His parents named him Marshall Zivashe Muchenje, but he changed it to Sharky when he started out in music as a teenager. Now in his late twenties, Sharky is rapidly waning. He wants everyone to call him Soko Matemai as it is how we can identify him across social platforms.
Why an artist would author his own erasure is inexplicable, but he has his own reasons. The change, he said, was necessitated by the need to have a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) exclusivity. The Take Back The Land rapper was just tired of seeing his name appearing next to a myriad of other “Sharkys” swimming on the internet every time he googles his name. The name is so ubiquitous that it has been assumed by hundreds of brands that range from rock bands, restaurants, vacation resorts among other things.
“On Apple Music or iTunes, there are several Sharkys and when it lists popular songs by Sharky it lists some songs by me and some from other people as if they were all done by one person,” said Soko Matemai.
That did not only make it difficult to locate the Zimbabwean rapper, but it also played in his disadvantage culturally for someone whose music reads outspoken critic of cultural imperialism, hence the change.
“The rebranding was necessary, and Soko Matemai was the most painless and sensible name change because I’m already known by that name. Now if you were to google Soko Matemai, I would be the ONLY result that you will find on Google, Apple Music and iTunes,” he said.
Asked if he would have made a difference name decision at a younger age, Marshall said he would have chosen Soko Matemai without hesitation as he believes a name has to be something that transcends age.
“I can’t be a 50-year-old rapper and be called Lil Sparky. It’s gotta be a name that can work for a young and older generation,” said Soko.
In the world of entertainment with hip-hop in particular, success is contingent upon a slew of important factors like flow and delivery, versatility, consistency and stage presence, among other things. However, perhaps one of the more important factors in a rapper’s trajectory is his/her identity, whether it be the transformation of their physical appearance or adopting a whole new pseudonym. Whether they go by their true government names or something with a little more panache – it’s often as important as the music they churn out.
With artists relying more heavily on their own networks and organically cultivated audiences than record labels, many who call themselves icons or contemporary heavyweights are in fact brand moguls in charge of how they’re perceived.
Celebrated hip-hop titan Tehn Diamond recently announced that he was changing his twitter handle from his rap moniker to his government name, Tendai Ryan Nguni. The Happy hitmaker said the move was warranted by an overhaul rebranding exercise that undertakes to empower Tendai as much as Tehn.
“My stage name is still Tehn Diamond. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m just not active right now. I’m focusing on the brand of ME, mostly because there are doors Tehn can only knock on, but Tendai Ryan Nguni must open and walkthrough,” he said.
Tendai said that the Tehn Diamond brand was great for his musical endeavours and will remain there if he wants to make and release music. He said it had a significance and was balanced.
“It represents what I strive for as a lyricist and the essence of what I strive for as a person. I also love that it’s so close to my given name, the stage name Tehn Diamond is a little wordplay in and of itself before you even hear me on a track. Tendai becomes Tehn Di and the rest of it just adds the shine and ambition, the Diamond,” he said.
Nevertheless, it was “quite limiting” when he considers the depth and breadth of his ambitions as a whole. Thus, he will go by Tendai when he is making “moves and doing business”.
For him, Ryan is perfect for his professional persona as he is now a brand strategist with a burgeoning agency called Nice Life Brands + Consultancy.
“Ryan means ”Little King” and with my agency, I’m carving out my own little kingdom,” said Tendai.
From other artists we spoke to, it was clear that the reasons artists might want to change or keep their original names in pursuing their creative endeavours could be about the need to be unique, ethnicity, ease of use, relevance to the image they portray, ease of remembrance, family connections, and guild and association rules.
For some, it was for privacy reasons as they prefer to keep their private life separate from their public life. With the onset of the Internet and data overflow, some people are anxious about putting their name out there, so they might prefer using another name or a company name.
RnB singer Kevin Munetsi (sometimes stylised as KVNMNTSI), who has been going by his government name since his debut, said it was only the best thing to adopt his name and put his music under it. He said the realisation came after he had a conversation about identity with friends when he was just starting out.
“It was perfect in the sense that my music can be easily confused with any of the mainstream RnB that is out there, globally. Not to sound arrogant but often times people cannot tell that what’s playing is a record by a Zimbabwean artist unless they check the name,” Kevin said.
He added that using his name has worked in his favour as it gives local listeners a chance to celebrate him and his world-class music as “theirs”. Kevin admits that while his sound does not have a pellucid Zimbabwean stamp, it was his name that reminded the world where he comes from.
“Anyone outside Africa can identify that it’s equally great RnB, but it’s coming from the other side of the world through my government name,” he said.
In the same vein, Kelvin Before Gumbi, a seasoned expert in the arts and fashion industry in Malawi who goes by his initials KBG, said he chose his real name because he “didn’t want to be like the rest who were coming up with names that didn’t even reflect their true identity”.
“I wanted my name to reflect my character and what I am. And also because my initials sounded dope,” said KGB.
In a different circumstance, the iconic wordsmith we had for years known as Chitarisiro Chiketa aka Mc Chita is temporarily changing his name to “Zimbiyana Jones“. The No Dhiri maker said the sobriquet came from his undying love for the Indiana Jones movies. While he will continue to be recognised as Mc Chita, the rapper said the change was in line with his upcoming project, “Zimbiyana Jones and The Temple of Boom”.
Publicist and rapper Masimba Biyasi said he picked up his Dakid Verse pseudonym as he prefers to keep his private life separate from his public life.