Is Jah Prayzah now king of Zimbabwean music or is he just a flash in the pan?
With sungura maestro Alick Macheso playing catch-up with a new album that has gone largely ignored, and other recent greats not quite churning out the stuff greatness is made of, there appears to be little competition for the hurricane called Mukudzei Mukombe.
Suluman “Sulu” Chimbetu provides good game, but he too is stuggling to upstage the 10-track “Jerusarema”, an album named after an endangered cultural dance popular in Jah Prayzah’s Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe ancestral home.
In Kadoma recently, Jah Prayzah performed for over 1 700 people, in winter, and has not performed for less than a thousand anywhere in Zimbabwe since the release of his album in May 2015.
Whether he charges a flat fee or collects gate takings, the 28-year-old, takes home no less than US$5 000 per show, which translates to over US$15 000 every weekend (excluding midweek gigs and corporate functions).
His lifestyle tells the story of a man in his prime. He drives a Mercedes Benz S600 and has a fleet of other cars parked at his offices and home. He does not hire cars for anything anymore. He uses his own, which are owned by his company, JP Studios.
His PA system, Craft Audio, is regarded as one of the best. But he wants an upgrade.
So yes, the rest of the field must be afraid. Very afraid.
Last week, he launched his recording studio, which saw award-winning songstress Cynthia Mare being the first artiste to utilise the state-of-the-art equipment sourced from the United Kingdom and South Africa at a cost of US$16 000.
He is understood to own several properties, although he will not speak abbout such things because at heart, this is still a down to Earth fellow from rural Uzumba.
“Ndine maproperty and tichirikushanda zvimwe. (I have properties and I’m still working on acquiring more),” he said as he dodged a question on what exactly he has invested in with his new found fortune.
His band, which uses army fatigues from different countries as stage costumes, is said to be well taken care of because they have “come a long way with me”.
The uniforms do not come cheap. These are original brands imported from Britain, Australia, the US, UAE and Botswana for his Third Generation band.
Last week, the artiste moved to spacious offices in Harare’s Belvedere. The premises have room for a new studio, waiting area, rehearsals and a storage space.
This is the guy who in May this year did a red carpet launch of “Jerusarema” at the Harare International Conference Centre, which was attended by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, several ministers, MPs and top businesspeople.
The VP said it was his first time to be invited to such an event, and he was more than happy he had responded to the call as it had “worthwhile”.
The launch reportedly cost over US$100 000 to put together.
At the launch, Jah Prayzah got a residential and a business stand from businessman Phillip Chiyangwa in exchange for his first CD at an auction.
Was the risk of spending over US$100 000 on the album and its launch worth it?
“I like facing challenges. I do not look back and I am very stubborn. I was nervous, of course, but together with my partners who had also poured in resources, we advertised, put up billboards and because of the confidence I had in the product, even invited the VP. Indeed it has paid off.”
Climbing the ladder
From curtain-raising for the likes of Kapfupi aka Freddy Manjalima, Jah Prayzah has risen to become one of the most sought-after voices in Zimbabwe.
While he once warmed the mic for the likes of Sulu, Macheso, Progress Chipfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi, today artistes clamour to have him feature on their tracks.
But with Peter Moyo, Macheso and Sulu all set to release albums before the end of the year, one wonders if Jah Prayzah will still be king at Christmas.
“I feel that being in competition or viewing a fellow musician as such is a complete waste of time. When one is full of competition in their head, the end result is that they focus on competition and forget their own career,” he said.
Late 2015 or early 2016 will see Jah Prayzah releasing the DVD album for “Jerusarema”. He is not sure if there will be a new album soon and such a decision will be informed by the vagaries of the music industry.
Jah Prayzah said he viewed all artistes as his brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts, which is why he has countless collaborations, including with unknown artistes.
He has collaborated with Andy Muridzo, Dereck Mpofu, Gary Tight, Nox, Freeman, Guspy Warrior, Sandra Ndebele, Ammara Brown, Cynthia Mare, Charma Gal, Luciano, Oliver Mtukudzi and Suluman Chimbetu.
