by Style reporter
The build-up to famed dancehall chanter Winky D’s latest album launch on New Year’s Eve was a dramatic affair that kept many, particularly his legion of fans, on the edge wondering if it was even going to happen.
The Kambuzuma-bred artiste’s camp has over the years become known for creating massive hype towards the release of their projects in a skilful activation of music lovers’ interest.
Titled Njema, marketing around the 13-track album was bound to be very visible, but the reaction and effect over the past couple of weeks was nothing like the usual.
From dozens of speculative messages, some threatening to derail the release event, on different social media platforms to the ultimate summons by the police, it was indeed not kids’ play — #HayisiKidsGame — as the musician often claims.
In the thick of things was one man, Winky D’s manager Jonathan Banda who had to weather the storm and steer the ship in the right direction.
He had to act as a human buffer between the artiste and different sections of society at the point as everything was contentious and showed signs of heading south.
Last week, Standard Style’s reporter Kennedy Nyavaya (KN) had an interview with Banda (JB) in a wide-ranging chat where he spoke about the rigorous build-up, politically-linked trouble his camp had been facing and their future prospects.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
KN: There was quite a lot of drama in the build-up to the Njema album launch, was there a point where you thought it was probably not going to take place?
JB: There were several points, but I had to keep my calm because at the end of the day I was very prayerful. Secondly, I had confidence and I did not want to disappoint the people who had been waiting for the longest time, so come what may it was going to happen.
We had really gone out of our way in terms of set-up and this time around I was more worried about the production and I had to break the bank in terms of the budget. Financially, there were some problems and in the dying stages of the build-up there were certain contexts I had to clarify to a lot of people.
KN: Please tell us more about the happenings on the eve of the album launch because everyone was in the dark while the rumour mill suggested that you had been arrested, what really happened?
JB: Basically, we had our police clearance and at some point I was invited (by the police) to get the letter, but there were said to have some exceptions to that particular clearance which could have meant some revocation and a whole lot happened.
I did not sleep that night because the next morning I had to present myself for censorship and make some requisite applications, which was the first time anyway in terms of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act. Initially, there were issues to do with Section 15, but I think was cited first was Section 10, which I was disputing that it had to do with film and we did not have a film that we were producing. I was told that the ZRP had been informed by the Censorship Board, which I think was in the remit of their work anyway, (but) we did not agree on the mechanics of implementation. The words that were being used at some point were whether the lyrical content of the album was safe for the public and I was saying no one had listened to the album yet. They were saying it was within their mandate as law enforcers and I said I would rather present myself to the Censorship Board pending any decision. So, we did and got the requisite clearance which is usually given to international artistes.
KN: Were you at some point required to play the album before the official launch?
JB: Yes, I submitted it to the Censorship Board and left it there after getting the provisional clearance. It was the first time we had to go through that, but I am actually happy that if the arts are getting such attention in terms of implementation of laws, then maybe that will develop the arts in a good way because also on the other hand with our own ears we have heard a lot of insensitive stuff with a lot of vulgarity, so it’s for the better if done in the right way. The main challenge for us then was that it was getting late and I was the focal person to deal with this show.
KN: Do you think it somehow affected any of your plans and perhaps the attendance?
JB: Just too many people were asking, even my own mother, if it was still going on, but I think we did not lose out, we stood firm in our spirit that this would go on. The challenge nowadays is some things are generated around the rumour mill, I would not blame anyone because there were a lot of correlations with what had happened and some action that people had witnessed. But, I do not know whether to call it Dutch courage or what because I was not even drunk yet I knew it would go on even though the circumstances were different from all the previous years.
KN: After all these years, how do you think you got here, a place where you have to be invited by the police to explain and submit what you will release? What is the spark behind that and how are you dealing with it?
JB: I do not know because if at all there was any transgression or any omission or commission by my record label or the artiste, then I think people should be forthright and confront me or lay bare the facts to me so we can relate on the matter. What you are asking me is what the artiste and my main line producer Layaan always ask me, but I have no answer. If I did I would give it to you because for a song like Ijipita we did the production, the song came out, we were not responsible for the interpretation, we just put words on the beat to make it sound musical so that people can dance and not philosophise. Well, philosophising is part of the whole thing, that’s the beauty of art, it is a skill and expression and how you do it does not automatically relate with how it is going to be interpreted.
KN: Winky D’s music has sort of transcended over the years to singing lyrics that are pretty much open to be translated into politics. Is this a strategy your camp is pursuing consciously?
