The Sunday Mail
Features and Arts Editor
MAY 12 and 13, 2023 will probably go down in history as defining moments for the local showbiz, as far as album launches are concerned.
Forget about the richness, or lack thereof, of Jah “JP” Prayzah’s double albums — “Chiremerera” and “Maita Baba” — the two launches, one in Harare and the other in Bulawayo, were simply epic.
JP successfully broke tradition, or is it the norm?
It was a unique and intriguing affair.
So tight and captivating were the twofold presentations that, for a moment, cynics and critics could not even fault him.
Some, unsurprisingly, tried to play the political card to pooh-pooh and dilute the milestone achievements.
The aesthetics, glamour, pomp and fanfare accompanying the show at Old Hararians were just mind-blowing and out of this world.
The musical theatre-like launch of “Chiremerera”, JP’s 12th studio effort, left many spellbound.
And Jah Prayzah gave a fitting electrifying performance that was spiced up by a guest appearance of the visiting traditional groups from Rwanda and Botswana.
Our team that covered the Bulawayo launch reports that, while the attendance at Queens Sports Club was not so inspiring, the birth of “Maita Baba” was still chic.
Both albums carry 13 tracks apiece.
The stage in Harare was well-decorated, exuding a pure African touch. The lighting was perfect and so was the sound, courtesy of Events Evolution.
Things could only work out well considering the singer’s quest for perfection, and sound financiers.
Kudos to JP’s team for moving out of their comfort zone and venturing into uncharted waters. The two launches were masterstrokes that attracted droves, estimated around 5 000 at Old Hararians.
The Harare International Conference Centre, the group’s traditional album-launching platform, had clearly become small and inhibiting in terms of creativity on stage.
Apart from the stage, the launch also became unique in the sense that JP chose his mother as the guest of honour. This was the highest honour to the matriarch, and an unusual gesture.
It has to be remembered that the month also coincided with Mother’s Day, another plus for the musician for being thoughtful.
In terms of crowd management, the organisers did well.
There were three sections — general, VIP and VVIP — which were clear and solidly subdivided.
Security was tight, making it nearly impossible for general access ticket holders to gate-crash into the VIP sections, a phenomenon that has disturbingly become common at such high-profile gigs.
Revellers forked out US$30, US$50 and US$200 for the general, VIP and VVIP tickets, respectively.
Expectedly, many people are still digesting — rather debating the launches, with little or no attention to the new music.
“It was a well-organised show. Actually, it was astonishing to witness the launch of two albums 24 hours apart. It is like the first time that this has been done. The stage was excellently done, well-decorated and the sound was powerful,” said renowned music critic Professor Fred Zindi.
JP and his management are so cunning.
The noise and hype that has either preceded or succeeded the launches were probably well-thought-out marketing gimmicks.
They created something “fresh” and successfully diverted attention from the product(s).
That said, a total of 26 songs might take us a while to review.
“I’m sure his team must have thought about it. I have not listened to the album(s) as yet save for one or two songs, including ‘Sarungano’, his (JP) collaboration with Feli Nandi. I guess the two albums are a message from an artiste who is trying to show his versatility,” reckons Prof Zindi.
JP’s fete is not far from Pax Afro’s 2004 double album “Back2Black” launch.
The project had a total of 32 tracks — among them “Tango Pal”, “Let It Play”, “All for You” and “Broken Love”. It was officially unveiled in the resort town of Victoria Falls, among other places.
The same can be said about talented yet highly “unheeded” Tocky Vibes.
He unveiled a 36-track mixtape “Chicken and Charma” (2022), which could have easily been three albums, working with an average of 12 songs per album.
Perhaps, the only major difference is the unveiling strategy and genre preference. The former is certainly determined by the depth of the artiste’s pocket or that of his or her sponsors.
Back to JP.
“Chiremerera” is supposed to be a purely traditional album while “Maita Baba” is Afro-contemporary — two opposites.
A section of critics considers this an exhibition of the artiste’s ingenuity.
Conversely, others feel this is an open case of an identity crisis on the part of the Uzumba-born and bred artiste, who has discernibly been corrupted by the west African influence.
Talk of throwing random punches, hoping to hit the target along the way.
On his productions after “Jerusarema”, one can feel the foreign influence, Jonah Sithole and the late Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi’s touch (Katekwe) in the so-called traditional songs.
Perceptibly, JP’s recent album launches have been a damned if you do and damned if you do not affair. He created and rose with a traditional mbira sound that diehard fans love so much but went on to find international friends and saw the need to spice up things.
But traditional diehard fans have cared little for his need to be international, rather preferring him to go beyond the borders with his original sound but the boy has an irresistible itch for experimenting and mixing up sounds.
Seasoned artiste and music critic Clive Mono Mukundu weighs in.
“The idea of him focusing on two genres is not good for me. Around the world, there is no such thing as a versatile artiste. You will never see Burna Boy or Davido doing rock music. They are true to their Afro-jazz sound (Naija). An artiste needs an identity, a single genre that he can be identified with,” argues Mukundu.
JP has collaborated with several international stars, among them Davido, Mafikizolo, Diamond Platnumz, Yemi Alade and Jamaican stars Morgan Heritage, Luciano and Jah Cure.
However, none of the songs have been as successful as some of his solo efforts that include “Tsviriyo”, “Goto”, “Mudhara Vachauya”, “Eriza” or even “Sungano Yerudo”.
“It is the mbira sound that makes the world recognise him, not copying foreign styles. Copy the formula, not the person or their music. Davido is the same, today and tomorrow. No Zimbabwean artiste has made a major breakthrough with coping foreign music. We have copied rock, rhumba and so on but those who have succeeded are the ones who have remained original,” said Mukundu.
Among Zimbabwe’s international success stories are the late Biggie Tembo, who conquered with the Jiti sound, Tuku (Katekwe), Thomas Mapfumo (Chimurenga), and Mbuya Stella Chiweshe, Ephat Mujuru and Dumisani “Dumi” Maraire (mbira).
“The world is moving towards singles, thus, a double album launch might not be a good idea. We started with singles, then long plays (LPs) but we are slowly moving back to singles. The extended play (EP), which carries more songs than a single but not an album, are now popular around the world,” added Mukundu.
But veteran producer Bothwell “African” Nyamhondera is giving the lanky singer the benefit of the doubt.
He, however, feels producing and releasing more tracks at one go compromises quality and appreciation of the entire project(s).
“Things have changed and the market is no longer the same. Back in the day, it was not wise to release two albums, especially within a short space of time. But with new market trends, he could be successful. He is a popular figure and has built goodwill over the years, which could work to his advantage.
“Let us give the albums time. It is a good experiment for him. The danger of double album launches is that some tracks will not get the necessary attention, even if they are good. Time will tell,” said Nyamhondera.
“Maita Baba” and “Chiremerera are now over a week old.
Both projects have some decent compositions but we are yet to get a signal on a runaway hit.
“In terms of numbers, the Harare launch was good. That kind of launch was something he was doing for the first time. He is being experimental and creative. The videos are good but I am yet to witness the impact of the music on the market,” said music promoter Josh Hozheri.
“Let us give the projects one or two more weeks before we start reviewing the songs. The streets do not lie. If the songs are good, we will know. But as a promoter, I am mainly interested in the numbers coming through after the launch.”