At one time the wearing of military clothes caught up with Zimbabweans but it quickly fizzled out after government outlawed it.
But there was one person who continued to don the army uniform with ease as it had become his trademark; that man is the towering singer, Mukudzei Mukombe aka Jah Prayzah.
Recording under his label Military Touch, his association with the army received endorsement when the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) appointed him as their Cultural Ambassador.
And it wasn’t only him donning the military gear but his entire band and doormen to the extent that when you attended his shows you could think a whole army battalion had invaded the stage.
But credit to the guy, Jah Prayzah represented the army brand very well; he had various neat military uniforms which he could change to his pleasure and his fans loved it.
I remember when Zimbabweans received the news that former Robert Mugabe had stepped down as president in 2017, Jah Prayzah’s song ‘Kutonga Kwaro’ (How it rules) turned into an anthem as it seemed to point to the arrival of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
His previous song ‘Mudhara Vachauya’ (The big man is coming) which had been viewed as having been composed especially for Mnangagwa complemented well with ‘Kutonga Kwaro’ and the two songs became instant hits.
At the time the soldiers were also very popular and ‘loved’ by the people as they had just delivered the country from Mugabe’s grip through a ‘soft’ coup.
When Mnangagwa was finally inaugurated as president of the Second Republic the aforementioned songs turned into party tunes at most State and Zanu PF functions where the president showed his dancing skills.
Some even went on to suggest that Jah Prayzah was a prophetic musician whose songs had predicted the elevation of Mnangagwa to president. The president was at one time his guest of honour when he launched the album ‘Jerusarema’.
As a result Jah Prayzah became the most sought-after musician and his plate was always full with special requests to perform for the new order.
But how fast life and fortunes change!
The army which he represented then beat and killed unarmed civilians on August 1 and more recently on January 14. The recent killings were accompanied by rampant abuses of civilians with reports of women being raped.
While Zimbabweans had initially given Mnangagwa the benefit of the doubt thinking he could deliver on his campaign promises, his failure has angered Zimbabweans, hence the disappearance of Jah Prayzah’s prophetic songs.
It is a paradox!
Jah Prayzah is not the only one who enjoys wearing defence forces gear as we also have ‘dendera’ music star Suluman Chimbetu who was appointed the brand ambassador for the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) and wears their uniforms.
The musician was conferred with the rank of Assistant Commissioner by (ZPCS) Major-General (retired) Commissioner-General Paradzai Zimondi.
Andy Muridzo also loves wearing the army uniform, maybe because of his links to the Military Touch label.
We also have Donald Chirisa aka Sniper Storm, one of Zimbabwe’s popular dancehall musicians who produced the hit song ‘Love Yemusoja’. Sniper Storm who calls himself Soja also wears the army uniform.
But with the army so tainted, will Jah Prayzah still feel comfortable with the military uniforms? Will his fans really want to identify with him in that attire?
Jah Prayzah’s manager Keen Mushapaidze said the towering singer is not political and does not work for the army.
“The Zimbabwe National Army conferred him as Cultural Ambassador so that he can represent the country in promoting the cultural sector. It is nothing more than that and he doesn’t work for the army.
“Jah Prayzah will not stop promoting the country’s culture, even if he were not the army’s cultural ambassador, he will continue to do so,” said the manager.
Asked if Jah Prayzah and the band will continue to wear the army’s regalia, he said: “As for the branding we will look at it and how it will work. We will be notifying you in future on the branding aspect.”
As for his performance at Tuku’s sent off, he said the band did not wear the army regalia because of the occasion. “We look at the occasion and this one we thought he would have been better in a different outfit. Yes, he did not wear his usual regalia.”
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said this is another classical case where we miss the whole forest by focusing on a single tree in our politics.
“Tuku (the late Oliver Mtukudzi) was once labelled Zanu PF when he sang at Grace’s rallies and at Joice Mujuru’s birthday and the same people lobbying for Jah Prayzah to be removed from the UK show because of his military connections did the same to Tuku and failed. Tuku was also labelled an MDC supporter when he attended the late Morgan Tsvangirai’s funeral”.
Saungweme wondered whether with Jah Prayzah it is the issue about the army or about the whole institution of Zimbabwe Defence Forces or just a few political commanders giving political orders they later deny and blame implicated officers as rogue.
