it has no cure”.
‘Ta-Rocks, I love you’
The devastated father told mourners that in his son’s last message to him, he told him how much he loved him.
“He sent an unusual WhatsApp message, telling me: ‘Ta-Rocks, I love you,’ ” Tsambo senior told the gathering.
The mourner said that Tsambo senior told the gathering that he was surprised by the message, because it was something his son hardly told him.
He then called him, but he didn’t answer the phone.
Multiple suicide attempts
Tsambo was open about living with depression. Two years ago he told radio DJ Gareth Cliff about how dark 2015 was for him. It saw him try to take his life three times.
He would join online suicide assist websites to get information on the different ways to end his life.
He said: “I was thinking while my policies are still active‚ let me just go out. Fifteen minutes in the car. Hosepipe‚ whatever. I’m listening to Frank Ocean in the car. I’m thinking 15 minutes, I should be done.
"An hour and a half later‚ nothing happens. I’m listening to the song on repeat now. I get out of the car. It’s time to take the kids to school. F***ing hell, I’m a loser.”
He added that after the failed attempt, he even borrowed a friend’s car.
“I’m thinking, maybe because my car is a hybrid. Let me try with an old car. I get a friend of mine’s old car. I take the hosepipe from his car to mine. I try again. It doesn’t work.”
‘He created a foundation for motswako music’
Artist manager Vusi Leeuw, who discovered Tsambo as a solo artist in the 1990s, said that when he met him he was just a young man from Mafikeng looking for a break.
“Although people didn’t understand his music, I had to take a risk because I had faith that he was going to be a big star,” Leeuw said.
It took them at least three years to break into the industry.
What attracted him to Tsambo was his passion for music and the way he flowed with his lyrics. He described him as a genius lyricist and an Africanist.
“I connected with him because we both love The Notorious B.I.G’s music,” he said. Tsambo created the foundation for motswako music for various rappers such as Khuli Chana, Cassper Nyovest, DJ Lemonka, Mo Molemi, Tuks and others.
“He was giving and caring. He opened his home for a lot of artists who came from Mafikeng and didn’t have a place to stay in Joburg,” he said.
One thing Leeuw would remember about Tsambo is his smile. “His smile said it all, especially if he didn’t agree with you. He would just smile.”
Leeuw said that Tsambo put Setswana on the hip hop map. He also valued education and gave back to his home town.
“He has touched and made a huge impact on young people’s lives in Mafikeng. He just didn’t want to fail them,” Leeuw said.
Tsambo’s childhood friend Nthabeleng Maemela is still in shock that his friend is no more. They grew up together in Unit 5 in Mmabatho.
Maemela said two days before Tsambo’s death he asked him how he was doing. Tsambo told him he was taking every day as it comes.
“There were no signs that he was not okay. I didn’t know I was speaking with him for the last time,” he said.
Although they were close, Tsambo “kept things to himself. He never shared his problems with me.
“Instead when I was with him I would share my problems and he’d give me advice. I am going to miss his sense of humour,” Maemela said.
A memorial service will be held on Tuesday at Bassline in Newtown, Johannesburg, starting at 12pm, and at Mmabatho Convention Centre in Mahikeng, North West, on Thursday.
The funeral service will be held in Mmabatho on Saturday.