“Aita Chake ndihombarume”– L.K. Zhakata.
It may have been funny before. It is not anymore.
If you are of my generation, you were born into the running joke about Zimbabweans suffering from the ol’ p.h.d (pull her/him down) syndrome. It may have been funny. Yet, as we have grown as a nation and spread across the globe, and have gone through tribulations unimaginable in many other places, we unwittingly accepted the running joke as identity. The way hoarders soon feel at home in their filth, we have allowed the hate to fester such that a Zim narrative is incomplete without it.
By Shingi Mavima, Ohio, USA #earGROUND
In the spirit of remedying this culture of negativity, today is a celebration. The premise of the list is as follows: we focus on ONE thing that each of the artists below have done or do exceptionally well. This is not to imply, in any way, that it is the only thing that they are good at- not by a long shot. The other catch to the list is, as much as possible, we have sought to find a DIFFERENT attribute for each artist. So while several artists on the list may, for example, be excellent lyricists, collaborators etc, only one of them will get a shout out for that particular thing. (Inevitably, then, this means the attribute we highlight here may not be the one you find to be most impressive about the artist- be sure to let us know in the comments!) Finally, the list is random and in no particular order, although I have sought to privilege folks to whom there have been some negativity targeted in recent times. If there is enough interest, I may do a part two.
That out of the way, let’s spread positivity!
- Ammara has charted a path distinct from her famous father.
Ah, the double-edged sword of following in the footsteps of an iconic parent! On one hand, you have available to you a frontrow seat to excellence that 99% of your peers cannot even begin to dream of. On the other, you are bound by the inevitable comparisons.
Most second-generation artists, particularly in Zimbabwe, often go for a sound in the vicinity of what their parents are famed for. There is nothing wrong with that; especially when done well.
Ammara Brown, however, has been a departure from her legendary father, Andy Brown. Her Afropop sound is unrecognizable from the oft-mellow reggae tunes of the late legend. Granted, Andy himself experimented, almost always excellently, with different sounds- so perhaps that quality has indeed been inherited.
But for stepping out of a shadow that will loom eternally large, props to the ‘Loyal’ songstress.
- Winky D Has an Encyclopedic Intellect
To be an artist, and a successful one, requires a measure of intelligence. There is no debating this. The lyrics, the ability to play an instrument or even to pick a beat, the social awareness to rock a live show; all these are intellectual exercises that most artists possess, and that we as fans do not necessarily give due credit to.
But then, there is Winky D.
His intellect and knowledge-base is so well-rounded that I have no doubt he would fare decently on quiz shows in the mold of Jeopardy! Or The Weakest Link. His intricate articulation of celestial phenomena in ‘Extraterrestrial” and “Area 51”, all the while being a metaphor for love, is out of this world (pun not intended.) While we’re at it, do you know what the inspiration for the Gafa Futi album cover was? Check this out.
You may say “well, the extraterrestrial thing is his whole gimmick, so perhaps he just obsesses over that.”
You would be wrong. Time and again, the Bigman has shown a peerless ability to make connections. Think about the protracted driver’s education metaphor in “Highway Code.” or the release of the escape-from-bondage themed Njema album 40 years after independence. Or the topical line “handisi chinhu, asi ndinofara hama yangu ndishe!’
Or when he said…You know what, let me stop here, I could go on all day about the genius of Winky D. From James Bond to European football; Mississippi River to African traditional practices, the man doesn’t just mention things, but does so in a way that betrays profound contextualization. Gafa iGafa.
- Stunner’s Swag is Unmatched
Stunner just turned 40. Something I have to keep reminding myself when I see how youthful he looks in comparison to many of his peers (grey beard notwithstanding!) Never one to be caught slipping, Mudhara Dziva is always dressed to the nines, and it suits him perfectly.
Folks will say “well, he gets his money from….” or “he moved back to the ghetto….” Stop. That is besides the point. From the wealthiest people to people with hardly any means, being fashionable and clean is a conscious decision and, frankly, a talent. Stunner does it well. Kugeza chaiko.
(Watching his recent interview on The Chamhembe Story series, it was revealed that he started off as a tailor. His penchant for the threads, then, comes as no surprise.)
- ExQ has Mastered the Art of Collaborations
This one was easy. ExQ is a bonafide legend of the Zimbabwean Urban music scene. His longevity and sonic dexterity are undeniable.
He is also the perfect collaborator. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone in his generation with a collaborations roster to rival him. Scratch that; you would be hard-pressed to find many in the history of Zimbabwean music with a collaborations roster that impressive.
