Jonathan Mbiriyamveka Entertainment Reporter
He has produced several hits and turned some unknowns into big names of Zimbabwean dancehall music. From Killer T, Seh Calaz to Soul Jah Love and from Kinna to Crystal, Sniper Storm and Ras Caleb to Winky D, he has worked with almost every name worth noting, but he remains in the shadows.
His most recognised riddim to date is the “Zimbo Flavour” popularised by the likes of Soul Jah Love’s “Gum Kum” as well as the “One Clan” riddim which featured Winky D on “Paita Party” and Sniper Storm’s “MaFans Angu”.
Born Roger Tafadzwa Kadzimwe in Darwendale, the prominent Zim dancehall producer more popularly known to fans as “Levels” is a down-to-earth bloke who spends most of his time in the studio making hits.
The 24-year-old who works from the famed Chill Spot Records in Mbare says while he has created stars he’s never feels fully appreciated or recognised by the same artistes he produces.
“There is something terribly wrong with this industry. You find its the artistes who benefit more than the producers. Yes, they are the ones who stage shows and sell albums but it’s a pity for most producers like myself.
“A good number of musicians that I’ve worked with don’t even pay for my services after all the effort that I put in creating the riddims. You find that it’s the artistes who tour while we, the producers remain in the studio. Sadder still, the artistes do not pay for using my riddims.
“Artistes don’t create hits but it’s the producers with contribution from the artistes,” he said.
As a producer Levels said he enjoyed working with upcoming artistes more than the established ones who are “arrogant” and “big headed”. The self-taught drummer and bass guitarist is a shareholder of Chill Spot Records together with the likes of DJ Fantan, Sam Chris and Ribe. The record stable has also diversified into fashion where they sell jackets, caps, shoes and T-Shirts.
According to Levels, it all started in church where he used to play drums and the bass guitar.
“I am a member of the Evangelical Fellowship of Believers and it is where it all started because I could play the bass guitar as well as the drums,” he said.
Later, he enrolled at Sodbury Secondary School in Darwendale where together with other youths he formed the group – “Chain Smokers”.
“It was just a funny name with no connection to smoking whatsoever. In that group i was called the ‘fireman’ because I was tasked with creating the beats using the desks and chairs. The other guys did the vocals,” he said.
After leaving school. Levels bought his first computer; a Pentium 3, in 2007 and started out a career in music.
His major breakthrough was in 2013 when he produced the popular riddim “Zimbo Flavour” that had the likes of Soul Jah Love on “Gum Kum” as well as Ras Pompy on “Style & Pattern”.
Initially there were 15 artistes on that riddim but after it went viral the number shot to 150 artistes.
“I see myself as an employer because imagine all these youths who could have been in the streets committing various crimes came through to our studios to record music.
This is in my view, a positive development as it inspired more talented youngsters to showcases themselves,” he said.
Levels is currently working on his third successful riddim titled “Pure Niceness” which is a departure from the usual dancehall vibe.
The latest riddim is meant for conscious music and already some artistes including Ras Caleb, Tocky Vybz, Mostaf, Jiggaz and Ricky Fire have done well in showcasing their conscious side. Ras Caleb’s “Tokwe -Mukosi” is doing the rounds on “Pure Niceness” riddim and the accompanying video is making waves in Zim-dancehall circles.
Levels singled out Ras Pompy as his favourite artiste saying the youngster was a joy to work with.
“As a producer it is more satisfying when you work with an artiste who is level headed and willing to learn.
“The only problem comes when you work with some guys who can’t record unless they are under the influence and those that think they have arrived. I’m a sober guy I don’t take alcohol and that alone is a challenge because I have to work with some addicts,” he said.
He strongly believes that Zim dancehall could become popular as much as sungura.
“At the moment Zim dancehall is the sound of the future. We want the Government to fully support the youths. Imagine, we have hundreds of youths who come from all over Harare to record their music. So if there was no dancehall what would they be doing?”
His advice to fellow musicians was that they should respect one another and stay off drugs.
Levels is married to Dev Sando and they live in Southlea Park with their one month-old son Jaysen.
“At first my wife didn’t appreciate the music business. But now even with the little returns from the business she is starting to appreciating that music is like a calling for me,” he said.