On New Year’s Eve, while y’all were busy wilding in the night, drinking all sorts of liquors, chasing community gigs and popping all kinds of fireworks polluting the atmosphere and making it very hard for our asthmatic relatives to breathe, dancehall music chanter Winky D was doing some actual service for the nation and making history. While the later is certain, critics will live to debate it all they want whether he was doing a service or rather a disserve. Either way, Mr Wallace Chirumiko released his hotly anticipated twelfth studio album, Njema, on the crossover night at the Harare International Conference Centre.
Might I remind you, the album was unleashed on the heels of his popular love jam Mugarden featuring the country’s daughter-in-law Gemma Griffiths and is a succinct 13-track album that clocks in at just over 40 minutes. Of particular interest is that it came after unwearying calls from his fan base for new music towards the end of 2019. The campaign was so obnoxious that at its peak some fans suggested that they would rapturously embrace anything from the guy for music, even a whistle. The stans, as entitled as they were, would not give the man an option for anything less. All they wanted was something “new” from their Gaffa President, as he’s known now.
We also wouldn’t shy away from establishing that the album arrives at a time more of the Zimdancehall kingpin’s music has courted controversy between the political left and right, especially with the release of the album single, Ijipita/Canaan. His increasingly socially conscious material has landed him in a box where he’s been accused of pursing polarised politics in a bid to find relevance and clout, a case his camp has however debunked repeatedly.
There’s been a ton of news surrounding Winky and this album and several think-pieces about both. I don’t intend to rehash any of that news or think-piece this album. Frankly, I may or may not have been impressed with anybody who was able to do so, but I understand it. We all have jobs to do blaa blaa… and guess what anyone can be a music critic now, thank God for the internet. Anywho I don’t care about all that even if I’d an iota of devil-may-care caring left in me to burn; all I got out of this album was a few thoughts, some tremendously short. I will share 12 of them here even if I have plenty more.
- This album is not that bad as many opinionated critics would have like you to believe. It’s just not THAT good. It’s not that good because of its haphazard thematic placement (I tell you, hip-hop artist Sharky would have done a better job just arranging these songs, case study Take Back The Land) and Winky’s relatively lulling songwriting which many believe reached a zeitgeist on Gombwe. I will live to argue that the album being average is never about his kneejerk politicking, I don’t care about any of that in relation to the quality of the album. It’s not that good in the sense that all of the songs are trash—they’re not. There are some good-ish songs that you and I can bop to over a good drink and experience the joy of camaraderie and mutual discovery. The album is just not that good because Winky D gave in to the unrelenting pressure to put out new material and rushed to make a musically incomplete album that isn’t pleasurable listen for many reasons, chief among them that Winky D (with 12 albums under his belt) is still trying too hard to prove himself. If this album is progress scale, he might be failing at it miserably.
- Winky D’s lyrics on this album as a whole are some of the well-thought-out but still least good of his career. Although he has never been a stellar lyricist IMO, he’s remarkably average on this album. Maybe I’ve never had to pay as much attention because the music was usually good enough, even if it was scattered; but on this one right here, he is at his not-best. Lately, The Bigman, no doubt translated to the adult in the room, has shown us that he is not afraid to step outside the confines of established definitions of what constitutes dancehall music. While that often defines the definer more than the artists, Njema did less to that effect.
- Chitekete is one of the best parts of this album with remarkable storytelling. It’s weird for me, too. It could be that Nasty Trix” Kupinda Newe arpeggio mixed with Leonard Dembo iconic sh*t. Or that it is just an undeniable romantic story with a good ending. We all love a good one, don’t we?
- Do you know two people I’d never want to be in a room with talking about making music together? No? I’ll tell you: Winky D and Buffalo Souljah. The South African King of Dancehall is featured on Ndidye Mari. The song sounds like it could have gone on anything else but this album. I don’t hate the music at all, hate is a strong word. I just don’t like it. I get the impression that they put together cutoff lyrics that were left out when they made Rugare, another not-stellar collaboration between the two. Either way, Winky D reminds me of one of a guy who discovers Jesus and becomes insufferable about it. Some things are better left broken man, don’t fix them. Just another random sub-thought.
- “Siya So”, as pompous as it is, is a terrible song. This is the song that makes me feel like Winky D had nobody around him helping him, although he is notorious for creating by a committee (Jusa Dementor, Oskid, Nikky and Layaan, Jonathan Banda). I cannot be convinced that anybody heard this song until it was ready to go to mastering. Or it must have been a mere filler towards getting an LP status?