It’s not about the number of songs either. The quality has been so consistently top notch that you know to celebrate the collabo even before it has been released. In addition, the diversity of genres with whom he has excellently collaborated is remarkable. His ZimDancehall collabs ‘Nhema’ (with Killer T), ‘Nzenza’ (with Freeman) and the current banger ‘Wakatemba’ (with Tocky) have all been among the biggest songs of their respective years. His works with Afro-pop stars including Jah Prayzah (Pahukama) and Ammara (Bhachura) have also been enormous hits. Even less recognizable efforts, such as the Madiz-assisted ‘Unyerere’ and ‘Bvuma’ with jazz icon Tanga WekwaSando are solid records.
And this is not new, by the way. His verse on Stunner’s 2002 debut single “Rudo Rwemari” helped launch the latter’s career, while he is also featured on Leonard Mapfumo’s ‘Maidei’ (alongside Kevie)- a song that was recently voted the best Urban song of the past 20 years on Power FM’s Top 40. In the mid 2000s, he broke uncharted ground when he collaborated with THE Oliver Mtukudzi on ‘Pane Rudo.’ Not only were there no ‘Urban Groovers’ collaborating with Tuku on that level then, the cooperation between practitioners of urban music and more traditional genres that we now see regularly was not a thing back then.
( I haven’t even mentioned “Alleluya’, ‘Talk About It’ ‘Chekeche’- you get the drift.)
Bow Down to the king of the Collabs.
- Killer T Evolved the ZimDancehall Sound
For a while, it seemed like ZimDancehall was essentially just the practicing of Caribbean musical stylings by Zimbabwean people in a mixture of Shona and feigned Patois. Many of the popular acts were confined to riddims. Those of us who love it loved it nevertheless, but there were justifiably questions about its creativity and sustainability. As time has passed, the best acts have innovated a sound that, although still rooted in its Caribbean influences, is itself distinct unto its own.
High on the list of these innovators is Killer T. Honestly, if he had not broken out within and continued to situate himself within that culture, it would be very difficult to situate the Chairman as a ZimDancehall artist by now. His biggest hits in the past few years, including “Kana Ndamuda”, “Baba Vako Imboko” and “Hondo” are all genre-bending, often combining the aforementioned twangs of Dancehall with Jiti and Sungura infused rhythms, as well as Afropop inclining sounds that, at times, sound closer to something Jah Prayzah would make than his Dancehall peers.
Given his enduring popularity, I would say that is working out pretty well for him. Undoubtedly, it is also encouraging other artists to be more experimental with their sounds.
- Jah Signal is Just Very Likable
Buzzing under the surface for a few years, Jah Signal finally broke through to the mainstream in a major way with 2017’s ‘Sweetie’ and ‘Mubako’, followed up with a solid album the following year. Since then, he has continued to make waves as one of ZimDancehall’s more in-demand acts.
While obviously talented, his voice alone may not even be the number one thing he has going for him. Sigi comes across as just a genuinely likeable guy. Every performance he puts on is tinged with unhuman energy! His jumps are the stuff of legend, and the recent video of him swinging from a ceiling during one of the Lockdown Live performances is hilarious. His fan engagement is also among the best I have seen: it often seems that is the foremost reason he is in the music business.
Oh, and he is also very vocal about being a fan of his peers, making a point to say so in his songs and to post their successes on his social media. Perhaps nothing epitomizes his affability than his cameo appearances in Baba Harare’s ‘Ramba Wakadzvanya’ (3.52) and Freeman’s ‘Mudzanga’ (2.42). In the former, he clearly takes much gusto in being just even mentioned among some of the greats, and plays along in ways that his peers do not seem to be doing. Also, check out this video of him dressed the part for a show in Texas, USA.
Swaah vanenge munhu anotambika naye zvakanaka.
- ShaSha’s Rise has Been Astronomical
By the time this article comes out, the voting for BET’s Viewer’s Choice awards will be closed. We’ll be waiting for the show on June 28th. I anticipate Zimbabweans will be paying slightly more attention this time around, and that is because of ShaSha’s nomination for the Viewer’s Choice-New International Act award.
Don’t know who ShaSha, or didn’t before her nomination went viral? Don’t feel bad; I suspect plenty of Zimbabweans had not heard of her. I know I had not. At least I didn’t think so. Besides, the Amapiano genre is only marginally popular in Zimbabwe.
But here’s a story.
After the nomination, I was talking to a friend from Dangamvura (where I hail from), and he reminded me of a local young singer he used to be in touch with back in 2013. Now my friend is cool, and has wriggled his way into the circles of big name Zim urban artists. You see him in pics and such. So this young lady, Charmaine, would contact him asking to be introduced to these other guys- or at least to have him share the few songs she had on SoundCloud at the time.
