Growing up Theo Nhlengethwa always knew that he would pursue a career in music but little did he know that he, along with his band mates would become a household name and be loved the world over.

 

He recalls how it all started; “When I was young I used to see myself on TV; true to the saying that your vision will always take you where you want to go. That was true for me; at around age 8 I saw myself as SA’s Tevin Campbell, I wanted to be the Michael Jackson of South Africa.  I always had this desire to be on TV”.

Born and bred in Ekurhuleni, Theo told his parents, while in high school, that he wanted to move to Joburg. “I knew that if I stayed at home I would never be able to achieve my dream. I remember taking a train after school and when I got to Small Street in Jozi, I knew that I was where I wanted to be”.

A few years later, a connection with an actor who owned a casting agency, gave Theo his much needed break in the entertainment industry. He started doing TV ads at the age of 14.

Though he was doing TV commercials, Theo knew that he wanted to be a musician. Later on, young Theo teamed up with school mates and friends; Lebo, Thembi and Junior, to form Boom Shaka. The group became a household name, attaining huge success that it had not anticipated. “We were exactly what the people needed at that time; we were celebrating our new found freedom, our youth and expressing ourselves as Africans”.

On Fame

As the group enjoyed success, Theo was overwhelmed by the attention girls gave him. “Everywhere we went I was chased by girls (laughs). When I worked with Revolution during our break from Boom Shaka when Lebo pursued her solo career; I remember performing with the group on stage in Taung and a group of girls flooded backstage and chaos was about to ensue. We had to be escorted by police to the hotel. I enjoyed the love and support I was getting and still get. I attribute it all to the grace of God”.

With the fame and success that came, Theo could have easily been swallowed by what was going on around him, but he somehow managed to escape from that pressure. “I never followed peer pressure; I maintained my choices despite what was happening around me. I was exposed to drugs and alcohol and some things made me uncomfortable – that’s when I would keep away from certain people”.

On Losing Lebo

Theo never really saw the future without Boom Shaka and was not ready to confront the sad reality that there would be a time that he would have to figure things out on his own. “I didn’t think about the future like that; I didn’t even think that we would lose such a powerful force in the group. We never thought we would lose Lebo and after her passing I felt like a part of me died with her. Lebo was everything to me”. 

On Beating Depression

“Depression attacks anyone and I happened to be one of those people that were hit by it. I was hospitalized; the doctors did all the necessary tests and they came back negative. While in hospital people wanted to take pictures and I was not in a good space. I became more and more stressed. It was at this time that the doctors picked up depression as there were no signs of other ailments”.

During this dark time of depression, Theo recalls losing his friends – at the time he needed them the most. “I never stopped praying and I never saw myself dying. I prayed so much to an extent that people started calling me Pastor Theo”.

On Spiritual Growth

“Being in hospital drew me closer to God. I would go from ward to ward in my gown encouraging people, praying and sharing the Word. My best friend was the Bible that was next to me. God revealed scriptures to me; hence I have the scriptures tattooed on my arm – these are scriptures that kept me going".

Theo attributes his recovery from depression to his spiritual growth. “I knew that I would get out of hospital and share my testimony. I learnt that sometimes God shifts you away from things and people so that you would pay full attention to Him and that was what was needed from me at that time. I asked myself, ‘who am I without Lebo, Thembi, Junior, friends and fans?’ – that’s when I discovered God, myself and my strength”.

“I had fear of the future as there’s always fear of the unknown. Once God reveals the power that you have within, things fall into place. The Bible is always my reference.  When I wasn’t  doing well I sent Basetsana Kumalo a message telling her that I was sinking into depression and she sent me a scripture; Jeremiah 29:11. That scripture kept me going”

 

On what’s next

Having discovered who he is outside of Boom Shaka, Theo sees himself as a powerful man whom God has given birth to. “I’m a born-again Christian; I consult God in everything that I do. There are so many great things happening in my life right now by God’s grace. I now know that my future is bright in God – I now live a fearless life”.

Boom Shaka is back in studio and has been performing around the country. Theo’s single S’thandwa Nguwe has been doing well and his solo album will also be out soon. More projects are lined up for Theo and indeed the future looks bright.

 

By Amanda Matshaka

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