Zora music star Leonard Zhakata, 51, says former President Robert Mugabe is a genius and everyone knows that. At the peak of his musical career Zhakata used to grace the annual 21st February Movement meant to celebrate the former leader’s birthday.
“He listened to my music with objectivity, hence did not take things at face value. He was a genius and Zimbabweans know that for sure.
“In most cases I discovered that people at the top are not dangerous at all; it is the people on the ground that are, and they are always feeding those up there with misleading information. But what they forget is that those people at the top are very intelligent and they digest what they are being fed,” Zhakata told the Daily News on Sunday this week.
He said it was a paradox that while Mugabe had a soft spot for his music, hence continually inviting him to perform at the 21st February Movement celebrations, at the same time his songs were being blacklisted by the state broadcaster, ZBC.
“He enjoyed listening to my music and saw nothing wrong with it; my music is not about politics or for politicians, it is for every Zimbabwean including Mugabe.
“Not only did Mugabe love my music, even Nelson Chamisa loves it and is a good friend of mine; I am friends with everyone because I am not a politician and my music cuts across. I do not attend political rallies and the last rally I remember attending was before independence,” said Zhakata.
He added that a clever politician is one who befriends the farmer, the engineer, the artist, the civil servant. “A good politician is one who unites all kinds of people, not one who divides and I am glad that I have met politicians who are tolerant; who embrace everyone regardless.
“And there are those who always want to divide people; these are bad politicians.” He also found it interesting that even within major political parties there would be others supporting his music while others loathed at it.
Zhakata said he wished he was Dr Zoba, the mysterious clown who is always covered in a mask because people cannot put your real face on your art. Zhakata said he was shocked when he started producing hits because he became so famous that he could not control his newly found fame.
“I do not like fame as a person but what I would like is my music being popular, not me. I want my music to educate and entertain the nation but the moment people started idolising you, you suddenly realise that you are becoming more popular that the music; that is dangerous.”
He said to lower his fame he decided to stop making musical videos. Zhakata said it is an open secret that Oliver was close to everyone and it is unfortunate if any musician could not interact with him. “I first met Tuku in the 90s and he advised me that while I was a good composer I needed to search my own sound. He would attend our concerts and be part of the crowd and after that he would give us some pointers although at the time we were not popular at all.
“There are a lot of lessons I learnt from him chiefly among them humility and perseverance. Tuku laboured and laid a foundation for his music for decades but because he was patient, things began to pay off later in his career. God finally rewarded him and he passed on flowering in artistic glory,” said Zhakata.
Zhakata said he was luck that he had performed with Mtukudzi in Capetown, South Africa before he passed on.
The singer said at 51, he had a lot of success stories to tell. “I thank God because I have some achievements which were out of hard work and there are others that came through grace.
“I am luck because I have toured internationally, regional and have received multiple awards. Personally I do not believe in awards; I have never submitted entries but it was the people voting for me.”
He said while his best-selling album so far, Nzombe Huru sold a staggering 154 000 copies in a space of 12 months, things are different now because of rampant piracy which has destroyed the sales base.
“To be honest, I am not selling anything at the moment except copies that are bought by die-hard fans. Local musicians do not have to mislead people saying they are selling thousands of copies today – that is not true at all.
“While we still have record companies still in existence they are not performing at all. They still have my album catalogue but I have since stopped visiting them for royalties because even if you visit them you feel sorry for the guy working there.”
He added that he will not withdraw his music albums from record companies because he wants his fans to still collect his music.
The singer said there is a slight shift at radio as they are now playing some of his songs although he had a word for the stations. “What I am looking at more from radio stations and in particular from ZBC is that it has to set standards. Let us not persecute artists based on certain interpretation of people.
“Recently I released a single, Game Changer which I had written with the idea to inspire that in every area you are you have to be a game changer; you are not inventing the wheel; be creative and be the game changer.
“Even President Emmerson Mnangagwa always preaches this message but it is only that it came from me.”
The musician said he prefers anything Zimbabwean. “My motto is Zimbabwe and my message is that we should desist from fighting our own that is why you find I do not do collaborations with known singers. I prefer those that are not known, so that I lift their profiles; let us support our own.”
Zhakata said he was saddened when other sectors of society were pushing that chimurenga music guru Thomas Mapfumo returns to America as he had overstayed in Zimbabwe.
“First of all Mukanya is Zimbabwean and there is something that forced him to relocate but his music has to be listened more here. As artists we have different gifts; the songs which he composes are what satisfy him; you cannot change him.
“You cannot even say Charles Charamba has to stop singing gospel and sing something else. Let those who love Mukanya enjoy and those who do not want him here do not want him to spread his word. If you remove hard hitting lyrics from his music then you would have removed Mukanya.”
He said recently social media was abuzz that; “Zhakata played before 20 people at Space Man Bar, hence he was finished”.
“Over the years I have played before full houses and I even played for one person at my peak. It happens and 20 people are too many.
“You have to remember that any artist is bound to be criticised; journalists like that and when they come to interview you they would have their story already; what they would be looking for is for you to authentic their story.”
He said his band is surviving even in these hard times. “If we want to make money we go and perform out of Harare. We perform for makorokoza and they pack our concerts; there is money there and there is no money in Harare because people are pressed hard.
“We survive because we know how to strategies; we work with civic organisations and produce jingles for them. And there are people with money out and several times individual have cancelled our booked shows because someone wants you to perform at his/her private function. He agrees to reimburse for any prior promotions and promises to pay you double or treble.”
Zhakata said he will be releasing his 22nd album before June. “Our fans said they wanted longer songs so we have listened to them and we will be having seven to nine songs on this album. It is already done.”
He said the band is a big institution and from when he entered the industry his smallest number of employees was 10. “We are speaking of people who joined the band and married, sent children to school. We have bachelors joining in and we give them direction until they marry.
“At times when someone wants to destroy a band like ours they forget how many people have actually benefitted; from those who sell music to survive, the night clubs where we perform, the radio and television that depends on our music. And not forgetting the journalist who is paid to criticise us!”
He is thankful to God for blessing his family with wife Ruth. “My first born Chamu completed his first degree; Angela is in third year and studying in China while Pertula is studying law in SA while the last born is in form four. I thank God and these are some of the hidden achievements at a time others are trying to pull you down.”
He said he is grateful to Emmanuel Makandiwa, leader of UFIC for anointing him as a Bishop for the church.
“But I do not understand people because as soon as that announcement was made all those who hated Makandiwa began to hate me, all those who hate me began to hate Makandiwa.
“And who said that I was appointed because I am pure; I am not. I joined the church because I am looking for salvation. I have weaknesses that I want God to help me fight and I am human; I have feelings.”
Zhakata said even when he was appointed he said to himself; ‘but I am the General of Joy; how can I serve God?’
“What I had known all the years was to calculate distances between nightclubs. People should not think I am now holier because I continue to seek the face of God.
“Those who have listened to me, I preach salvation and prosperity; yes, everyone needs money. I therefore thank Makandiwa for this opportunity; but it does not mean I am pure or will remain pure.
“I am there to inspire people to do positive things; I am human; every man of God is always fighting temptation, look at the biblical Peter.”
The singer said he was disturbed, like every other Zimbabwean at the destruction caused by Cyclone Idai. “This was most unexpected and churches have to pray hard so that God delivers us.
Government was not prepared but let us not play the game blame. From here we need to put in place a plan, I know we have the civil protection unit but my suggestion is to have a committee comprising strong willed personalities who will spearhead the setting of a revolving fund.”