After conquering Zimbabwe’s music scene and achieving nearly all his goals at home, contemporary musician, Jah Prayzah (real name Mukudzei Mukombe) has set his sights on the rest of Africa, where other stars, such as Diamond Platnumz, Cassper Nyovest and Davido, are making waves.
For Jah Prayzah, music is a business and he has set up his own record label, Military Touch Movement, which, along with himself, has signed the artists Andy Muridzo, Tahle Wedzinza, Nutty O and EX-Q.
“I have always dreamed of doing my work in a professional manner. I can’t treat my music as a tuck-shop business where we meet in the street and someone pays,” he says.
Although he could not reveal details, Jah Prayzah says he is working on something to invest in outside music just in case he wakes up one day “without a voice”.
He is known for wearing army uniform and his fans call him the Shona name ‘Musoja’, the soldier in English. Aptly, he says he handles his music with military precision, viewing himself as a commander of the troops of instrumentalists, producers and fellow artists under his stable.
“I always wanted to be a soldier and at one time I applied and they invited me for training but that was when I started to do shows so I could not carry on with my dream to be in the military,” he says.
In 2016, Jah Prayzah was awarded the MTV Africa Music Awards in the Listeners Choice category and says he was overcome with joy.
“For the first time in my adult life, I felt like crying,” he says.
In 2017, he was nominated for the Best African Artist Award at the South African Music Awards alongside fellow Zimbabwean artist, Oliver Mtukudzi. Both lost out to Nigerian musician Patoranking.
Back home, Jah Prayzah has amassed more than 20 awards, such as the Zimbabwe Music Awards and the prestigious National Arts and Merit Awards. The awards and growing airplay on music channel Trace Africa have boosted his confidence to spread his music to other countries.
“In Zimbabwe I have tried and I have achieved everything I wanted to. Right now I want to spread my music to every corner of Africa and then to every corner of the world. That’s why here and there, there is a change in sound; I want to make music that cuts across most African countries,” he says.
In Africa he has been well received after he performed at the Bushfire Festival in Swaziland earlier this year. In Mozambique, he was shocked “to see that there are people who support me” to such lengths. He has also been to Tanzania where he has recorded duets with Diamond Platnumz and Harmonize.
Jah Prayzah has more than 177,000 likes on his Facebook fan page and says almost half of his social media followers are from Tanzania owing to the popularity gained on the back of his duet with Diamond Platnumz.
He has also collaborated with Mafikizolo on the song Sendekera and the artists have a second song which is yet to be released. Jah Prayzah has also worked with Botswana’s Vee Mampeezy, Namibia’s Boss Madam and Uganda’s Eddy Kenzo.
But, it is not always easy to get hold of Africa’s top artists and convince them to work together.
“It is more difficult to get hold of other African artists when you are still pushing your name. I wanted to collaborate with them a long time back,” says Jah Prayzah.
This has changed since he won awards got good reviews back home. He says this makes it easier for him to sit down with other African artists and discuss music business.
A recent collaboration with Davido has seen Jah Prayzah get airplay across the continent. But does it come at a cost and do Africa’s top artists require a payment for collaborations?
“With Davido, Diamond Platnumz and Mafikizolo, we did not pay any money. The only money we use is for work such as videos. It’s all about networking and building relationships,” he says.
The heavy workload can take its toll. He recalls when he had to perform at three shows on the same day as his sister’s wedding and he almost lost his eyesight.
“At one of the shows there was a light and we came back and I was asking my guys why there is smoke here and they laughed at me. Even driving home it was cloudy,” he says.
“The following day my eyesight became problematic as the day progressed and I partially lost my eyesight. [It was so bad] that I could not clearly identify people. I then went to see my doctor and he helped me and said it’s because of the lighting. I have never been so set aback in my life.”
Jah Prayzah says balancing performances, his heavy travel schedule, collaborations and family is “super hectic” but he is always guided by his ethos of hard work and his refusal to limit his dreams.
“I always aim higher, but sometimes it’s painful when I have to travel a lot and also balance family. I still want more awards.”
As we conclude the interview, he smiles and says it’s not easy to build an African music brand. He’s giving it his best shot and believes he is on the right path, especially when he sees the growing support across borders.
At home, fans demand their unique Zimbabwean sound while the rest of Africa has its own beat. With his most recent album, Kutonga Kwaro, he had to compromise between the different sounds.
It’s all part of building a legacy across the continent – after all, he’s not selling sweets in a small shop. – Written by Tawanda Karombo
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