The Sunday Mail
DRIVING through the streets of Mbare near Matapi Flats, it is hard to miss the ghastly images of garbage, potholes, dilapidated hostels and vending stalls.
This neighbourhood is synonymous with crime, drugs, sewage and many other unpleasant things.
Recently the area was pinpointed by Government as the source of the typhoid outbreak that hit the capital at the beginning of 2017, citing overcrowding and poor sanitation as major vectors.
Amid all the chaos and filth, however, there is something else that Matapi has become popular: Zim dancehall music.
It is hard to believe that one of the most significant entities in the local music industry is situated in the midst of all this squalor.
They might not be pioneers of the Zim dancehall genre, but it cannot be disputed that Chillspot Records has played a significant role in its development and growth.
The studio was founded in 2012 by Arnold “DJ Fantan” Kamudyariwa, Tafadzwa “DJ Rhibhe” Mandaza, Tafadzwa “Levelz” Kadzimwe and his brother Samcris.
Starting as a bedroom studio in Block 9 of Matapi Flats, the recording space has since been upgraded into a more professional setup with a proper soundproof booth and modern equipment.
The list of Zim dancehall artistes who have been recorded at Chillspot Records over the years is endless.
Most Jamaican artistes who have come to perform in Zimbabwe – including Kalado, Turbulence, Charlie Black, I-Octane and Romain Virgo – have also recorded songs at the studio.
Chillspot championed the era of riddims in the local music industry, giving the world the “Zimbo Flavour Riddim” which made many artistes from Mbare overnight superstars.
Artistes have nicknamed the award-winning studio “Mangoma Depot”, because of the large number of hits they produce.
During The Sunday Mail Leisure’s visit to Chillspot Records last week, it was evident that this is a very busy studio judging by the number of people cramped in the small space, not to mention artistes who were waiting outside.
This comes as no surprise considering that they record hundreds of artistes who come from all corners of the country.
In an interview, Levels said when they started they never thought it would get so big so quickly.
“Fantan was staying on this block in the room that is now our studio and we just decided to install recording equipment in there,” said Levels. “People actually thought we were just messing around at first because we just had a computer, a microphone and ridiculous speakers. If you listen to the music we were producing when we started you will notice that the quality was very poor.”
He went on: “Before we had a studio, people would just come and chill by this building so it came to be known as ‘the chill spot’ and when we decided to establish a studio we just adopted the name.” Levels, being knowledgeable music-wise after having played keyboards, drums and bass guitar at church when he was still in high school, was the leading light of Chillspot.
“When we started the studio I had already started making beats having produced songs for artistes like Lady Squanda. I used to frequent Nhubu Digital’s studio in Dzivaresekwa and he is the one who taught me how to use beat making and recording software so when we started our own outfit, I already knew what I was doing,” explained Levels.
He passed his knowledge on to his young brother Samcris, who is now among some of the best Zim dancehall producers around and he scooped a Zim dancehall award last year in the Best Riddim category.
The first artistes to record at Chillspot included Soul Jah Love, Bounty Lisa and Seh Calaz.
“The artistes that we started with were actually recording for free because we were not yet established and they were our friends. Some of the songs we produced that were well received by fans included Soul Jah Love’s ‘John Terry’ and ‘Kunhamo KwaBorris’.
“We made our breakthrough in 2013 when we released the ‘Zimbo Flavour Riddim’, which was packed with major hits and this is when more artistes started coming through to record with us,” said Levels.
They followed up with a string of riddims like “One Clan”, “Tsvagai Mabasa”, “Mad Level”, “O-Level”, “Overdrive”, “Xmas Money”, “Pure Niceness”, “Zim Talent” and “Boss Ndiani”.
Chillspot is a veritable powerhouse in Zimbabwean music.
They are currently riding high on the success of the “Stage Riddim”, which has been instrumental in catapulting artistes like Boom Beto and Blot to stardom.
Boom Beto’s “Munodonhedza Musika” and Blot’s “Ndiri Bad” are all the rage at present.
Levels said that their studio had not only created employment for many youths but they had also started changing people’s perceptions about Mbare.
“When we were growing up, Mbare was popularly known for sewage, violence and thieves but things have changed now because we are popular for the right reasons. Most of the ghetto youths who did not have anything to do and resorted to crime to earn living are now pursuing music careers so basically we have managed to create employment and opportunities.
“We are always trying to discover new talent not only in Mbare but other areas as well. We have perfect examples of artistes like Boom Beto, whom we discovered at a show in Glendale.”
Chillspot is a responsible business: they engage the community and try to assist with local development initiatives.
“We always try and do the best we can to give back to the community like what we did when we painted the hallways inside this building. Sometimes we mobilise people to try and patch up potholes in our roads or even move around planting trees in the neighbourhood,” Levels said.
Chillspot has also established its own social football club, Chillspot FC, which competes with clubs from the Mbare area.