The phenomenal rise of Jah Signal

HIS signature leaps that sometimes see him hang on the trusses of a stage or the roof of a performance venue are not just an act to excite fans.

Jah Signal actually wishes he had wings to fly beyond the vast blue skies. He has an insatiable appetite for success – he feels the 24 hours in a day are not adequate for all the things he wants to do.

A look at his schedule shows that Jah Signal is currently the most sought-after Zim dancehall entertainer, with up to three performances a day.

Having performed at two well-attended shows in Leicester and Coventry, United Kingdom last weekend, Jah Signal returned home to an even more hectic schedule.

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It was no surprise that drained as he looked on arrival at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Thursday last week, he still had to spend the rest of the day shuttling from the studio to meetings before ending the night with a welcome back show at a local club in the capital.

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This was Jah Signal’s first long haul flight, his first time outside Zimbabwe or South Africa, but he was not about to let his weariness disturb his schedule.

The Sunday Mail Society caught up with the high-flying Zim dancehall star shortly after his return from his United Kingdom tour. Straight from the airport, Jah Signal was whisked away to the studio where he intended to “add a few lines” to a song set to feature on his 12-track debut offering.

From there, he had meetings about merchandise branding and another about an advert awaiting finalisation.

One would expect the soon-to-be 23-year-old to be excited about being back home, about a re-union, no matter how short the separation with friends and family – but alas – Jah Signal needed to work.

“Home can wait, I do not want to get distracted,” said the Mubako singer as his manager, Hillary “Punchline” Mutake gave him the day’s programme.

“Don’t get me wrong I’m relieved to be back home, it was a long flight, but I missed so much when I was away, that needs to be done as soon as yesterday,” he said in a soft tone that belies the thunderous multi-layered voice stored in the singer’s small frame.

The following day, a Friday, Jah Signal was the headline act together with Jah Prayzah at the Harare Agricultural Show – a huge endorsement by any standard in local showbiz.

Soon after the show, he was set to fly to South Africa for four shows in Cosmo City, Polokwane, Benoni and Pretoria. He returns Tuesday before flying out on Friday headed to Durban where more shows have been lined up.

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But Jah Signal’s life was not always this busy and financially rewarding. To put things into perspective, a little over a year ago, Jah Signal, buoyed by meagre earnings of around US$80 per show, stopped his mother from selling recycled paper towels that she passed off as tissue paper. The family business involved “humiliating acts”, Jah Signal volunteered to this publication.

“Things were tough growing up … Life is still tough but music brings in a couple of extra dollars, which has improved our lifestyle. I remember when my mother and I, to ensure that we had a meal on the table, would get used paper towels from hotels, straighten them out, remake paper rolls and sell them to people in our community.

“Though substandard, they were a big sell because people preferred those to using newspapers as substitute for proper toilet paper. However, I have since stopped my mother from doing that, the money I generate from my music is good now,” he said.

Competition from the likes of Silent Killer, Blot and Boom Beto, to name just a few, is now non-existent. The “Sweetie” hit-singer is now throwing serious punches, maybe even above his weight and is knocking down adversaries for fun.

Shocking though, is that Jah Signal does not even have an album. He has over 50 singles among them “Tirarira”, “Mkwasha Imboko”, “Ganda Idema”, “Kunzungu Nekunyimo”, “Rure Rure”, “Rudo”, “Tisvike”, “Ndezvepasi”, “Ku Gombwe”, “Dai Mandiudza” and “Yatanga Hondo”, to name a few.

He intends to release his debut album, a 12-track effort, in the first week of October. It features a few collaborations that include Nicholas “Madzibaba” Zacharia, Mbeu and a top South African DJ on the remix of “Mubako”.

Speaking on his UK tour, which almost turned disastrous when only two out of four artistes turned up for the shows, Jah Signal said God could not have planned it any better. Initially intended for Jah Signal, ExQ, Boom Beto and Silent Killer – only ExQ and Jah Signal made the trip.

“In the end it didn’t matter, we delivered. I went on stage just three hours after disembarking from a plane. I almost cried on stage, I felt tears in my eyes when I saw those fans screaming my name and singing along to my songs. I remembered where I came from, what I come from and the dreams I have had and still have – and emotions almost overcame me.

“I give praise to God. These are things I never imagined happening in my life. I have to keep my feet on the ground. What I saw can make someone panic and sing funny things or lose their way – I cannot afford that, I have to stay the course, I have to stay grounded,” he said.

Under the guidance of his manager, Punchline, a veteran Zim dancehall supporter, promoter and artiste manager, Jah Signal’s prayers are definitely being answered. Punchline has since 2006 marketed and distributed exclusively Zim dancehall music.

He has managed only a few talents in Zimbabwe among them Freeman, Lady Squanda, music producer Oskid and now Jah Signal. He took all his artistes to the pinnacle, which saw them win several awards.

Punchline says it was Jah Signal’s message, his social commentary, the fact that he sings instead of chanting; that made him see a different kind of future for the young man who cut his musical teeth at Dzivaresekwa I High and Rock Mountain Christian College.

In mid-October, Jah Signal takes his “Stonyeni” (love) gospel to Australia with several stops in Canada, Dubai and China.

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