Posturing music superstar Soul Jah Love, real name Soul Musaka, who has died aged 31, etched his own niche as a Zimdancehall culture driver.
A versatile chanter and an ingenious, scene-stealing performer admired for his work across genres, he will always be remembered for his distinctive, experimental and creative musical discography which has won praise, accolades (even so withering criticism) for many critics and fans.
Although he is known for his dancehall vibe, he also produced songs in other genres. He had Afropop hits, reggae show-stoppers, and killer sungura collaborations in various song charts. His well-thought-out lyrics earned him many fans across the country and demography such that even the late legend Oliver Mtukudzi was a stan of his, despite his eccentric character.
He was also loved for his palpable thrill in live performance, a quality that allowed him to tour relentlessly for several years without losing his grin of startled gratitude as he ambled on to the stage. Well, not all the time, but that’s almost entirely beside the point. His influence on fashion, music, and pop culture in general remains as his legacy–along, of course, with his unforgettable music.
Undoubtedly, he is one of the handful of artists with the most hits in Zimdancehall and at some point was by far the most dominant artist in the genre. During his cruelly curtailed career, he proved himself capable of chanting the toughest of roots-to-top, rags-to-the-riches and urban tunes while still making an impact on the pop world. Street-wise sophisticated, ebullient, energized and never giving less than his best, his music may have been hummed by housewives and schoolkids countrywide, but they were slices of the Mbare/Sunningdale life and culture.
As noted by the good friend Leroy Dzenga in his 2018 piece ‘Behold the twins from hell’, on his come up the whirlwind that was Sauro stole “the light from its usual custodians leaving them in a darkness so dark that one could even touch it”. At his prime, he “enjoyed an unfettered run dominating the airwaves with his songs”, having historically defenestrated his chief nemesis and come-up buddy Seh Calaz and other contemporaries.
His approach was far rawer and more electric. It was like he knew he had only a couple of minutes to express his feeling, and he was going to make damn sure he did.
He was the master of his art, but that didn’t make up for his deficiencies as a troubled human being and leader of the new school fighting vis-à-vis entertaining and celebrating numerous demons. He had a career full of moments where he shows up and shows out in ways that diminished so much to his character or showbiz repertoire, and my other great friend Kennedy Nyavaya of the Standard Newspaper solemnly and invariably (here, here, and here) cautioned him of the bigger picture and not to self-destruct.
While he continued to cut cultural records full of ideas and fire, his music subsequently lost substance as it appears he was regurgitating variations of the same song/theme with the same meaning time after time as his utilisation of extraneous substances culminated.
It became a gimmick and a money ploy that, woefully, did not work.
An undertaking to reinvent and update his style for God-knows-how-many-times by running into the arms of Passion Java did less to quite recapture his success, though he remained popular as a live act.
Now having proved that Zimdancehall had massive national potential, he is gone. He packed so much into his brief life – but his energetic best was just a hint of what he might have achieved, had he tried harder to become a better leader; had he tried better to live.
He was just that kind of talent that moved the needle when he was on screen or on stage. I’m not sure he quite got his flowers while he was here, since his personal traits and life-path mostly turned many of us off. But since I personally know how invested I am in Zimbabwean showbiz and art and how familiar I am with his lifestyle, I wanted to make sure to give him his proper flowers.
It says something substantial about his talent. I can hear him in his music and see him in each video he starred in. He was present and mattered, and when given the chance, he took the ball and ran with it. That’s a life of note.
Rest in Power, Soul Jah Love. You were amazing, you were Naka Dhula Dhaka. It’s sad that you made a delicacy that you did not live to enjoy.
#enthuse has created Deezer playlist to pay tribute to Zimbabwe’s favourite bad-boy. Stream it here.