“I don’t think people have big issues with the institution, Zimbabwe Defence Forces. People have issues with its politicisation and the use of the military in civic policing duties and law and order maintenance. So trying to paint a whole institution with a black brush may be short sighted.
“Who are these soldiers – my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, my uncle, my niece, fellow Zimbabweans who are also suffering at the hands of bad politics and bad governance sinking our economy,” said Saungweme.
He added that the same people saying all the stuff about Jah Prayzah are the same people who took selfies with some military personnel during the November 2017 coup. “These are the people who are now busy deleting their social media posts supporting the military coup and removal of (former president Robert) Mugabe by coup.
“We warned then against supporting the coup as this fully entrenched the military in our civil and political lives, but these people were so short-sighted in the euphoria of ‘Mugabe must go’ to the extent that they supported the so called military intervention.”
Saungweme said for Jah Prayzah, he can rebrand his label by singing more songs that resonate with the suffering masses and stop supporting strong men in our politics, but ideas.
“He can still wear military regalia and maintain his Military Touch name, but still win the hearts of Zimbabweans by lyrics that resonate with our daily struggles and support peace and development of country and not strongmen.
“The issue with ‘Kutonga Kwaro’ is more about people hating the song for supporting an unpopular politician and not the Military Touch label. Let’s read this correctly. Sniper has not lost steam because he calls himself soja (soldier). Sulu still maintains his support base yet he is ambassador for Prison Services, an unpopular security outfit,” said Saungweme.
Playwright Cont Mhlanga believes these are the business risks that Jah Prayzah must handle like in any other business.
“These are some of the risks of riding your artistic content in political band wagons. This is what I meant when I said Tuku did not allow his talent of music composition to influence him to become a political activist through the back door.
“Artists must never stand for political parties and their politicians. They must stand for the truth. It is just an unfortunate situation for him because he prostituted his art to the army and then the army suddenly went into party politics.
“He has to manage it like any business operators. This is the same situation that Sandra Ndebele put herself when she went political party sloganeering during ED’s election campaigns,” said Mhlanga.
He added that Jah Prayzah did not draw any lessons from the late Andy Brown and Tambaoga the ‘Blair Toilet’ hitmaker.
Controversial actor Slyvanos Mudzvova said his advice to Jah Prayzah’s management is that they should negotiate with the army so they can temporarily withdraw their services until things normalise.
“Everyone used to love the army but in recent months people tend to hate the army because of the abuses and for Jah Prayzah to continue to be the military’s ambassador is risky.
“People look up to the artistes for the positive things they do in life but at the moment Zimbos do not want to be associated with the army. Using terms like Military Touch will only worsen the situation, Jah Prayzah has just to rebrand and protect his brand,” said Mudzvova.
The actor said failure to do that Jah Prazah would have failed to protect his music and himself. “If it were big corporates, the moment an artist murders or rapes, they quickly cut ties and the same has to happen when the institutions have a tarnished image. The artist has to walk away and protect his or her brand.”
Social analyst Rashweat Mukundu said art must have a conscience and while he would hesitate to prescribe political choices for Jah Prayzah, it is important to note that his association with the military as its brand ambassador and also his military style costumes and presentation may no longer fit well with those who are victims of military abuses over the past two weeks, some so heinous including allegations of rape.
“Not only have people died but many have their limbs and arms broken, houses broken, property destroyed by an army that has by all analysis gone rogue. Artistic presentations that celebrate the Zimbabwe military may therefore be seen as abetting such abuses and celebrating terror.
“This is not Jah Prayzah’s making but he is equally a victim of a rogue military and he has to make hard choices about whether to continue his association with the military or seek a new brand for his music,” said Mukundu.
Political analyst MacDonald Lewanika said Jah Prayzah definitely needs to stop his formal association with the army as ambassadors are usually representatives of good causes, and the military in Zimbabwe is neither good nor a cause, so he has to drop that one.
“The rest, the Military Touch label, his use of military fatigues and so on have been part of his brand and persona, but every artist needs to adapt and change as part of sustaining the brand and be responsive to market trends.
“He may not need to change the name of his label but needs to dump the army persona in his performance. Jah Prayzah is a remarkable cross over talent, perhaps one of Oliver Mtukudzi’s better heirs, he is good and does not need controversy of this kind digging him and losing him support unnecessarily,” said Lewanika.