in the groove:with Fred Zindi
Peter Johns (pictured right), who was affectionately known by such sobriquets as “PJ Your DJ” or “The Radio Driver”, hosted the Midday Jam on Radio 3 (now Power FM) in Zimbabwe. He left the station in 2002. He is now based in the United Kingdom where he continued as club DJ, internet radio broadcaster and host at many functions, especially those involving Zimbabweans in the diaspora. Of late, Peter’s health has been failing. According to Mark, his eldest and now dreadlocked son: “Peter is in a South London hospital after succumbing to three strokes and a heart attack. Although he is in a stable condition, he has lost the ability to speak and write.”
This is not the first time Peter has been hospitalised. In 2010 he suffered a mild cardiac arrest and was operated on.
Now, what becomes of his career as a DJ if he has no voice? I do hope that he recovers very soon.
Peter Johns spent over 20 memorable years on the club scene and as a radio DJ. In that time, Peter established himself as a popular radio DJ with programmes like Weekend Love and Mellow Madness. PJ, as he is also affectionately known, honed his studio skills in Zimbabwe and eventually gained notice from top touring jockeys, relocating to the UK in 2002 where he pursued studies in Digital Radio Broadcasting and Packaging.
Starting out as a club DJ in 1980, at the age of 20, PJ played at Scamps, a night-club in Harare owned by DJ Tim Breen and Zac Almeida. His initial guest appearance resulted in him gaining a Friday and Saturday night residency at Scamps almost immediately. Soon, his energetic remixes and sharp original productions found themselves in sets and over time, his mixed tapes and club nights, solidified his status as one of Zimbabwe’s best DJs. He was very passionate about his career as a DJ and took a professional attitude to it.
PJ’s mobile disco business ran parallel with his residency at various clubs, guest appearances at concerts, and promotions with international artistes. In 1981, after the launch of Radio 3, which started with a 19 hour broadcast time and eventually moved to become a 24 hour station, John Matinde, then manager responsible for recruitment at ZBC, gave PJ his first break into radio. He offered him a part-time slot every Sunday evening.
Through PJ’s connections in the UK and US and his continued thirst for up-to-date knowledge of musicians and their music, the dynamic DJ was exposed to newly emerging trends in music from the UK and US, rocking local radio. This enabled him to update and build on his ever-growing collection of music. Every week, he would receive at least 10 vinyl albums from either the United States or from the United Kingdom through his contacts based in these countries. Needless to mention that it cost him a lot of money. Incorporating international music with local jams proved to be a great recipe, boosting his radio shows and leading to an increase in shows he hosted on air. These included Monday Mellow Madness, which he continues to host on the internet, the UK top 40, hit-pick and others.
PJ is credited with interviewing the bad boy of Ragga music, Shaba Ranks, during his visit to Zimbabwe in the 1990s. He has interviewed several other celebrities, including Maxi Priest, King Sounds and Jimmy Cliff. The introduction of satellite television brought another great break for PJ — TV broadcasting.
Sponsored shows, such as Coca Cola on the Beat, gave him a marvelous break. His star was to continue shining until circumstances changed. Peter often talked about the experience he had one New Year’s eve as he recalled the good times he had in Zimbabwe. PJ played for a private party aboard a train across the Victoria Falls gorge in 1999.
“The highlight was of course the countdown to midnight on New Year’s Eve when the train stopped on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. What a way to see the new millennium!” he said.
In 2002, through restructuring by the then Information minister Jonathan Moyo and a change of policies at state radio, PJ was left with no choice, but to leave the radio station he had served for a great many years, albeit with bitter-sweet memories. “The bulk being sweet,” as he put it.
Peter Johns’s contemporaries on Zimbawe’s Radio 3 throughout the 1980s and 1990s included Admire Taderera, Josh Makawa, Wellington Mbofana, Comfort Mbofana, Fungai “The Voice” Marange, Musi Khumalo, Kudzi “Mr Cool” Marudza, Witness Matema, Hosea “The Hitman” Singende, Busi Mhlanga-Chindove, Eunice Goto, Caleb Tondhlana, Elvis Chimene, Sophie Chamboko, Norah Chipaumire, Simon Parkinson, Jerry Jackson, Patrick Bajila, Alison Chavunduka, Tich Mataz, Kelvin Sifelani, Joe “Muzukuru” Hussein, George Munetsi, Hilton “Dr Bob” Mambo, John Matinde, Mike Mhundwa and Dennis Wilson.
Seven of them: Josh, Wellington, Caleb, Elvis, Patrick, Alison and Hilton have since passed on.
In the UK, Peter caused waves with internet radio, one which he established from his flat and was broadcasting worldwide in a show he called Finer Jamz 21.
In 2010, I paid Peter a visit at his Lewisham, South London flat just after his first heart operation. He showed me the cuts on his chest and the sight really frightened me. The physical sensation I got from seeing this gave me butterflies in my stomach for weeks. He also showed me the equipment which he was using for broadcasting Finer Jamz 21. Immediately after, Peter asked me to help him carry his mobile disco equipment downstairs into his car. He had a function in Birmingham, a Zimbabwean wedding. I tried to persuade him not to go as he was sick. He told me that he had already taken a deposit and it would be unprofessional for him to cancel the gig at the last minute. He had asked Sifelani, another DJ-based in the UK to cover for him, but Sifelani also had a function on the same day. Besides, he said, the people who had hired him preferred to see Peter Johns at the decks and not anybody else. Sick as he was, Peter insisted on driving to Birmingham some 120 miles away. I decided to go with him.
At the function, I noticed that Peter’s music had completely metamorphosised from the R’n’B and pop music he used to play while in Zimbabwe to Zimbabwean popular music. He opened the show with Calisto Nyamhute’s Special Meat. This was followed by Tanga Wekwa Sando’s Wake, then Prince Tendai’s Character, followed by Assegai Crew’s Kanyama Karipi. I thought the wedding couple had made those requests, but I later discovered that it was purely Peter’s own choice.
After that he played several of Oliver Mtukudzi hits and Michael Lannas’s Come To Me (Hapana Mazwi). I was impressed.
In July 2014, Peter briefly came to Zimbabwe just to update himself with things on the ground. He was given a slot on Star FM as a surprise guest. He played his old school hits that had made him popular in Zimbabwe on Radio 3’s Drive Time Show in the 1990s. Star FM listeners had a great time when they reminisced on the good old days when the popular disc jockey–came on The Crossover hosted by Otis Fraser. On his playlist was music by Earth Wind & Fire, The Gap Band, Mary-Jane Girls, The Whispers, Shalamar, D-Train, The Commodores, Kool & The Gang and many more from the old school days. It was a welcome return to radio for the revered DJ. The Star FM switchboard was abuzz with calls from fans who expressed joy when they heard the legend who was last on air some 12 years before.
“Well, I have not been on radio due to health problems,” he said.
When asked whether he would return home for good, PJ said he was working on that
However, there was excitement among his fans mostly the mature, who used to religiously listen to his shows back in the day. Here are some of the remarks which came from his fans:
“PJ we miss you please come back,” said Angella, a fan from Cranborne.
Another fan said: “I used to listen to your shows man, the Monday’s Mellow Madness, was a great show, man we love you.”
“We used to listen to your shows at school and because we didn’t have a good radio we would put the small wireless in a bucket to increase the volume,” said a phone-in fan.
Now that he is sick all the bookings he had made for the festive season have had to be cancelled. We wish him well and hope that the National Health Services (NHS) in the U.K will look after him each and every day until he gets better and better.