Whenever I listen to Leonard Karikoga Zhakata’s old timeless hits like Ndinyarewo, Mwenza and Mubikira, among others, all I can do is ask myself — in utter confusion — what went wrong Baba Chamu?
A musical perfectionist whose lyrical wizardry was incomparable, Zhakata hastily climbed his way to stardom simply because his music was irresistible and of high quality.
So when I listen to this music which got him to the extent of even rivalling the late legends Leonard Dembo and Simon Chimbetu and I compare it with his last two releases, Zvangu Zvaita and Mutunga Dzose, it is so confusing that it appears the current Baba Chamu is not the one we knew in the 1990s when we were still little boys in the countryside dancing and singing along to Mugove and Nhamo Dzenyika at our dusty growth point in Musiiwa.
Having been in the industry for the past three decades, Zhakata is supposed to demonstrate how it is done to the upcoming musicians by way of producing flawless, high quality music.
Instead, he delivers a whole album of sloppy songs that sound like nothing more than a studio rehearsal.
On Mutunga Dzose, the guitars sound raw, with some lines off-tune, while Zhakata’s voice is awfully not fine-tuned.
Easy comparison can be made on the track Zvinoda Nyasha, which has generally good instrumentation, although it could be tightened further.
On this song, Zhakata makes his signature soft humming in the first lines of the song, but if you compare the quality of his voice with what he did on Gomba Remarara and Chido Ndinacho, the difference is astounding as on Zvinoda Nyasha, his voice sounds unstable and does not blend well into the instrumentation.
His voice sounds raw throughout the album and does not blend well. The sound has some unnecessary echo effects added on to it; worsened by how Baba Chamu pitches it too high, in some cases sounding more like he is about to cry.
The exception is on Madam Boss, which was produced separately by Oskid. On this song Zhakata’s voice is controlled and the instruments are tight and Progress Chipfumo and Sulumani Chimbetu who collaborate with him, all fit perfectly well.
This is perhaps why the song is a hit and is being played all over.
As a veteran, Zhakata should have been able to direct his sound to come out well, taking a leaf from the likes of Thomas Mapfumo, who personally ensures his songs are of high quality by being hands-on during the entire production process.
A little more effort and Zhakata’s album could have been the best thing in town and I always find myself failing to believe that with his experience in the music industry, he is actually content with the poor quality of songs on his albums. I do not think he is.
What makes Zhakata’s case more complicated is his allegiance to the Emmanuel Makandiwa-led United Family International Church, something that makes any criticism of his music attract a barrage of attacks from Makandiwa’s followers.
This is also so because quite many of his recent songs speak about Makandiwa and are gospel in nature, despite the fact that Zhakata’s fame came from his social commentary lyrics that rode on usually fast-paced, danceable beats, not this new, soft music that cannot be played on any serious dancefloor.
While it remains his personal choice to change the nature of his music, Zhakata could do a favour to his legions of fans by producing albums with a variety of songs to include the Mugove-type of gems.
Or he could at least produce two albums, one for his traditional followers and the other for his “new” type of followers.
An optimist, I keep my hope alive that Zhakata, whose name I always associate with the great late yesteryear musicians like Dembo, John Chibadura and Chimbetu, among others, could rise to the occasion and show once again why we should see him as a veteran.
In other words, Baba Chamu, you can do better than this crap called Mutunga Dzose.