HomeStandard PeopleNicholas Somerai is back

Nicholas Somerai is back

At the turn of the new millennium, the government introduced the 75% local content policy on radio and television stations which was meant to promote local artists. It became a turning point for the Zimbabwean music landscape which gave birth to the urban grooves movement, a unique genre which showcased versatile local talent.

the style interview with Moses Mugugunyeki

Nicholas Somerai
Nicholas Somerai

One such artist who profited from the policy was Nicholas Somerai who, despite having released the hit song Mudiwa Wangu in 1995, carved a niche for himself during the 75% local content era, thanks to the policy which is among a myriad of trumpeted “achievements” of the Zanu PF government.

Somerai, who is now based in South Africa, while applauding the 75% local content policy, feels that the mess in which the Zimbabwean music industry finds itself in, is a result of the failed economy. The Standard Style’s reporter Moses Mugugunyeki (MM) had a chat with Somerai (NS), who spoke about his desire to see the local music reclaiming its status as one of the music powerhouses on the continent. Below are excerpts from the interview.

MM: You have been in hibernation music wise, what have you been up to all these years?

NS: Priorities shifted a bit towards more commercially viable considerations but in the background I never stopped producing music. Music is who I am. When others go to play golf, I would rather strum some strings on the guitar. Currently, I have eight complete songs which are ready to go to the market anytime. I released the first three of the eight songs in February and I am planning to release three songs each year going forward.

MM: When last did you release music in Zimbabwe?

NS: My last well-known music project was Mudiwa Wangu in 1995. I am glad the song was well-received and stayed alive for a decade. Even now, people are actually asking me for the song yet I am trying to get them to buy my new music. It is very humbling.

MM: Do you think the urban grooves genre will regain its lost glory, considering that Zimdancehall is the most popular beat in the country at the moment?

NS: Music, like fashion, is cyclical in nature. Remember the days when people went crazy with rhumba in Zimbabwe, then came urban grooves, gospel, museve and now Zimdancehall. As sure as the sun is rising tomorrow, we will have another dose of all these music genres all over again in our lifetime. Same with hairstyles and dance routines.

MM: How can Zimbabwe music be improved to compete with others from the continent?

NS: The music industry in Zimbabwe cannot function in isolation from the rest of the economy. First things first, we have to fix the economy across all its various sectors, which I believe will induce buying power so that people buy original music and attend music shows. With the economy limping as it is, it breeds high levels of unemployment, especially among the youths which apart from making poor sales of music, also manifests in piracy of music — a problem that has become so perennial in Zimbabwe that even the law enforcement agents do not seem to take that as crime anymore. Some of the authorities are buying these pirated CDs. Piracy is so rampant that it has affected music sales, which has resulted in most musicians surviving on live performances. Once our own backyard is sorted, then our quality of music will improve, regardless of the genre. It is possible to export any type of music to other countries as long as the music is of high quality, offering from an arrangement, composure, perspective and the engineering of the sound. Rhumba a couple of years ago was a hit in Europe, while Stella Chiweshe, Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi became formidable musicians. It is, however, very important for our people to celebrate our own music first before other nations. I am happy that the general music-loving Zimbabwean never falls short on that.

MM: The 75% local content policy brought the growth of urban grooves music in Zimbabwe around the year 2000. What’s your take on that?

NS: Yes it did. The increased local content policy ushered a platform for musicians to be heard on radio and that was a strong marketing tool to a brand of music [urban grooves] that was in fashion and in its infancy at the time. Beyond just the good publicity it brought, radio stations paid royalties for every song that was played on air. It made sense to have as much of those royalty pay-outs going to local musicians than musicians from other countries. The policy was so clever that it also reduced pay-outs of the much-needed foreign currency to music rights associations of other countries. It just needs to be supported by the stamping out of piracy.

MM: Mudiwa Wangu was your greatest project. Do you have any plans to re-do it?

NS: Yes, it was. Funny enough, a lot of my fans do not want me to re-do the song but they simply want that song in its original form. Music, like a photograph, has an effect of “freezing time” in one’s life and people associate Mudiwa Wangu with whatever specific things they were going through in their lives at that time. I have decided to give people what they want and so my next project [February next year] will have the original song Mudiwa Wangu.

MM: How can music in Zimbabwe be improved?

NS: The economics of the country is the cornerstone for all things to improve. As long as most musicians cannot make a decent living out of music, aluta continua!

MM: Where do you see Nicholas Somerai in the next five years?

NS: I would like to get my music onto the international stages and the only way to do that is to be original. I have my own aura and there is no other musician who does it like me.

MM: Earlier on, you said you released three songs in February. Can you shed more light on these latest projects?

NS: I released a CD with three songs in February this year. The first song is titled KuDiaspora. We have a lot of Zimbabweans who are economic migrants in many countries who have been forced to live separately from their loved ones and this song is a dedication to all in that predicament. The second song is titled Uri Ruva, which I wrote for my lovely wife Precious. The song is an insight into my heart and expresses my gratitude for her being in my life. She has been extremely good to me over the years.

The third track is called Kamoto Kamberevere which was born out of my love for the late Paul Matavire’s music. I appreciate good music regardless of the genre and Matavire was one of my favourite artists. He was original and had a unique talent. In this song, I make social commentary —the Matavire style — about a cheating wife.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

NewsDay Zimbabwe will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.