It has not all been a rosy ride to the top.
Jah Prayzah’s biggest scandal has been the lifting of a Ghanaian artiste’s song, which he passed off as his own.
Titled “Samini”, the track by Emmanuel Samini was released in Ghana in 2007 and Jah Prayzah used its arrangement and harmonies on his 2013 hit song “Mwanasikana”.
The artiste has admitted to this being a low point – but is quick to point that “all songs on (“Jerusarema”) are original compositions by Jah Prayzah”.
Soon after the release of “Jerusarema”, the artiste fired his manager, Mother Filo, under unclear circumstances.
Jah Prayzah has kept his mouth shut about this episode, only speaking to praise the “wonderful workMother Filo did for get us to where we are today. Personally I appreciate her contribution”. His baby mama also casts a bit of a shadow on his image, as she speaks freely in the company of strangers, dishing out nuggets like “Jah Prayzah is an irresponsible father who neglects his child”.
However, the boy, named after his father and often seen in his dad’s company at family shows (he sometimes joins the Third Generation on stage) seems well taken care of.
“I had junior when I was young and the mother was young as well. But look for me on my off days or at family shows and you will find him – I have a good relationship with my son and he wants for nothing,” he said.
Jah Prayzah lives in Mabelreign, Harare with his wife Rufaro and two daughters. Mukudzei Jr lives in Budiriro with his mother.
“I like to spend my time with family. I make sure that I make time for them – we go for braai and we also watch movies together. I like black or is it African-American movies and everything local, be it drama, films or soapies. I like to spend quality time with my family. Sometimes we visit relatives, together and that way we have lots of fun,” he said.
As with most musicians, he fell in love with singing at school.
“My musical skills were honed at school and at church. My mother was a choir master at church. I would also compose songs for my school choir at Musanhi Secondary School and we would actually win competitions using my compositions.”
When he moved to Kambuzuma High 1, he met a colleague from Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe who was to fuel his musical career.
“This friend of mine stayed in Highfield … I visited him and discovered that he had a mbira instrument, which he had discarded, it was actually just lying outside being weather-beaten. I offered my baseball cap in exchange for the instrument and he said ‘yes’.
“Those who know me will tell you that I would carry the instrument and play it everywhere I went. I was never ashamed of my dream.” After secondary school Jah Prayzah shifted bases from his aunt’s place in Kambuzuma to his uncle’s Budiriro home.
There he met Senator Vibes, a dancehall artiste, who would draw him to the genre.
“My music was traditional but I did dancehall and conscious reggae as well. I recorded over 50 singles around (2005) in bedroom and backyard studios. Some of the songs I’m redoing now.”
After his debut album, “Rudo neRunyararo”, Jah Prayzah was to get into a professional studio for his second album “Sungano” in 2009.
In 2010-11 his name and music had begun getting attention.
“Ngwarira Kuparara” his third album came in 2012 and catapulted him to national stardom wiith hits like “Gochi Gochi” and “Maria”. A year later, Jah Prayzah was back with “Tsviriyo”.
“When I released ‘Tsviriyo’ I was more experienced and knew my way around the studio. That album changed my life – it was an instant hit on radio and the newspapers began to talk about me regularly.
“I bought my own PA system, a car, improved my band members’ salaries and moved from Chitungwiza to Mabelreign.”
In 2014 Jah Prayzah released “Kumbumura Mhute”, an album which received a lukewarm response but all the same kept him afloat as he open his first office.
And then came “Jerusarema”, which has taken the industry by storm.
Jerusarema, which is listed and protected by Unesco under the Third Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, is a dance practiced in the Murehwa and Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe districts.
Jah Prayzah says his endorsements are too many to count. Among them are those by Population Services International-Zimbabwe, Savanna Tobacco, Fasfit and Datlabs.
“There are many endorsement deals that are pending and I have been fortunate in that they have been greatly rewarding for me as brand and financially as well, he revealed.” The Sunday Mail