Is Zimdancehall truly the toast of town?

HARARE - One venue, 24 hours apart, different crowd, different class.

That is an observation anyone who happened to be at Greencroft’s Casa de Castilla Night Club on both Friday and Saturday nights would not have possibly missed after Jah Prayzah and Soul Jah Love —  two of Zimbabwean contemporary music’s hottest artistes — left contrasting impressions in a short space of two nights.

Ordinarily, to different people, it could pass as a mere

observation about one artiste being in inspired form on a particular night, and the other simply being awful the next.

For many, though, even a mere sports writer watching these two musicians live in action for the first time, the two events cannot simply be dismissed as mere observation.

It could well be, as shown by events on the two nights, an accurate reflection of the true status of this seemingly trailblazing genre we have come to know as Zimdancehall, compared to the drawing power of the more traditional and originally-Zimbabwean style of music.

On the surface, Zimdancehall has indeed taken the local music scene by storm and the generous airplay and club scene dominance may seem to buttresses a fairly common point.

But charming a lot of people as it is, has Zimdancehall developed fast enough to be a stand alone genre?

It does, to me, stand out as one of those debatable genres, with a solid section of fans constantly arguing about whether it deserves the title of a distinct style.

On a number of occasions, the argument against Zimdancehall has been the choice of crude lyrics and the preferred theme of “sex and sexuality”.

But music is dynamic, as some artistes will continue to push the boundaries and experiment with new sounds.

Credit where credit is due, many Zimdancehall artistes are repenting in a big way.

The lyrics are now going more in the direction of critical issues — poverty, motherly love, the economy — basically what affects ordinary folk of the county.

But if you scratch beneath the surface and look further than what is obvious, you will still see a general flippant attitude, when it matters most, to Zimdancehall compared to its more established counterparts.

That was abundantly clear on Friday when Jah Prayzah, whose music incorporates elements of traditional Zimbabwean music with new age and pop, treated a receptive crowd to energetic renditions of his past and latest hits — made even better by the good voice projection and decent sound quality.

The Tsviriyo singer’s army gear-clad band is a crowd puller in its own right, an all-round outfit that has slowly staked a claim as one of the country’s most sought-after performers.

The make-up of the crowd  too, tells a story.

In an area of the capital city feeling the impact of unemployment and illegal drug use, the charge of $5 was always going to be beyond the reach of many locals who duly stayed away from the show.

It only proved one thing, though. That the venue was full to capacity is testimony that Jah Prayzah has amassed a loyal fan base that follows him wherever he performs in and around the city — 90 percent being mostly mature revellers coming from different places specifically for the show.

The same cannot be said of Soul Jah Love’s show exactly 24 hours later.

Despite the $2 charge (later increased to $3), the place was a pale shadow of the previous night, with mainly locally-stationed youths clearly high on something God-knows-what dominating an insipid concert. 

Murmurs of discontent at the singer spilt into the following day, fans being left gravely

unsatisfied by the performance of the often controversial singer.

The show was set to start around 11pm, and Soul Jah Love didn’t hit the stage till just after midnight, and shortly after an hour-and-half, he was done.

Needless to say, the performance lacked stage presence, authority and unit cohesion — and the sound system was particularly appalling. Let’s just say it was an anti-climax after Jah Prayzah’s blockbuster gig the previous night.

It raises the question whether this genre, despite being the “toast of town”, can survive the test of time if it can so easily be outnumbered and outclassed by rivals in such a manner.

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