In his 1996 book Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggested that “of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfilment we all hope to get in our lives.” From this understanding, we get the notion that creativity allows us to stretch out minds, do new and exciting things and engage ourselves in a way that takes us one step closer to reaching our full potential. It works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways.
Creative thinking, however, is a stable defining characteristic in some personalities, but may also change based on situation and context. So, what is it exactly that makes a person creative? Are some people just born that way, or is it a skill that one can develop much like a muscle? How do they create and what’s that process like? What drives them and do they really care about what people think or say about them?
#Enthuse Asks’ creative questionnaire is an interview featuring eight questions for five different creatives where they answer some of the enigmatic queries above, in their own creative understanding. In this edition, we talk to Huby Blakes (Afrotrap artist), Vusa Blaqs (music video director), Progress Nyandoro (fine artist & photographer), MJ Sings (Afrosoul sensation), and Mellow Creme (hip-hop soul artist).
1. How would you like to be referred to as?
Huby Blakes: The blueprint of African rap.
Vusa Blaqs: The most revolutionary music video director that ever was in Zimbabwe. The one who opens doors for musicians and artists to be seen on the regional map and globally. I’m talking about your Trace Africa, Channel O. Like the first person to actually supply content to the regional market on a regular basis and one who opens doors for other cats in the industry. I want to be known as the Renaissance man, a leader or a pioneer in terms of music videos being seen across the country.
MJ Sings: The Prince of Soul.
Progress Nyandoro: Nice person. Artist. Miss cool.
Mellow Creme: Mellow Creme.
2. What would you say your recent work is about?
Huby Blakes: Shekeda is about the ghetto dance culture regardless of the hardships they face on a daily basis.
Vusa Blaqs: My recent work or new stuff that’s coming up is about redefining myself. It’s about setting new standards. I did set a standard and young people are now catching up to it, but I feel like it’s my responsibility to set up another standard.
MJ Sings: My recent work is entitled Ngisizeni. It’s a message and story based on tackling gender-based violence.
Progress Nyandoro: It’s a mixed media painting on paper which portrays a man touching his head in despair. The inspiration came after I met a young man at a Harare prison, and he gave me a brief of his life story and how he got into prison. He’s always put on a worried face. It exhibited at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.
Mellow Creme: Single called One Kiss.
3. Can you discuss the various influences on your work?
Huby Blakes: As I’m the voice of the people, I do social commentary. So, mostly it’s ghetto stories, then the stuff I love…parties, clubbing, travelling and love.
Vusa Blaqs: I’m influenced by the Zimbabwean story, the rich tapestry of our cultures as Zimbabweans and Africans. I’m also influenced by pioneers like Clarence Peters, Dave Myers, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher but the biggest influence I have is my own drive to see Zimbabwe on a bigger playing field. Not just playing in Africa, I want to see Zimbabwean artists playing in a bigger field, and I want to be the driving force behind it. I want to contribute to the growth of the music industry in Zimbabwe. I want to be the backbone. So, I’m influenced by growth, what I have seen before but most of all, I’m influenced by the future.
MJ Sings: The biggest influence on my recent work was CHANGE. I want to be the change we want to see in the world and the first step was standing up against barbaric actions.
Progress Nyandoro: On my visual art, I do multimedia and photography. I work with the theme, “Wheel of Life” that includes stories of conflict, social life activities, politics and personal emotions. My body of work is into mixed media painting of found objects and fabric material and photographic works printed on recycled paper.
Mellow Creme: I’m multi-hyphenate and lately, I’ve been doing private live nude drawing session mixed with my music and poetry. Love and Relationships in an African community is my main influence.
4. Can you describe what was going on in your life as you created your recent/latest work?
Huby Blakes: As I spent most of my November time in the ghetto I grew up in throwing parties I just got inspired with the love and dance culture which I just thought of documenting so that I can show people how we as ghetto youths hold it down.
