Jah Prayzah the artiste currently riding the crest of a wave who can be counted among those celebrities who attract admiration and loathing in equal measure.
This is seen primarily in how his latest album, Mdhara Vachauya, has divided opinion in a way that very few pieces of music have done in the past.
Although his eighth album in a career spanning 10 years has virtually washed out every other musician in Harare as it is played in commuter omnibuses, private vehicles and in almost every shop, there is a feeling among some listeners that the album is not a gem and speaks to the lowering of standards by an artiste of Jah Prayzah’s stature.
With Tsviriyo and Jerusarema, the albums that announced Jah Prayzah’s arrival on the big stage, he set the bar too high. Therefore, the temptation to compare the latest offering to its predecessors was always going to be inescapable.
Some observers feel Mdhara Vachauya has come too early after the release of Jerusarema and is, therefore, a half-baked piece of work.
The album, however, must stand on its own. It must be judged on its own merits. Whether one is a musician, an author or actor, each piece of their production is independent even if it may be part of a thread.
Although listening to some of the songs on the album creates the impression that it was a rushed effort, some of the tracks are so exciting that they are definitely going to become sing-along songs. These include the title track, Mdhara Vachauya, Hossana, Kurumidza, Jenny and Goto.
The title track could, befittingly, pass off as the finest piece on the album, as shown even by the rave reviews it has attracted from listeners on You Tube and it is probably the most played song in Harare right now.
Typical of a fine piece of art, the song has attracted divergent interpretations, some of them quite bizarre — like that it is speaking of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, believed to be a top contender in the country’s presidential succession race.
With its catchy tune, the song, however, speaks of a man’s plea to his woman as he goes out on a hunting excursion in a faraway land. Here the man encourages his woman to remain faithful and steadfast and not lose hope even if the storms of life come.
While there may be no conjecture on the meaning as the song as art is generally viewed as polysemic in nature, the meaning is quite simple — at least at face value. This was confirmed by Jah Prayzah’s manager Keen Mushapaidze, in an interview last week.
“Mdhara Vachauya basically is a love song whereby a guy is away on a job, (in a) distant relationship and he is reminding his girlfriend to stay steadfast even if rival suitors come, she should just be hopeful because the real guy, the real dude (Mdhara) is coming,” he said.
He said several of their tracks have attracted religious and political interpretations and that was normal.
The album can be defined as a mixed bag. Negotiating his way easily from soft romantic ballads to the deep, cultural pieces set against the background of ancient mysteries as seen even in previous tracks, Jerusarema and Tiise Maoko, there can be no doubt to a learned ear that Jah Prayzah is a master craftsman.
In some ways, the album is highly-experimental, particularly in tracks such as Tsotsi and the album’s closing track, In the Ghetto, where he adopts a reggae trajectory. His experiment, however, is not the best of efforts as it is rather lukewarm. One is tempted to suspect it may have been added just as a gap filler, particularly given that this is an 11-track album. By Zimbabwean standards, even a 10-track album is a very generous offer.
Seke and Goto as well as Hosanna, with its catchy beat and rhythm, carry Jah Prayzah’s trademark. Hossana is a prayer for wisdom against the schemes of the enemy. There is such a richness of language in the song, which ties in with traditional music.
The lanky musician — popularly known as Soja Rinoenda Kure among his fans — is such a charming figure that he has failed to escape even the notice of the army. Instead of been penalised for adorning replicas of army fatigues as provided for under the law, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces was fascinated enough to adopt him as their culture ambassador.
Jah Prayzah’s music career has had its low moments, especially related to copyright violations, and this has coloured how his efforts in music are interpreted. After being accused of plagiarising Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz’ Mdogo Mdogo video for his Jerusarema project, there was speculation he partnered with the musician on the hit track, Watora Mari, as a peace offering.
Both the song and video are stellar offerings by any standard, with the smashing video breaking into South Africa’s top television channel, MTV Base, and attracting extensive Youtube viewership. Although some argue the high rating of Diamond Platnumz, this may not really be a fair assessment as Jah Prayzah’s own contribution is from the top drawer.
The musician suffered a blow in December 2014 after he was accused of pirating a 2007 song by Ghananian musician, Emmanuel Samini, allegedly using the beat without acknowledging the owner in his own award-winning track, Sisi Makachena. The acknowledged copyright violations have not broken Jah Prayzah’s stride.
Tracks like Tsotsi and In the Ghetto, seem to take away the shine, undermining the album in the process. But this is not anything new in the trade. It is part of the drill because even some of the finest musicians like Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi have walked the same road, releasing tracks such as Chiri Mupoto and Mbombera. Great artistes are experimental. If an experiment fails, they rise up and move on.
The tracks Jenny and Ndide Ndikude are beautiful, catchy sing-along love songs that confirm Jah Prayzah’s magical touch in that genre, demonstrated also in Hello, a bonus track off the Jerusarema album.
Jah Prayzah, who has done several collaborations with local and international artists, has also broken records including snapping the top three spots on the popular Radio Zimbabwe Top 100 countdown with Gotchi Gotchi, Maria and Chirangano on the New Year’s Eve of 2013.
A brand can easily override moments of failures because while form is temporary, class is permanent.