HARARE - Since he left the Big Brother Africa (BBA) two years ago, Jerome “JJ” Arab has largely stayed away from the limelight until recently.
Late last year, JJ resurfaced doing some gigs in Zambia alongside Zambian songstress Namvula Rennie and Zimbabwean singer, songwriter and saxophonist Vee Mukarati.
The Daily News on Sunday’s Dakarai Mashava recently spoke to JJ on his music career and other aspects of his life. Below are excerpts of the interview:
Can you tell me a bit about who Jerome Arab is? Is it your real name?
Jerome Arab is my real name, but I was born to a 13-year old girl Nathalie Helen Hussey on the 27th of December 1990, in Harare, Zimbabwe and she gave me up for adoption. Yassim and Geraldine Arab took me in as their son at two weeks old and have brought me up since then. I attended North Park Primary School, Prince Edward High School and ended up studying television and film at Manchester College, England.
Life was tough in England because at the age of 17, I was alone working two jobs to survive and attending college. Just before the end of my course my paper work went missing from the British Border Agency and I lost my jobs. I spent the next three and a half years in England sleeping on couches, in pubs or the famous dance studio of the North West (Studio 25).
I managed to sort out some paper work to return home and as I was leaving they handed me my Zimbabwean passport that they said had been missing for the past years. They made life hard for me but I learnt that there is no place like home (Africa). Instead of being bitter, I took it as God helping me take a step back in order to move forward, and my life in Africa is that of a king: People taking pictures, asking for autographs, sleeping on a bed, a hot plate of food everyday and a roof over my head. I am truly blessed.
Has your music career blossomed since you left the Big Brother Africa House? What kind of music are you into?
Yes it has, I have managed to make good friends because of the show. The last two years have been about learning the music industry in Africa, assembling a team and also perfecting my skills in the studio and on stage. I am driven by soul but heavily influenced by blues, hip-hop, house and pop.
I have recorded tonnes of stuff but I was not ready to share with the world until now. My career has been up and down due to a number of factors but I am happy because that struggle has influenced my writing. I think it was the great Muddy Waters that said, “You can’t sing the blues if you privileged.” Well something like that and I agree.
You recently performed with Zambian songstress Namvula Rennie and Vee Mukarati in Namibia and Zambia. How did the gigs come about? Are there any other gigs you have taken part in?
Yes I did perform out there with them and in Zambia I got to open for Namvula to a sold out venue. I have been concentrating mainly on getting my band and style on point and had stopped performing live for a while, but these last few months I have picked up the stage microphone and started working again.
I performed at a Trace Africa event (Summer Jam 2016) alongside DJ Joe Mfalme (Kenya), Salma Sky (Zambia) and a number of other African DJs. The event was hosted by Abel Chungu Musuka and was the first of its kind. My next gig is in Zambia today (January 8) and marks the start to an amazing year for me, as there are a number of things lined up: first a six-track E.P which we plan to release in February, an album release for the end of the year, and a single or two. We are also planning tours in the coming months, and hopefully HIFA will let me grace their stage this year.
It would appear you are deliberately not publicising your gigs and activities in the media, why is it so?
I was looking to first get to a point where I had something truly original to give the world and not just be another replica of other musicians. I want people to watch Jerome not Michael Jackson or Bob Marley. I want them to hear what I have to say, not just repeat what Cassper Nyovest and Jah Prayzah are saying. So I have been working on me and that is the only reason I kept to myself. It is like Henry Ford working on the first commercial vehicle, he did not do that in public but when it was ready he revealed it to the world.
Any projects you have lined up which music fans can look forward to?
Now is the best time to click “follow” on all my pages because this year as I mentioned before I have a number of exciting projects coming your way: the “Learning Love” E.P; my album “Mr Arab” drops towards the end of the year and several gigs all over Africa.
Other than music what else are you doing?
I am passionate about the arts and providing platforms for talented up and coming live acts. I studied media studies in the UK, and kept up this interest by directing and producing television programmes. The latest show I was involved in on the production-side was “Paya 1” which aired on Zambezi Magic, and which looked at street culture in Zambia.
Under my entertainment company - Underrated Individuals - I run events such as ‘Unscripted’, a night that gives talented live acts from comedians and poets to musicians and rappers the opportunity to shine in a laid-back, lounge-like atmosphere that is truly supportive of live art. I am based in Lusaka, Zambia and Harare, Zimbabwe until the world calls me elsewhere.