Vusa Blaqs: I have come to a point where I realised that times are changing, so are people’s preferences. There is a need for me and my team to step up and create more compelling and innovative work. So, it’s more about innovation because I’ve always felt like the underdog anyway. I know that there are people who create better stuff than me. What always goes on in my life as I create new work is that I look at the landscape and see what I can do better there and some of my work is inspired by my real experiences of which there is so many I can’t even point it. Usually, it’s a composite of my emotions, what I’m going through at the time as a person such that I harness all that emotions to create my next work. As an emotive human being, I decided to draw on my emotions and things that affect me to always bring answers to the universe using my work.
MJ Sings: Before creating Ngisizeni, I had an interesting heartfelt conversation a few months back with a lady who is a survivor of rape and abuse. She opened up about how scared she had been to tell the world about what she had gone through. When she finally did, instead of getting the support she needed, she was treated as if it was her fault. Because of his stature, people did not believe the perpetrator could have done what she said he did. This got me worried and had me thinking about how many victims who have bottled in their pain, in fear of discrimination from loved ones. So, I decided to pen it down but I intended to write it for Vusi Nova but his record label showed less interest in the song.
Progress Nyandoro: I also have a passion for acting. So, by the time of my recent work I had a film shooting in the areas like prisons and I had to act as one of the women inmates on a drama. Since I explore such stories in my work, I found it easy to me to take down notes on my diary of what I have heard and seen at such environments as I got to meet with prisoners who told me their different stories.
Mellow Creme: Pushing the boundaries of storytelling. I wanna be memorable and legendary.
5. What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your work, what you do by reviewers or critics?
Huby Blakes: People categorising my music an Alternative sound. This happened with the ZimHipHop Awards board which led me to boycott the award show for good. If they don’t know the type of music I make, why don’t they ask me? Not calling my sound an Alternative because according to me there’s nothing as that in my music.
Vusa Blaqs: I usually welcome everything that’s being said about me because that makes me a well-rounded character. That brings an element of humanity into my image. I like to have all my faults known to the landscape that I play on so that I’m not surprised by all the words that people use to describe me. I’ve no problem with people coming up with different opinions about me because that is the nature of creativity. You can never have an absolute image. People will always have an opinion about you and will always have something to say about what you do. It may be negative according to you, or it could be positive. As long as people are talking about me, as long as people are coming up with words to describe me and my work, I’m happy. That’s what I’m looking for…a platform to express myself. And once you expose yourself to the world to say this is what I do, this is what I’m working on, and you have to be ready to accept what people have to say about it. We are creatives and everything we will do is not going to be the people’s favourite. I’m not really concerned about what people say about me and I’m not in a position to actually correct people and say, “Well I’m not like that,” because people are like that. They interpret everything you do, say the way you act, dress, the way you’re in a way that suits their own perceptions. So we can’t be mad at that. I also have my perceptions about different people, and it’s a freedom that I cannot give up because that makes me who I’m.
MJ Sings: “Can you sing in a language we all understand,” and “I hate that you are standing for homosexuals too,”.
Progress Nyandoro: Sometimes people who don’t understand the value of what I do comes with discouraging words to let me down. Some usually say art is for idle strollers, vagrants, loafers, tramps, and some other people comes with withering art criticism with words to hurt but built me to improve the way of doing my work.
Mellow Creme: Because I’ve been in advertising for 2 decades and a trained graphic designer I hate being put in that box each time I present my music and drawings. I hate when people say my music sounds western when the West actually borrows from Africa. Hip-hop was influenced by African sounds and poetry.
6. If you could choose a career besides what you’re doing now, what would it be?
Huby Blakes: I’d do fashion designing because I’m really crazy in love with fashion. I’m trying to do it now as well, unfortunately, music is taking most of my time.
Vusa Blaqs: I’ve never thought that far because I love what I do. What I do consumes me. It’s something that I think about every time. I’ve not left any room for anything else that I could do. This is what I have committed my life to and there is nowhere I can ever pull myself away from this. I think I’m safe where I’m. Different opportunities are always going to avail themselves as I go. The higher I go, the better I see but I’m always going to stay on this lane, on my lane until something else reveals itself and it will be based on my ability, things that I know I’m capable of doing or it can be a challenge but still within the same lane that I’m working on.
