MY love for Jah Prayzah’s music is probably an open secret. His last three albums — Mdara Vachauya and Kutonga Kwaro — have been runaway offerings that found many takers among music lovers.
SOUND TRACK: Phillip Chidavaenzi
While there are a number of what I believe to be plug tracks on the new album, Chitubu, launched early this month, there are also several songs that I feel are lukewarm and, therefore, not worth a second listen.
In fact, one gets the feeling that these songs were included just as gap fillers, but have actually served to dilute what would otherwise have been a strong dosage of the real Jah Prayzah, which comes out strongly in the opener, Chikomo.
A lot of listeners have fallen for this song with its traditional feel, including how it reverberates with traditional rhythms.
Generally, the album is like a mad man’s knapsack. You get everything in there; odds and ends, the good and the bad.
Listening to the album, one gets the impression that Jah Prayzah was trying to strike a fine balancing act, seeking to reach out to fans that had slowly been drifting away, unhappy with the trajectory that their idol’s music had taken over the last few years.
On the other hand, there have been concerted efforts to equally appeal to a new fan base, ostensibly “international”. Unfortunately, such a pursuit, in many ways, speaks to a musician lost in the fog of uncertainty. Striding two worlds is never an easy thing — and often has catastrophic consequences as fans can be an unforgiving lot.
The argument itself does not hold any water, because it does not follow that international audiences love “westernised” sounds as well as fans in West Africa — to whom Follow Me was obviously targeted. In fact, a more traditional, more African and truly Zimbabwean sound will appeal to them more. This is the reason why the likes of global superstars like Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo have a huge following, even in the West.
Disappointingly, the sound of a number tracks here is like a rehash of songs he has done before. It would be difficult to pin this down to lack of creativity, though.
You get this on productions such as Dangerous, done in honour of the beauty of Ndebele women, according to Jah Prayzah.
Over the years, Jah Prayzah has demonstrated a depth and scope that had placed him in a league of his own. This is probably the reason why his die-hard fans would hear no evil and speak no evil concerning this latest offering. But the truth must be told. Jah Prayzah, given his gigantic stature in the local music industry, which he, in William Shakespeare’s words, “doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus”, must be able to absorb fair criticism just like he takes in all the adulation.
Any artiste who refuses to take criticism shuts himself out from growth. Constructive criticism is meant to build, and the wise will use it to fuel their improvement.
Too many praise singers can be the downfall of a musician.
Obviously, many of Jah Prayzah’s fans may not be bothered, and will continue to fight from his corner. They literally filled up the 4 500-seater Harare International Conference Centre during the launch. But the musician should not necessarily be worried about these. They are already in his pocket, as it were. His desire should be to reach out to the fence sitters, consider their criticism and find ways of winning them over and grow his fan base even more.
The album has its golden picks, too. Dzamutsana, for instance, is a runaway monster of a track, demonstrating depth of thought, beauty of rhythm, and the feel-good sensation associated with a man’s pursuit of the woman who makes him turn and toss in bed at night, yet seemingly out of his reach.
When the video of Dzamutsana — which was shot in Binga — was posted on Youtube, it attracted a lot of attention, including positive comments, with someone saying although he was not a Jah Prayzah fan, he saluted him for the great work done on the video.
Those songs with the traditional appeal, Chikomo, Tauchira, Sarai, Kune Rima, Chigunduru, Hakata and the title track, Chitubu, offer the saving grace to this album, and should be able to offset the not-so-good songs. It shouldn’t be too much weight to bear.