While fake music is flooding the market daily, and into the ears of listeners, emergent Zimbabwean jazz musician Melusi Khumalo feels that relinquishing one’s identity is tantamount to selling one’s soul.
Though making huge strides to sell his brand in Zimbabwe, the artiste has received rave reviews on the continent, most notably at Uganda’s Jazz FM whose presenters have fallen in love with his music.
With four albums to his name, and a fifth due this year, Khumalo says he is busy sorting out logistics so that he can live perform in Africa.
The lanky singer said he continued to tap inspiration from Afro Jazz greats like the late Miriam Makeba and Dorothy Masuka among others, having grown up listening to African township jazz.
“Growing up I was exposed to Makeba, Masuka (popularly known as Aunt Dot in Zimbabwe) Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, right into the 90s mbaqanga music influenced by Jabu Kanyile, Tisha Nzuza, Steve Kekana and so on,” said Khumalo.
“My uncle (my mothers brother) used to sing for the Kool4s, a band that used Afro jazz as their medium of expression. I found myself using the same Afro jazz beat as a first genre, so it was by default that I perform Afro jazz, as I find that I express myself better.”
Even though he has maintained his sound, he feels African music has fast been diluted, moreso African jazz.
“There is no authenticity coming from jazz scene. I think it’s mainly because of serious lack of originality and people wanting to be someone else rather than being original. From a Zimbabwean point of view over years there has been a thinking that if you do not sound like Oliver Mtukudzi or Leonard Dembo or lately Alick Macheso, one would not make it,” he lamented.
“So there has been a battle to sound like those artistes and the advent of dancehall moved the whole pendulum to another extreme. Zimbabwean artistes want to sound and look like Jamaican dancehall artistes. There are a lot of fake musical images and sounds because artistes want to be accepted, there is a general belief that if one sounds like Mtukudzi then one can easily make it in the music industry yet the opposite is true. The bar set by the above mentioned artiste is way too high to imitate and be good at it.”
Balancing music with bread and butter issues
In modern music there had emerged serious challenges posed by the relinquishing of the role of the gatekeeper, where half-baked musical products have been offloaded onto the market.
But Mel says for longevity, artistes should never compromise quality for quantity.
“The economic crisis has a part to the under development of music, because of largely lack of exposure one tends to make musicians think that what they are producing is epic because of lack of international plum-line. Radio presenters will only play what they think is good and often it’s one genre all the way,” he said.
Mel said artistes needed to share ides and realise their role involved complementing each other instead of competing.
Mel said although he would have preferred to be a full-time musician, he only does music part time due to the economic challenges in Zimbabwe that had made it difficult for small musical outfits to survive off their craft.
He however feels that owing to circulation of his music in countries like Uganda, Botswana and Malawi had made it easier for him to spread his wings as he now intends to live perform at festivals where his genre is best suited.
“My music is playing in Africa and quite recently we have had enquiries from the UK which is exciting news. Soon we will be doing live performances as we busy working on logistics that will keep the band working and sustaining itself rather than being financed by my private pocket,” he said.
Mel said he is already back in the studio “writing and composing”.
“The sky is the limit, we have a very able band and just need to balance issues to do with bread butter and so as to set aside time for the live plus recordings, so between May and June 2018 we will be releasing our first single from the 2018 album Bonisa.
And the proof for his love for authenticity comes in the form of a compromise that saw him park the musical dream from 1989 when he was told by one producer in Harare that he needed to sound like Dembo to make it, until 2013 when he finally released his debut album Uthando that is laced with groovy jazz jams.
He went on to release Uthando live the following year before Reflections a year later, and Mina in 2017.
Melusi Khumalo on the cover of Reflections
Melusi Khumalo meets Oliver Mtukudzi
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