At some point, she left Dangamvura, and made the trek down south that thousands of her countrymen have made in recent years. By 2019, she is making waves in South Africa, dropping a well-received LP, Blossom, and dubbed the ‘Queen of Amapiano.’ And oh, scoring the coveted BET nomination (I stand corrected, but I believe she is the first Zim performing artist to be nominated.)
So let’s rehash the story. This girl from Dangamvura was reaching out for a connection, any connection, into the Zim music industry as recently as the mid 2010s. She moved to SA on a whim. She broke into the notoriously competitive SA music scene, in a whole new genre (to her and to the world) that is definitive of contemporary urban South Africa, and has climbed to the top of it!
Somebody secure rights to the movie, because this is the stuff Hollywood is made of!
- Jah Prayzah is a Solid Name Across the Continent
Oh boy. The boy from Uzumba is polarizing, isn’t he.
But let us not pretend not to see these things: Jah Prayzah stands tall- literally and figuratively- among his generational peers. I am not here to talk about his phenomenal rise or that even his terribly performing videos have well in excess of half a million views on YouTube.
Jah Prayzah has put Zim on the map around the continent, at least among this generation. There was a time when scoring big name collaborations from around the continent was the domain of Mtukudzi and, even with Samanyanga, he was well established when these started to pour in.
He is of course not the only one in his generation, with Buffalo Soldier, Cal-Vin, and Winky D among other scoring high profile Pan-African collaborations. It would be, however, disingenuous to deny that JP has done it unlike it has been done before. He has rocked with the titans of West Africa in Davido,Pantoraking and Yemi Alade; he has built an enduring camaraderie in the east with Diamond Platinumz, and he is, of course, a mainstay in the region, pairing up with Mafikizolo, Zahara, Vee, Charma Girl to name a few.These collabs don’t come easy, especially with young artists in the very prime of their careers.
Heck, he has even rocked the mic with the legendary reggae chanter, Luciano.
And his internationalism is not just in the collaborations. You see it in his superstar status in neighboring countries such as Mozambique and Malawi. Or the reviews of his new album coming out of Kenya and other places. Or his stint on Coke Studio Africa, in which he clearly emerged both a crowd and peer-favorite. Or just last year, when he shared the stage with Wyclef Jean, 2Face, Burna Boy and others in New York at the One Africa Music Festival.
Once upon a time, these are things that our generation as Zimbabweans could only imagine being done. Imagine no more. Others will inevitably come and go further, and that is the point. But for now, clearly, Soja raenda kure.
- Noble Came Out Swinging Against the ‘Rona
Remember March 2020? Seems like such a long time ago now, doesn’t it? Well, if you remember, the noise around COVID-19 was only beginning to hit fever-pitch and, much like the virus itself, there was a lot of uncertainty in the air. Were we going on lockdown? When and how long? And Todii? Senzeni? What shall we do?
Amidst that uncertainty, Noble Stylz stepped up with an incredible educational campaign. The Alpha-26 Covid-19 Awareness campaign. The premise was simple: get 26 different personalities, each for a letter of the alphabet, and frame an awareness tip around that. It was a remarkable effort, bringing in contributions from around the world. The entries ranged from the hilarious to the sombre, yet all were educational.
From a top-notch rapper with a social media presence to match, way to use your platform when the community needed it the most.
- Gze Has Etched Himself into Hip-hop Lore—Seemingly out of the Blue
Zvingazonzi ndiri munhu waNoble
Here is the thing. Gze can spit. Been that way for two decades now. That said, he has played second fiddle to many of his peers over the years: at least as far as mainstream notoriety goes. The Hip-hop heads would undoubtedly be familiar, but I’ll admit it took me a shameful amount of time before I realized he was Resilience from Trinity.
On May 8th, the music community went from not knowing to knowing Gze. He dropped the ‘Fatality’ diss aimed at Noble, and the rest is the stuff of Zim hip-hop legend. That song initiated arguably the most high profile, back-and-forth, on-wax rap beef the scene has seen, maybe ever?
In so doing, Gze emerged from the seeming shadows of the scene, and gave us a lockdown memory we will be talking about for decades to come. When the tapestry of Zimbabwean hip-hop is weaved, it will be incomplete without the threads of the Gze-Noble battle during the year of the rat.
So there you have it folks: ten artists by ONE thing that they do or have done exceptionally well in.
If there is enough interest, I’ll do a part two on ten other artists. In the meantime, who would you have included and with what quality? Leave your responses in the comments.