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 artistes Tahle Wedzinza, Nutty O and ExQ.
“I’ve 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”.
Popularly known as “Musoja” because of his army uniform, Jah Prayzah said he handles his music with military precision, viewing himself as a commander of the troops of instrumentalists, producers and fellow artistes 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 couldn’t carry on with my dream to be in the military.”
In 2016, Jah Prayzah was awarded an MTV Africa Music Award in the Listeners’ Choice category, something he says came unexpectedly.
“For the first time in my adult life, I felt like crying,” he says.
Last year, he was nominated for the Best African Artiste Award at the South African Music Awards alongside fellow Zimbabwean artiste, Oliver Mtukudzi. Both, however, lost out to Nigerian musician Patoranking.
But 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 channels Trace Africa and MTV Base have boosted his confidence to spread his music to other countries.
“In Zimbabwe, I have tried and 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.”
In Africa, he has been well received after he performed at the Bushfire Festival in Swaziland last 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 230 000 followers 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 Davido on track My Lilly as well as Mafikizolo on the song Sendekera. The artistes have a second song Mazuva Akanaka that is on Mafikizolo’s latest album.
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 artistes and convince them to work together.
“It’s more difficult to get hold of other African artistes when you’re still pushing your name. I wanted to collaborate with them a long time back,” says Jah Prayzah.
But this has since changed after he bagged international awards and got good reviews back home. He says this has made it easier for him to sit down with other African artistes and discuss music business.
The 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 that was too bright. I asked my guys why there was smoke and they laughed at me. Even driving home it was cloudy.
“On 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 taken 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 the interview is concluded, Jah Prayzah smiles and says it’s not easy to build an African music brand. He is 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 is all part of building a legacy across the continent — after all, he is not selling sweets in a small shop. — ForbesAfrica