AS musical projects go, Jah Prayzah’s latest album Gwara the way, would certainly qualify as one of his most polarising and contentious albums ever since he hit the world of music-making close to two decades ago for those in the know.
His road, his own Gwara, has been marked by endless twists and turns which have seen him create project after project, from up-tempo to sublime, from ear-popping to near silent exploits. These have earned him a multitude of followers from the nation, region and certainly beyond.
The album Gwara has gotten many split down the middle. Some think it’s a heartwarming effort while others think it is a great climb-down from the music that they have received from Jah Prayzah over the years.
Personally I would think it is the most boring album ever made. Boring because it is the most sensible effort he has ever made. This isn’t Jah Prayzah singing about a curvaceous woman who he intends to conquer or who wears a ‘mbambamba’ as is the case with many of his songs. No. this is Jah Prayzah at his most philosophical. And we all know that wisdom, common sense, philosophy and didactic emotions are not entertaining. That is where boring comes from.
You see all the texts that have been written for the consumption of men have little entertainment value. Wisdom is hardly entertaining.
They are tugging, gripping, poignant and sometimes haunting. Such is the case with Gwara.
This is a different kind of Jah Prayzah. A rude, insolent and perhaps even arrogant Jah Prayzah. He doesn’t care that you will sulk that the album has few songs you can boogie and shake to. He is ultimately back this time around not to make you happy, but to make you think.
He doesn’t care whether you will think he is boring. He is not singing to make you hop around like little carefree rascals as he has so often made you do.
He seems to feel you are being mollycoddled too much and now he has to tell you some home truths about life and not the utopia some of his dance songs have presented to you. So what better way to make you think, reflect and contemplate than what he has packaged alongside the songs? His answer is a four-part work of cinematographic storytelling in videos off the album strung together in what he has called Nhoroondo-the story.
The escalating installments that chronicle a story as told by the genius of Jah Prayzah starts with chapter 1 titled Nyeredzi. It is interesting that after criticisms of Jah Prayzah being too much of a leading protagonist in his videos, he has stepped down at this crucial point. And he has been remarkable in his new role in the background as he leaves the love interests in this new product as being Tapiwa Mavindidze made popular as VJ in the soap Studio 263 and the evergreen insane genius of acting sensation Eunice Ratidzo Tava to lead from the front.
The last time he let his son Mukudzeyi junior lead from the front and wasn’t the young man a genius? Quietly, gently, unobtrusively, Jah Prayzah is starting to listen to, and incorporate, the nuggets of fair and constructive criticism.
What Jah Prayzah creates is a first by any measure. An Afrocentric, Zimbabwe-centric opera. Incorporating music, dance, costume-the works-to spin a yarn of a tale using the traditional ingredients of the classic rural Zimbabwean story of strife, struggle, survival, commitment, perseverance, pain, conquering, jealousy, hate, murder and hope to spin a tapestry of award-winning proportions.
The ghostly beauty of the story Jah Prayzah wanted to tell was solidly stuck in the corridors of his creative mind. But how would he be able to push it out and make it into a reality all of us could see, enjoy and appreciate?
Well, that is easy when you have evil by your side. Yes. He had one of the best tools ever known to filmmaking in modern Zimbabwe today.
He had Vusa ‘Blaqs’ Hlatshwayo. If the genius of visual storytelling, directing and cinematography was a dark art then ‘Blaqs’ is so wicked at that art even the devil stands no chance when pitted against Vusa.
And so this odyssey of storytelling in film had two of the best ingredients; the storytelling prowess of Jah Prayzah and the cinematographic wizardry of the king of the lens as we know it between the Zambezi and the Limpopo-Vusa ‘Blaqs’ Hlatshwayo!
Chapter 1 is a boy meets girl story of two brothers in rural life meeting a damsel in distress. One brother helps his love interest and it all goes into a fairytale spin as they get married. The following three installments of the songs are named Chimwe Nechimwe, Ndichiyamwa, and Nherera in the operatic sequence. It’s not a musical album. It’s sound track to the story that Jah Prayzah had been keeping in mind.
