A music king called Isaac

28 Nov, 2021 - 00:11 0 Views
A music king called Isaac

The Sunday Mail

KING Isaac’s journey as a singer and songwriter is one that is unique and interesting. The United States-based reggae and Afro-jazz artiste is a Grammy Award nominee who has done collaborations with internationally acclaimed artistes, among them the late legendary reggae artiste, Gregory Isaacs. He is also a professor of ethnomusicology at Michigan State University in the United States. Our Senior Reporter TENDAI CHARA (TC) interviewed King Isaac (KI), who gave us an insight into his life.


TC: Who is King Isaac?

KI: I was born Isaac Gabriel Kalumbu in Mufakose, Harare, in 1965. My family then relocated to Gweru when I was six years old. I started writing poems when I was 14. I am currently working in administration at Michigan State University.

TC: How is your latest single “Chimhandara” doing?

KI: It appears we are on the verge of a breakthrough into the charts on a few radio stations, if the listeners keep voting. It’s a great song. It is worth it.

TC: You remain relatively unknown in Zimbabwe despite some outstanding achievements in your career?

KI: Let me start by appreciating those King Isaac fans — old and new — who keep me motivated. Just seeing and hearing their support always makes me feel like, well, a King.

Big respect to the radio stations and DJs and television presenters who have supported us as well. Of course, I would like to have a wider audience, but living outside the country has not helped. The situation has been improving though. In 2021 alone, three of my singles, among them “Chimhandara (Partner for Life)”, have been doing well on national radio stations. Also, I have put together a team that has reinvigorated our social media presence. But, it ultimately boils down to airplay.

TC: Is reggae music much appreciated locally?

KI: Reggae music is very much appreciated in Zimbabwe. When Bob Marley came to celebrate our Independence in 1980, he planted a seed that has grown since then, creating a lot of reggae musicians, singers, songwriters and fans. The coming of more reggae artistes to Zimbabwe after Bob Marley — Jimmy Cliff, UB 40, Don Carlos, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Shabba (Ranks), Buju (Banton), Morgan Heritage, Sizzla, Beenie Man and others — only helped grow the love for the music. Worldwide, reggae has had a huge impact and following.

TC: What has been the milestone of your music career?

KI: I do not think it is a single event. It was exciting to open up a show for Leroy Sibbles back in 1998. That was my first big international appearance. Also my first trip to Jamaica that same year is quite memorable. That is where I was given the name King Isaac.

Working with Gregory Isaacs and becoming the first Grammy nominee from Zimbabwe, and going to the Grammy’s at the Staples Centre in Hollywood, California, was another highlight.

Also performing twice in Jamaica and being received resoundingly well by the audiences was rewarding. So it is been a series of events that I could call significant milestones.

TC: What are your major challenges at the moment?

KI: The main issue is being too far away to do live shows. I cannot wait to be in Zimbabwe and to perform live. Being away from the music industry community limits one’s reach. However, I believe my music has universal appeal. So, I would like to have it heard everywhere by everyone.

You may have noticed that I am singing both reggae and Afro-jazz in Shona, English, sometimes in Ndebele or Zulu, and other languages. There is something for everyone in the songs.

TC: Tell us about your collaboration with Gregory Isaacs

KI: Well, that is an almost impossible story, but it did happen. Imagine a kid growing up in Zimbabwe looking up to and aspiring to be a Gregory Isaacs, then it so happens that one hot summer afternoon in Jamaica that same kid is in the studio with Gregory Isaacs.

My childhood musical hero is stepping up to the mic to sing and record a song that I wrote. It was surreal; huge beyond imagination. It was also quite special that as we sat in the studio, listening back to the song, it was Gregory who came up with the idea to do an album. He said it could be called “Isaacs and Isaac”. Later, we changed it to “Isaacs Meets Isaac”.

TC: Which other international stars have you worked with?

KI: In 2008, I released an album called “Legends of Reggae Present King Isaac.” It featured Jamaican artistes U Roy, Sugar Minott, Frankie Paul, Dean Fraser, Leroy Sibbles and Pam Hall.

Closer to home, I worked with the Mahotella Queens from South Africa on “Kuchema Kwedu” — a song off my debut album. Currently, I am working with a brilliant and talented producer from Uganda named Deus Pro. He is behind the songs “Mugore Wangye” and “Chimhandara (Partner For Life)”.

TC: Anything new?

KI: As we enter into 2022, we are looking to release a new album of some real nice reggae music recorded in Jamaica with producer Leroy Sibbles; in Zimbabwe with Mono Mukundu and Dereck Mpofu, and in Uganda with Deus Pro.

This is going to be a great album. It will also include a brand new collaboration with veteran Jamaican DJ Chaka Demus called “The Score”.

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