Godwin Muzari : Memory Lane
“People may claim he gets possessed because he is good at what he does. His teachers and people that he went to church with told me about his singing talent. He does not get possessed. I do not remember anyone from my clan who was a great mbira player. Maybe there were there in older generations of the Chirawu lineage that we come from”Some traits of Jah Prayzah’s performances have led a section of his fans to conclude that the musician gets possessed on stage.
Speculative comments and rumour about the probability of supernatural powers in Jah Prayzah’s performance began making rounds a couple of years ago, with some commentators solidifying their assertions by claiming that the depth of his lyrics does not belong to his generation of Shona speakers.
The musician confirms he has heard such claims and it seems he now plays to the gallery to fuel the speculation further (if he does not really get possessed).
These days he performs folk song “Goto Rinehwema” in an amazing way that has made superstitious fans justify their claims of supernatural powers.
When he does the song, Jah Prayzah removes his military beret and shakes his head vigorously, swaying his dreadlocks from side to side.
At the peak of the song, he instructs his instrumentalists to stop playing and goes for an acapella version with his backing vocalists. He indeed appears to venture into another world. The song usually lasts longer than all the other tracks on his playlist.
Traditionally, it is common for mbira, hosho or ngoma players to get possessed when they perform at rituals invoking ancestral spirits and they can have miraculous energy throughout the night.
Some current popular mbira groups also claim to get into spiritual realms during performances while musicians like the late Freedom Nyambuya and mbira queen Stella Chiweshe have been cited as artistes that showed signs of being possessed on stage.
On the international scene, unusual performance practices and extra-energy on stage are attributed to ecstasy that is induced by various substances that the musicians take.
So, where does Jah Prayzah’s unusual behaviour comes from?
The musician says he has never taken energy-inducing drugs and he also denies being a medium of any spirit.
Some fans have claimed that when Jah Prayzah performs “Goto Rinehwema” at a poorly-attended show, the numbers start increasing and crowds swell beyond expectations.
Even when his performance appears to be boring, “Goto Rinehwema” usually changes the tempo and after the song, fans just get excited.
Surprisingly, fans rarely dance to “Goto Rinehwema” as most of them stand in awe, observing the musician’s antics. He has no intention to record the song that he says is strictly a preserve for live shows. He says people think he gets possessed because he tries to invoke emotions in his songs, depending on themes.
“When I sing a love song, I want people to feel the love. It is the same with that song. I perform it in a way that it would be performed at a traditional ceremony. I act as the elders at a ritual ceremony do and it appears so real to my fans. They conclude I get possessed,” he said.
Jah Prayzah says everything he does it is a result of the passion he nurtured since he was a boy and the talent that was appreciated by many when he was still young.
Memory Lane spoke to Jah Prayzah’s parents for more information on his upbringing and also revisited his documentary “Soja Rinosvika Kure” that exposes more about the musician’s early days.
John Mukombe (Jah Prayzah’s father): “I believe the depth of his Shona lines came from the novels that he read when he was growing up.
“I was a headmaster at Magunje School in Murewa and I had a library at home that had many books. He enjoyed reading Shona novels and he used to steal my books.
“I realised I was losing many Shona novels, but never thought it was Mukudzei (Jah Prayzah) because he was a good boy. I suspected his brothers and often confronted them. One day I found him reading one of the novels and he admitted he was the culprit.
“I encouraged him to continue reading, but advised him to seek permission to get the books and also return them after reading. From then, the issue was solved and he continued reading.
“People may claim he gets possessed because he is good at what he does. His teachers and people that he went to church with told me about his singing talent. He does not get possessed. I do not remember anyone from my clan who was a great mbira player. Maybe there were there in older generations of the Chirawu lineage that we come from.”
Shelly Savanhu-Mukombe (Jah Prayzah’s mother): “Many people have asked me about the possibility that my son gets possessed. I often laugh at that inquiry because I never thought he would be put in that bracket.
People that get possessed usually have complications at birth or during childhood. I never had serious problems with Mukudzei. I gave birth to him through normal delivery at Nyadire Mission Hospital and he grew up experiencing common problems associated with infancy. There was nothing complicated.
“I discovered he was talented when he sang at church. Everyone wanted him to lead in many songs. He was just a young boy and many people marvelled at his voice. He began leading the church choir when he was still young. We attended United Methodist Church at Musanhi School. He enjoyed being at church and grew up as a good boy.
“He also showed his interest in guitars when he would make banjos (homemade guitar) and I usually discouraged him from that habit. I heard he leant mbira from a teacher at Musanhi Secondary School and when he left for Harare, we heard he was serious about pursuing music until we heard his songs on radio.”
Mupa Musimbe (former Jah Prayzah teacher): “I realised that the young man was talented when he sang at assembly. Many teachers requested him to lead the school in morning songs. I also had interest in music and I played mbira on my own.
“I wanted someone to sing with and I chose Mukudzei because he was the best singer at school. After school and during weekends I would play mbira while he did lead vocals. We were just doing it for fun and ended up using my old-fashioned radio to record ourselves.
“He also started learning how to play mbira and he got the notes within a short time. He began doing his own songs and recordings on my radio.
“When he left for Harare he told me he wanted to do music full-time, but I did not take him seriously. I also encouraged him to focus on his academic studies. He came to the school after a few years and told me he had started recording music. I later heard his songs on radio and I am happy he has grown that popular. He visits me regularly although I am no longer at Mushanhi. He travels to see me when he goes home.”
Mai Mukarati (former Jah Prayzah teacher): “Mukudzei’s singing talent was appreciated by many. I remember one day I was late for work and I was in a hurry to finish preparing for the day. I heard him leading the school in a popular song and had to stop what I was doing. I got out and listened to the song until the end.
“That was how talented he was. Every teacher on duty wanted him to lead in singing. Even people from the village that passed through a road near the school would stop to listen when he was singing. We knew he would be successful if he took music seriously.”