The adventures of JP in wonderland
JAH Prayzah’s latest offering “Kutonga Kwaro” speaks of an artiste whose head has been turned.
Some might confuse the musician’s decision to put 14-tracks on a single album as “more for less”. It’s not. Rather, it speaks of a gentleman who is in wonderland and uncertain of which approach will carry the day for him.
So who and/or what has turned Jah Prayzah’s head?
The musician has abandoned the hard-hitting traditional beat that propelled him to stardom through hits like “Tiise Maoko” and “Machembere”, in favour of West and East African-inspired sounds that some call “Naija music”.
It looks like JP is torn between making an impression across Africa and pleasing his fans back home.
He has recorded collabos with the likes of Yemi Alade, Diamond Platinumz (who both feature on “Kutonga Kwaro”), Davido and Mafikizolo.
And he has numerous singles lined up that will feature US star Jason Derulo, Nigerian reggae-dancehall singer Patoranking, Uganda’s Eddy Kenzo and Tanzania’s Harmonize.
Collaborations have boosted Jah Prayzah’s popularity outside Zimbabwe, but it seems he is forgetting that the foreign artistes got interested in him because of what he was doing: the catchy traditional beat coupled with a commanding stage presence.
The “Watora Mari” collaboration with Diamond Platinumz, off the album “Mdhara Vachauya”, brought an MTV Africa Music Award — and could also be the first step into the realm of wonderland. Jah Prayzah has never been the same since that song, and on “Kutonga Kwaro” there are few signs that we will soon see the return of the vibrant, energetic musician who exploded onto the scene a few years ago.
JP will be the first to tell you that there is a change in his music, and it is deliberate.
“My main motive is to change the game in music, to raise my country’s flag high. We want to continue going forward. This album carries 14 tracks. My previous album was 70-30 in terms of balancing the traditional Jah Jah music and the foreign influences, but this time around it is 50-50,” said Jah Prayzah prior to launching “Kutonga Kwaro”.
“I have not departed too much from my traditional sound, my melodies are still the same. We are not changing our music per se; we are just modernising it, making it more international.”
But on listening to the album, one quickly sees that the “50-50” claim is a stretched statistic.
The song “Chipo” would fit well in a Nollywood movie. “Poporopipo”, featuring Diamond Platinumz, sounds like something by a (gifted) fan of Davido’s “Fall” and “If”. The West and East African influences are also heavy in “Halla”, “Masoja” and “Pikoko”.
Of the 14 songs, it is probably only the title track, “Unondiziva”, “Muchinjiko” and “Hello Mama” that have echoes of the JP the world knows and loves.
In those songs, the musician displays his lyrical prowess and is supported by that effervescent sound of mbira and marimba.
Oh, and special mention goes to the saxophone. That was a brilliant infusion.
If Jah Prayzah is intent on going global, and which we should all support him in doing, perhaps it would be good to build on that foundation of getting the likes of Mafikizolo, Davido, Diamond Platinumz and Yemi Alade to sing in Zimbabwe’s languages.
That could really take Zimbabwe and the musician to the world.
Remember, Oliver Mtukudzi, Stella Chiweshe, Thomas Mapfumo, Hugh Masekela, Koffi Olomide, Ringo, Ishmael Lo, Salif Keita and Youssou N’ Dour, among others, did not transcend borders by singing to the beat of a foreign drum. Their local music transcended time and space; they made local international.
And when kwaito and rhumba seemed ready to take over Africa, Mtukudzi, Lo, Keita et al did not jump on the bandwagon. They knew that they had become big doing what they were doing and chose to keep doing it.
In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Thomas Mapfumo’s early days were a culturally and musically incoherent blend of the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Otis Redding.
He dumped that and found his voice and song right here at home.
That said, there is no harm in one or two Naija style songs, a track here and there that invokes East African influences.
Music is food for the soul and serving up different dishes is good for the cultural palate. It becomes a problem when sadza is permanently dumped for fufu!
What will become of Jah Prayzah when Nigerians realise he is a Zimbabwean Davido, or Kenyans start thinking of him as a Platinumz wannabe?
As Mtukudzi is wont to say, “There is no better you than you.”
Will “Kutonga Kwaro” give us hit songs? Sure.
There is “Chengetedza”, and people will dance to “Ndin’Ndamubata” and “Emerina”; and heart strings will be tugged by “Nziyo Yerudo” (featuring Yemi Alade).
But the truth is Jah Prayzah has created expectation and is the recipient of much goodwill so he can easily get away with a tepid-to-average album.
What he needs to know is that the goodwill will die and the fans will demand something good. Ask Alick Macheso.
“Kutonga Kwaro” was produced by Jah Prayzah’s in-house producer DJ Tamuka and Wasafi Records producer Devi Laiza from Tanzania. In the past JP has enlisted the services of several pros and this has helped give different songs on any given album a refreshing variety.
The latest album could have done with that, as there are signs of “producer fatigue” in “Emerina”, which sounds like a remixed version of “Ndin’Ndamubata”. My overall assessment? Certainly something that can be listened to, and certainly something below Jah Prayzah’s high standards.