WHEN Tafadzwa “Asaph” Tarukwana rose to the top of ZIFM’s charts last week, shrugging off competition from seasoned campaigners like Winky D and ExQ, few could have guessed that the rapper they were listening on the song titled Mambo is the son of a pastor.
On the song, the Bulawayo wordsmith is at his fiery best. Over a triumphant beat dominated by a saxophone, the rapper outlines exactly why he thinks he is the new king of rap. With characteristic poise and precision, he grabs the hip-hop crown he has threatened to hijack in the last few years, simultaneously blasting opponents while encouraging those sitting on the fence to embrace his reign.
A new king has arrived, the track seems to suggest, and he is taking no prisoners.
Only a few years ago Asaph was very much his father’s son, preaching and spreading the good word as one of the city’s premier gospel hip-hop artistes. Things have changed since then.
Asaph no longer raps from the pulpit. And as his song begins to dominate around Zimbabwe, it will undoubtedly become a staple in clubs and other places were fun loving creatures gather. Some will wonder what the pastor and his flock think of the success of the rapper, whose career trajectory has deviated from what his father would have envisioned for him when he first picked up the mic.
Just how did the rapper make the transition from gospel rapper, to a secular artiste whose music Bulawayo and Zimbabwe at large seems to be warming up to.
“It was never really a transition. I never changed my character much because I have never been that rapper who curses and has too much vulgar in his lyrics. The only difference is that I just broadened the appeal of my music which I couldn’t do when I was just doing gospel,” he said in an interview.
According to the rapper, although people now identify him as a secular artiste, he has not changed his outlook on music and life.
“I have always been a message driven artiste. Even now I have songs that talk about God. If you listen to all my songs there’s always a message at the centre of them,” he said.
But how have his parents, who are senior members at a local congregation, taken his change in stance as a musician? As a leader now in hip-hop, how do they view him given the genre has sometimes had a less than glorious reputation due to the lifestyle it is believed to depict.
“My parents know that I’m not evil. They see me every day and they know what kind of person that I am. They know that their son listens to them. They know that I try my best to be respectful,” he said.
Their courage in supporting him, has meant that they are on the top of the list of the
those he thanks whenever he achieves any milestone.
“That’s why when I won at the Bulawayo Arts Awards I thanked my parents before I even thanked God. I did that because they’re people who have supported me despite everything. They knew that people outside don’t look at this genre favourably and see it as evil yet they still supported me,” he said.
The BAAs were a watershed moment for Asaph. After walking away with the best hip-hop gong, many felt that the crown had been passed from Cal_vin, the red hot favourite to win the award yet again, to a rapper who many felt had been overlooked for too long despite a solid catalogue of good music. That triumph had inspired him to pen the lyrics to Mambo.
“The song came in the aftermath of the awards. I was just wondering what actually makes one a king. Everyone can call you king but what does that mean exactly? So that’s where the concept of the song came from,” he said.
The rapper added that after conquering Bulawayo, he felt that he needed a song that could become an anthem throughout the whole country.
“I think this one convinced the Harare crowd more than anything else. I say this because for a long time I was pushing the Bulawayo message for so long and people thought maybe my music would not have the same impact around the country. But with Mambo I think I’ve proved that this not the case. With Mambo I made sure that the song has something for everyone.
There’re parts in there that someone from Harare can identify with and other parts which someone from Bulawayo will love,” he said.
Years before he started going head to head with some of the country’s heavyweights on the music charts, Asaph was just another struggling young rapper, going head to head with others in Bulawayo’s battle rap scene.
The skills he learnt in the world of battled rap, he admitted, made him all the more sharper when he made it to the recording booth.
“Battle rap helps me stay sharp. It also improves my skills and keeps me hungry. Whenever I enter the recording booth, I always have to believe that no one is better than me. This is because if you’re not convinced that you’re the best then why should anyone else believe you?” he said.
Those skills were to come in handy when the time came for Asaph to spar with a man who many believed to be his rival, Cal_vin. For years the two seemed to have no problem with each, but all hell broke loose when they started aiming lyrical missiles in each other’s direction.
“In all honesty that was a misunderstanding between two brothers. We’re two totally different characters because he’s fire and I’m ice. He knows how to react. That whole thing was fueled by people who wanted to see us attack each other. We’re both kings but people feel like they should be one when that shouldn’t necessarily be the case,” he said.