The ad­ven­tures of JP in won­der­land

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - FRONT PAGE - Prince Mushaw­e­vato

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.

Jah Prayzah

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