MJ Sings: I would definitely be into Marketing. I literally can get something that has no value and turn into a money stream. I guess numbers have always been my second love.
Progress Nyandoro: I don’t think I have got anything to choose besides art because art is like my other part of life. I can’t leave it or do something that will cause a distraction to my creativity.
Mellow Creme: I’m an all-round creative so that’s a tough question but I’d say acting.
7. What craft elements do you think are your strong suit, and what would you like to be better at?
Huby Blakes: I’m a very good songwriter, rapper and live performer. I’d really like to be better in my singing.
Vusa Blaqs: It’s emotions, basically managing to do something that evokes different emotions within my audience. I think I’m good at influencing people to feel a certain way. I like to make people feel things because I feel like feelings are a part of us that we cannot control, they make you decide things impulsively and as an artist you want people to decide impulsively so that they can buy into your work and they can appreciate things that you think about in your dreams. When it comes to what I would like to be better at, probably breaking into new territories that I haven’t been exposed to. I feel like I should study more of the African culture and not be confined to the Zimbabwean landscape, even though the Zimbabwean landscape has been sustaining me for a couple of years. I feel like as an artist operating in Africa, I should be able to work anyway in Africa like Nigeria, Ghana Egypt. I mean I should have Africa’s pulse. I should know what Africa thinks, what she’s trying to achieve from whichever part of her… Madagascar, Kenya, Mozambique to every part. I feel like I should spread myself to those territories.
MJ Sings: In the century we are in right now as artists, the biggest skill we have to invest and work on is now production. The more independent you are now, the more you thrive.
Progress Nyandoro: My strength is in drawing, painting and photography. I wish to have collaborative teamwork with local and international artists and engage in ideas to raise the standard on our works and to make our creativity marketable.
Mellow Creme: Writing is my strength, and I’d like to improve my vocal range and strength.
8. How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you do or what you have to say about anything?
Huby Blakes: As humans, we always have different opinions on different stuff. Music is an art and in any piece of art, you are allowed to see or to have a different meaning from the original. I believe criticism is healthy for progress.
Vusa Blaqs: My work comes from an honest place, and it is honest. One of the people that have not fantasised about the West, about what we see on TV. In a way, I don’t regurgitate anything. I always try to keep it as authentic as raw as possible because I feel like a lot of stories about our culture, our way of life, and our aspirations as Africa and a Zimbabwean people haven’t been told. So there is no need to always confirm on anything that we have watched on TV. To even emphasise on that, I don’t even own a TV even though I can afford to have 5 TVs. That’s because I do not want to be influenced by anything that I see that’s already been produced. I want to be influenced by real-life stories of people that I meet being real to me, of situations that I come across, of cultures that I’m blessed to engage with throughout Zimbabwe and Africa. There are more stories to be told than the completely artificial, superficial stories we see hyped-up on TV. What makes me unique is, I keep my stories based on real people, experiences, unfiltered emotions and there is nothing artificial about what I do. Of course here and there I’ve to fuse a bit on international identity especially when I work with genres like RnB and hip-hop but the bulk of my work I base everything I do on Africa and Zimbabwe, on real people and raw emotions.
MJ Sings: If you are a lover of authentic, storytelling music then MJ Sings music is the one for you.
Progress Nyandoro: I address issues that are embedded in our Zimbabwean societies, and I try to express it through different forms of art when creating pieces of work that’s easily understandable by viewers. I also alert people on bad habits that we are adopting, societal rampant like abuse, women oppression, and corruption.
Mellow Creme: Nina Simone once said that it’s the responsibility of the creative to reflect the times and that is why we know history from the work of the artists of that time. I choose Love and Relationships because I’m fascinated by human interaction. With the diaspora growing every second, the gap between our roots and the ‘modern’ world has grown and as we are all in the same global village there’s a huge culture shock that has affected relationships and how we relate to each other. I write about that.