in the groove:with Fred Zindi
Isaac Gabriel Kalumbu, aka King Isaac, a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, musician and professor at Michigan State University in the United States of America, is in Harare to officially launch his latest album titled Makuwerere, which he says is dedicated to two great legends of Zimbabwean music — Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi.
The launch kicks off with a listening party which will be held on Thursday at Theatre In The Park, Harare Gardens, from 6pm to 9pm.
In 2011, King Isaac was the first Zimbabwean artiste to be nominated for the prestigious Grammy Award for the best reggae album of 2010.
His album was competing with four Jamaican albums, namely, Before The Dawn by Buju Banton, Revelation by Lee Scratch Perry, Made In Jamaica by Bob Sinclair, Legacy: An Acoustic Tribute to Peter Tosh by Andrew Tosh and One Pop Reggae by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespear in the Best Reggae Album category. King Isaac was nominated for his Isaacs Meets Isaac — a collaboration album which he did with the late Gregory Isaacs. The gong, however, went to Buju Banton.
Mtukudzi wanted to be nominated for a Grammy in 2013, but it did not happen. In 2013 after performing in front of 10 000 New Yorkers at the Central Park Summer Stage Festival, he was inducted into Afro-Pop Hall of Fame in New York in the United States. The superstar seemed genuinely moved by the acknowledgement when he received the honour from Georges Collinet of Afro-pop Worldwide. To cap it all during the same period, Tuku appeared on the front page of the prestigious and important international Time Magazine. On his return, from the US, I went to Pakare Paye Arts Centre to congratulate him on all these achievements. All he said to me was: “Fred, I now need to go for the Grammy Award, then I am a happy man.” This did not happen during his lifetime and I am sure Tuku died a disappointed man for not having achieved this. However, Walter Wanyanya, one of Tuku’s handlers, tells me that there is a new Tuku album about to be released this year. If that happens, I am certain that they will try and enter it for next year’s Grammies and he can be nominated and perhaps awarded the Grammy posthumously.
This year the American Grammy Awards ceremony took place last week at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, which is also home of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. Unfortunately, it was clouded by the death of Kobe Bryant, a phenomenal figure in Los Angeles basketball who died together with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash. Kobe was revered by sports fans all over the world. Alicia Keys and Boys To Men, who had attended the Grammies ceremony, had to sing an emotional song during the Grammies ceremony in honour of the late Kobe.
Grammy Awards, originally known as Gramophone Awards when the concept was first mooted in 1958, are trophies given to outstanding musicians for their recordings in different categories of music genres, just like the Zimbabwe Music Awards here.
The annual awards feature prominent musicians every year who have shown outstanding achievement in the music industry mainly through record sales. Grammy is the music equivalent to the Emmy Awards for television and the Oscars for film.
But all this is a digression. Let me go back to King Isaac. In 2013 King Isaac, during the Grammies ceremony, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Akon, Bon Jovi, LL Cool J, Donna Summer, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Neil Diamond and Katy Perry, among other celebrities. He was there with great hope that his other namesake Gregory Isaacs would bring the trophy to both Jamaica and Zimbabwe. It did not happen. Now he has gone solo and written some international reggae and Zimbabwean tunes on his new 10-track album, Makuwerere. Tunes include Glorious Dub, Celebration, Singing Glory, I Know, Nyimai Satani, Zveupenyu, Chenai, Wachena Muroora and, of course, Makuwerere.
King Isaac was born in Harare and started writing poems at the age of 14. At about the same time, the censorship of reggae was lifted in Zimbabwe when the nation attained independence in 1980. Subsequent visits to Zimbabwe by reggae stars such as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown helped to solidify King Isaac’s love for reggae music.
The young poet soon turned to writing lyrics for songs, and by the mid to late 1980s, he was singing in local reggae bands. In 1986 he recorded his first song, Simuka, a reggae piece about the liberation struggle in South Africa.
At the same time he was studying at the University of Zimbabwe and in 1987, earned a Bachelor’s degree in Economic History.
He then spent two years studying Ethnomusicology at national certificate level at the Zimbabwe College of Music.
It was at the Zimbabwe College of Music that things began to happen for King Isaac. I was a board member at the Zimbabwe College of Music in 1990 under the chairmanship of the late Ben Zulu when we decided to give Kalumbu a staff development scholarship to go and do further studies at Indiana University in America.
In January 1991, King Isaac left Zimbabwe to study at Indiana University in Bloomington, US. Although he was interested in an academic career, King Isaac also knew that a move to the US would bring him closer to Jamaica and to the reggae world at large. Upon arrival in the US, he immediately formed a reggae band named Zimbeggae (Zimbabwe + reggae).
The group performed in many venues in Indiana, focusing on both original and cover material, and King Isaac wrote and recorded several more original songs. In 1993, he earned his MA in Ethnomusicology from Indiana University. We tried to persuade him to come back to the Zimbabwe College of Music to teach. After all, we had given him the scholarship to go to America, but he would not hear any of it. He said to me: “The salaries you give at the College of Music are inadequate. They do not even pay for my taxi fare to go home.” So he remained in the US looking for better opportunities. His first visit to Jamaica culminated in his networking with many reggae artistes. He even visited the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston at 56 Hope Road. Later in 1997 he was appointed to the faculty at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, Michigan. His continuing graduate education culminated in his earning a PhD in Folklore/Ethnomusicology in 1999 from Indiana University. In October 2005, he went to Jamaica to deliver a paper which was part of his PhD thesis on the contribution of Peter Tosh to the Southern African liberation struggle at the University of the West Indies, and to perform at the international annual Peter Tosh Commemoration Concert in Kingston.
Both appearances were received with great appreciation and support.
During subsequent summers, King Isaac travelled to Kingston, where he worked with many veteran reggae artistes, including Gregory Isaacs, Leroy Sibbles, Dean Fraser and the legendary U Roy.
These recordings culminated in King Isaac’s third album, Legends of Reggae Presenting King Isaac, which contains a special appearance by South Africa’s royal ladies of song, the Mahotella Queens.
Since the release of the Legends album, King Isaac has been hard at work in the recording studio. He went back to Jamaica where he persuaded the late Gregory Isaacs to do a collaboration with him on the album, Isaacs Meets Isaac.
King Isaac and Gregory Isaacs began working together in 2005, and completed their work in July of 2009. This is the album, which was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Reggae Album for the year 2010.
This week, King Isaac, who is in town, will showcase his latest album and will deliver his finest to his ever-hungry-for-music fans in Makuwerere.
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