JB: I would say he has evolved in some sort of way. There are many ways of skinning a goat, but definitely as an artiste when you start, one of the things that you want is to be recognised for what you stand for. I think we have always been rooted in certain realities, past productions may not have been as good, but if you listen to the message you would not get lost that it was him saying this. It’s the same thing, but the challenge is it is said by one with more clout today. At some points in our lives we all evolve and while back in the day our music was just about us the ghetto youths, but now we cross genres, the message could be about them, but it goes beyond that and it has national ownership. Now it’s more to do with the poor, the social commentary is now way deeper because the artiste has experienced more in life and he and myself feel we are also supposed to leave a legacy and a time to start teaching those who were not there when things were starting up.
The lessons we have been picking are the lessons we are giving, that is why you will never hear that we have a tiff or are trying to diss someone because we feel that the job or objective is way greater than one person. We are moving in a straight and narrow road and we know where we want to get to especially right as now we have to teach and speak to everyone else more than we speak to ourselves. We no longer have that luxury, just too many people are now part of our musical family and if they are our brothers as our siblings, we have to respect whatever it is they feel, sense and perceive so that we remain on the same page.
KN: How do you feel about the politicisation of your music?
JB: I would deal with something if I knew the roots or origins, but since I do not then I am not dealing with anything. If there is anyone with these aspects, I am inviting that person to lay the fact for me to understand. You know life itself is very political, but not in the sense that I am finding right now, the marriage institution is very political because politics is about power relations, so really the politicisation when it gets to a state of party politics I become worried, you know why? If there is anyone who has seen my artiste at any rally, donning regalia of any political party, that person should come to me. He has never been a part of any political outfit and he does not intend to, so the whole politicisation I feel there are some big forces behind that and we are just musicians and this is my message, who are just talking about what we are looking at just like everyone.
KN: After encountering all the political heat of late, have you by any chance thought of toning down the narrative?
JB: The good part about music is that it’s entertainment. If you remember the Censorship and Entertainment Act we were talking about, it mentions a part about public entertainment, so it is entertainment. If people are in election mode and we know that this is what people are thinking about and we come up with a song like Gafa MuParliament, which has never happened, did you see him contest anything? What he was contesting was his time on stage, that’s all. We are entertainers and there is nothing wrong about that, why should we tone down on something that people are talking about every day?
KN: Getting into the latest album, are you satisfied with the reaction to it so far?
JB: I think it is coming up, at some point in our lives our music affects people it’s either it’s instant or people grow it inside them and it manifests itself later. What is different with this album is a lot of songs people have to throw the seeds inside themselves so that they germinate and one of the greatest measures of coming up with a good album is for people to come up with a couple of songs they like and not just one. When you do that you have come up with the right mix of ingredients, this is why you see that we worked with more than one producer for the album this time, so I feel that’s a perfect blend.
KN: There have been security issues for your camp as a result of your lyrics, are you consciously ignoring this?
JB: I only get to understand the risk when people talk about it because when one gets into a studio there is no way in which they can put on headphones and be in front of a condenser microphone to generate risk for them. What we are simply doing is, if it’s a protest in his mind, socio-cultural like you saw he talked about a lot of cultural traditions that have been gone for long, that is exactly what he is talking about. At no point do I understand risk because I am yet to get the details of what exactly it is that is wrong with his lyrical content.
KN: Many people have said over the years that your camp has failed to take Winky D’s brand of music out of the country to the international market, what is your take?
JB: I remember when we went to Coke Studio people were vibing to disappear and the same way that we were listening to vibes from let’s say Kenya, but an artiste who would have reached Southern Africa from East Africa is then called international, but when Winky D reaches that side he is still not international.
So, I think firstly we need to deal with the frame of assessment of whatever it is we are calling international and I think I would really need a firm discussion as to what people really mean when they say he has not. I am very open to ideas if there is anyone who thinks there is this dimension that we can help him with, that is why I have worked with just too many people up to this day.
KN: What is that one or couple of things that would make you feel fulfilled if you achieved during Winky D’s career?
JB: I have always said to the artiste that music heals and speaks, an accolade should always be an extra and recognitions for effort, so really I cannot say I want to take him to the Grammys, but I want his music to have greater impact than it has right now. I think I am getting there because I saw a story on the song Ngirozi in a book under the new curriculum and very soon there is a university that will partner us over some difficult subject that they had to see how they can best teach views in his music. To me that is the impact that we want both for the old and young generation so I feel if that impact leads us to the Grammys, give thanks and we will be blessed by the Lord, but what we need more than the accolade is positive impact. This is why we do not time our releases to fit award schedules because I feel the greatest accolade an artiste can get is recognition by the people.
KN: What can we expect from Winky D in the near future?
JB: I think for now I have fulfilled one big expectation, why don’t we deal with that for now? What we are anticipating for ourselves is growth and impact and I think so far some of the people joining our musical family now take him more seriously even if they did not in the past. We anticipate that our music teaches people because I do not think we have any track on our past projects that can be said to lead to a negative impact on society.