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Three Strikes – and He’s In! Simba CI’s New Album Hits the Right Notes

Made by Kuda (MADE IN ZWE), a gift to Plot Mhako and the earGROUND vision.

Three Strikes – and He’s In! Simba CI’s New Album Hits the Right Notes

Nine years ago, I sauntered into the Kara Heritage Institute in Pretoria to partake in the Africa Day celebrations. Amidst the glitz and earthy glamor of the festivities, I heard a haunting acoustic guitar and unmistakable Shona vocals pierce through from the celebration’s main hall. I scurried over from whence the sound came, just in time to witness a virtuoso vocal performance by the guitarist, accompanied by a relentless brother on the ngoma. I stuck around after the performance, as one does when they’ve been blown away, and introduced myself to the singer.

By Shingi Mavima

This was my first time meeting Simba Ci.

The Aforementioned Initial Meeting between Writer and Artist (Africa Day, 2015.)

The following year, I was back in Pretoria for a few weeks for work, and immediately reconnected with Simba. For the next month or so, I was part of a small entourage that followed him around as he worked the Gauteng gig circuit. On one such day, he asked me to accompany him to meet a friend of his with whom he collaborated frequently; a gentleman going by the name of Lynol. Lynol Brown.

As I got acquainted with the two artists, and watched them two-to-three times a week performing in hotel lobbies and at local festivals, I was nagged by a persistent, bewildering thought: these fellas were undisputedly brilliant—why were they not all the rage? Why are they not all over Zimbabwean and South African airwaves, and where are the thousands of streams?

Much has happened in the intervening decade. Lynol, of course, is Mr. Brown, and has gone on to have millions of views and streams, been involved in some of the biggest songs out of Southern Africa in the past  few years, and averages upwards of 50 000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Simba Ci, on the other hand, has put out three albums since then. His most viewed video has just surpassed the 10 000-view yardstick, he has a couple of songs that have hit a thousand streams, and hovers around the 200-listener-a-month mark on Spotify. Make no mistake: these aren’t numbers to be scoffed at, particularly for an independent artist in an increasingly open and competitive market. However, it would be disingenuous to ignore the disparity in fortunes between the two artists as the seasons have turned.

So what gives? It’s not for a lack of talent on either artist’s part; those who have seen and listened to both will attest to the vast reserves of skill abundant in them (even if we allow for some disparities in talent; it still wouldn’t explain the sheer vastness of the gap in outcome.) It’s not for a lack of application either: Simba Ci tours so much that I’m not 100% sure where he lives; and when he’s back in Gauteng, he is either in the studio or doing shows. The boys work.

Ultimately, as with many dynamics that launch us into the stratosphere, it might come down to sheer opportunity: the right skill, the right place, the right time. Mr. Brown, who is every bit a wizard on production as he is with the vocals, rose to the fore at the exact moment that the sound he was dabbling with, African electro-house,was hitting a crescendo. In fact, he appears more than once on the ten-track Master KG album that boasts YouTube’s most-viewed African song of all time. And being affiliated with the juggernaut that is OpenMic Productions doesn’t hurt either.

Pardon the rambling introduction; I did not set out to write a comparative piece about these two incredible artists. The pen oft has a mind of its own.

I set out to talk about Simba Ci’s recently released album, Chiedza.

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Chiedza is Simba’s third album, following 2018’s Changing Chords and 2020’s Gimme a Chance. Beyond being just the third album sequentially, Chiedza sort of feels like the culmination of lessons learnt; the third act in a story; the worthy conclusion to a trilogy.”

‘Culmination’ and not, for example, a departure. In many ways, Chiedza gives everything that those of us who love Simba Ci’s music have come to love. Sonically, the album boasts the blend of reggae (for ex. ‘Into the Light’) , afrofusion (‘Huruva’), and soul-piercing ballads (‘Chiedza’, ‘Tora’ etc.) that has defined the earlier albums. Thematically, as well, the album deviates little from the tropes of romantic love and identity. Indeed, the album has the obligatory Mr. Brown feature (as has every album in the series), and even a re-made version of ’Huruva’,  one of the standout songs from his previous album. .Producer Papy Nsenga has been involved in all three projects and, heck, the album even comes in at twelve tracks—not too different from his true prior efforts.

Yet while ‘culmination’ is a better descriptor than ‘departure’, let it be clear that this album does not represent a mere duplication of earlier efforts. Simba’s pen, instrumentation, production, and album arrangement all tell the story of an artist who has keenly observed his own trajectory and fine-tuned his artistry. In addition to the aforementioned Mr. Brown, the album also features Tswana artist Maru on two of the album standouts, “Distance Love” and “Kopa O Nthute Go Go Rata.”

Going  a step further and tapping into the Urban Grooves renaissance of recent times, Simba Ci also draws in yesteryear heavyweights in the form of Betty Makaya and Willom Tight, resulting in a project that is true to the essence of what fans love about Simba’s music—all while being adventurous enough to imagine what else this could sound like and how far it could go.”

Chiedza is a triumphant third entry in a wholesome series; a culminatory of musical excellence three albums and six years in the making. Here’s hoping that it falls upon all the right ears.

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Made by Kuda (MADE IN ZWE)
A gift to Plot Mhako and the earGROUND vision.
Truly, for the culture.

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