- The beat on “Bhatiri” is dope, although it tastes like it was constructed with Kudira Jecha in mind. Oskid here, not Winky, has a creative case to answer. I guess that’s why Winky D engaged more than one producer on this one… to do a bunch of sound and genre exercises. Rhythmic attention is, after all, an element of good music.
- Area 51 is overrated. I feel like fans who feel that this is the best record on the album, if anything else, are still harked back to Winky D’s extraterrestrial bohemian alter-ego that he sold us on his last album. For God’s sake man, what the heck is Area 51 and where is that place? Someplace where maverick people go to when they die? That can only make sense considering he’s talking about some dead wypipo who invented something or another. Mind you; I still don’t get why he wants to take this adventurous girl to a place full of wypipo on the same album that he is bemoaning cultural imperialism and neocolonialism (Njema, Mangerengere). Maybe, I don’t have to get everything.
- Chandelier has some interesting wordplay and truth-telling about the guy. Factcheck! There is a line in the song where he said, “Ndoshanda zvekuti unofunga kuti vamwe varipaSabbath”. Big fact! Winky D has a sick work ethic you cannot deny and he has the world at his feet right now. Although he has an incredible reputation for putting out unwatchably bad music videos for dope-ass songs (yes, except for Mugarden, Paperbag & Kudira Jecha), he appears to have remained a torchbearer of showbiz professionalism, proving that he knows the value of his craft and this has seen him being among the respected artistes. He’s positioned himself as the country’s most sought-after dancehall chanter who has earned respect among many because of his professional stance in the creative business.
- The misleading political card aside, I fully believe that Winky D believes in his embodiment as the people’s mouthpiece. To that end, I think his attempt here is a genuine one at doing what he thinks he’s been called to do. For a guy my age in Zimbabwe, the fantasy of the lives we had assumed we’d been working toward had collided with the reality of hyperinflation, assiduous economic turmoil, failed relationships, climbing rents, falling salaries, unpaid loans and being openly mocked for our failure to launch our full potential as young people. From its buildup hype, I’d hope that this album offered a safe space to a sad, effectively underpowered Zimbabwean citizen just looking for a good time while going through the shits. For the most part, it did not, and I’ll live to regret the time I wasted listening to those parts of the album. But tell you what, I will agree that Gaffa’s voice offered the most useful kind of shelter. The strong kind. Unlucky of me, it did so much less beyond that periscope.
- Disclaimer. I’ll never claim to be a staunch Winky D fan, inasmuch as I’ve love to. Not that I’ve not always been. Trust me, I’ve been but I wouldn’t want to sound like a prejudiced and polarising old-music head that tends to laud everything in the past and argues that an old Winky D will body the new Gaffa anytime, anyday. I mean I would if I want to, perhaps for the love a heated debate about music and because I have the energy to. I just feel like we should leave that conversation to junior fans who had no privilege to exist in both eras. That being established, it is hard not to fall in love with Winky D’s music, if you come from that life. Whether you understand his lyrics or vibe with his sound or not, he has a way of insinuating his way into your face with a vocal, compositional and energy skill few artists can match. Not that he does anything spectacular or grandiose; his voice is raspy but he knows well how to hit you with that borderline melody technique and some good wordplay that will make my favourite rap artist green with envy.
- Njema, just like Black Panther, was overhyped but under-delivered (a conversation for another day). The album got that Wakanda Forever kind of hype that shoved almost everyone to assume that not listening, and liking it will position you to a place where your civility was excruciatingly examined. Nevertheless, it did less to live up to the ballyhoo, sonically and conceptually. And yet the album may not be Winky D’s most memorable work ever, but it’s a worthwhile record for his thirsty-ass fans. It is a shred of clear evidence that the man is nowhere near running out of ideas and inspiration, and also that his august vocal prowess is undiminished for all the years it has sedated us.
- For the record, the album is the No. 8 album on the country’s iCharts and it could be fairly factual to say that it’s the popular album in Zimbabwe today.
That being said, thanks to everyone who made me feel like I wasn’t Zimbabwean enough for not paying attention to this album in the first place. I finally did and I’m very sleep-deprived because I imbued myself in it last night. Now, if I may, I would like to go check out Sha Sha’s new Tender Love video featuring DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small.