They tell a story of the struggle to conceive, the hunt for greener pastures to better a life, the mistreating of a child left in the care of a relative, the feigned love between one jealous sibling of his more successful brother, murder most-foul and that all too familiar village harlot. Yes! Karma. She indeed is a harlot. At least in the story that Jah Prayzah tells. The story ends in hope and it is up to you to take your own pen and write out the story of chapter 5. What happens next? Well you decide.
What is most exciting about this project is how Jah Prayzah concentrates on the nuances in music that tug the heart. Sounds that he sampled from new and existing music bodies to accompany an emotional story. To him, the videos were not accompanying the album; the album was accompanying the video and cinematographic opera instead!
In fact, something is telling right from the get go. As the first video explodes into life, Jah Prayzah is standing on top of a piano in the middle of a moor. The grass is singing and waving at him. Standing on the piano you could almost think he is saying ‘I have conquered music and don’t need to prove to anyone that I am a star. I have entered new territory instead.’ That is why he doesn’t care whether people will be sophisticated enough to understand the music on the project, his aim was to speak like a god of destiny and tell a story that he has yearned to tell for what seems an eternity.
Like a god of storytelling, Jah Prayzah stands on the top of his own Mount Sinai and hands over four tablets on which he has scrolled his story like God did to Moses. Jah Prayzah is the deity-and you and me – we are his Moses. We have to accept this story that he is handing over to us.
At the end of it all, the story is telling. We have brothers – our own flesh and blood who are so evil that they wish our success was their own and they are prepared to kill us. We have women who will leave a husband behind and work hard for the family, but the husband will not mind because he is not captured by fragile masculinity. We have a little girl who can choose not to mistreat her cousin like her parents are doing, but prefers to follow the beautiful innocence of childhood and embrace her plagued abused cousin.
The story is concise and has all the themes of the life we live in Zimbabwe; in Africa. Everyone will identify with the project. If you were an abused child who was not predominantly raised by your biological parents, you will relate. If you were raised by your parents, you will appreciate how lucky you were. In it all, this is a story everyone will understand and warm up to.
This project shows one thing; Jah Prayzah is not here as a musician. He is here as a multi-talented and multifaceted artiste. His union with Nyaradzo Life Assurance which has continued to strengthen also shows us that Philip Mataranyika is a great cog in the arts industry in Zimbabwe who is about to transform the pulse of the arts sector. Some had called them culture vultures. They spoke too soon. Nyaradzo have extended their commitment.
The union has also helped unleash the real genius of Jah Prayzah as being more than artiste. Just like how Tuku wrote and starred in Jit. How he wrote a song called Neria and it was so strong that the makers of the movie changed the name of the movie from what they had previously decided to Neria.
Slowly, steadily, this strangely talented creature called Jah Prayzah is morphing into the fully rounded complete real deal. The well-rounded artiste. Like the character he plays in his opera, the dreadlocked looming spirit of destiny, it seems the destiny of the music industry in Zimbabwe and the arts in general, will stand to gain a lot from Jah Prayzah. So much more than we all had mortally previously anticipated in fact!
Given all this, why then is the project ultimately a disappointing piece of work? Well, the answer is simple. Jah Prayzah has been sitting quietly in his corner with those dreadlocks busy concealing a head full of such touching poignant stories when Zimbabwe was dying to hear stories.
He was sitting quiet knowing he is a potential master in the film and storytelling industry. He has seen people being subjected to mediocre and substandard generic stories without telling us that he can rescue us from the drivel. We have even seen the wheel being reinvented through a totally unnecessary Neria remake!
Jah Prayzah is like a scientist who has sat quietly holding a little bag while people died, only to tell us decades later that he has in that bag, the cure for cancer. Or HIV. What the hell were you doing without telling us you have this hidden talent? Why were you not creating such visual pieces of art that tell stories? You. And Vusa Blaqs? Why? Truly disappointing of you not to share your all. Shame on you, you ridiculous genius!
And now, don’t stop telling us stories while we sit and devote to you our attention! Herald