Killer T and the ‘redefinition’ of Zimdancehall

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THERE is probably a deep-seated feeling among hardcore Zimdancehall fans that Killer T is a sell-out following the release of his long awaited third album, Mashoko Anopfura, in which the young Mbare-bred chanter went for a risky experiment in terms of sound.

By PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI

Although at face value the album sounds like a departure from dancehall, a closer listening reveals it may simply be a sub-genre as it still carries the thumbprint of the local version of dancehall.

Even the tapestry of dancehall in Jamaica has many different threads from the sound and the lyrics with international chart toppers like Sean Paul or, way back, Pliers of the Chaka Demus and Pliers combination — with classics such as Tease Me and Murder She Wrote —would have been difficult to classify as a dancehall musician. It almost sounds completely different from the more hardcore music of Jamaican dancehall king, Beenie Man.

Chances that Killer T’s refusal to be confined to just the one dominant zimdancehall sound is likely to work in his favour because almost all the emerging chanters sound the same. By choosing to move away from the original hardcore sound, Killer T has given his new work a cross-cut appeal that is likely to win him more fans, especially among the mature.

This is however an experiment for which fellow chanter Tocky Vibes paid a huge price and had probably never been able to rise again to his former glory.

Killer T explores a broad range of musical sub-genres from an afro-centric traditional sound associated with “mapostori” in Kufamba kwaPaurosi and the Zimbabwe traditional rites of summoning the ancestors in Rovai Makuva. The latter is a call back to the source in which a child is instructed to approach the elders and learn the rituals of summoning ancestral pirits in the face of drought.

Killer T’s craftsmanship shows strongly in his composition prowess, with the songs such as the opener, Rudo Ibofu, in which he seeks to explore the mystery of love and how it often blinds people to certain realities for which they end up paying a huge price.

One of the inescapable characteristics of Zimdancehall — whether it is Winky D or Soul Jah Love — is an obsession with the self and blowing one’s trumpet. Killer T adopts the same trajectory in MuGame, in which he celebrates his staying power and having ridden over all the storms that arise in the cutthroat music industry where pretenders to the throne easily fall by the wayside.

Kufamba kwaPaurosi is a banger. With its traditional apostolic feel and a rhythm tailor-made for the dancefloor, it is likely to be one of the most popular tracks from this new album. It is a gospel track in which the persona cries out to God for deliverance.

This has become a trademark with Killer T, with his every album carrying at least one gospel track. You find Ndinotenda Mwari and Makandinyararidza off Ngoma Ndaimba and Bvunza Tinzwe respectively. In this latest offering, he also picks up the thread in the song Everyday. He however, takes a new approach in which he expresses gratitude to God for the gift of music despite the negativity associated with Zimdancehall. It is a gangster’s prayer in which he credits his success to God as music has opened doors that would have remained locked for him.

The combination with the highflying Jah Prayzah on the track, Tiwirirane, can only have been inspired by the gods — in terms of the composition, the melody and the lyrics. The piece also carries a traditional feel that had become the hallmark of a much earlier Jah Prayzah steeped in the music traditions of his people. The song is a call to unity, to the laying down of arms.

For those familiar with Killer T’s upbringing, Hondo Yenzara, could be a slice from his own life, an ode to orphans that often find themselves alone after all those that pledged to look after them at their parents’ funeral have disappeared into thin air.

Ndamuda is a beautiful love song, a throwback to the golden era when the likes of Nicholas Somerai with his love anthem Mudiwa Wangu and Balt and Bert of the Patakadanana fame were the rage of the moment.

The new offering shows how Killer T, in his serious moments, is hard-hitting in delivering priceless life lessons while the title track, Mashoko Anopfura, speaks of the negativity of backbiters and the persona’s dare to those bent on breaking him down by their words.

Speaking ahead of the album launch on April 6, Killer T’s manager, Kudzai Biston, said: “The main message on this offering is that bad words will pass hence the title Mashoko Anopfuura. In life, people might say negative stuff but these words pass. What remains is you and your objectives and it is critical to ensure that you do not hold on to the negative sentiments — let them pass.”

Other songs on the album include Handigumbuke, Magitare, Tamba Navo, Waidongorera, Huyai and Handigumbuke.

While Killer T celebrated five years in music last year duirng an event , were thousands of fans and fellow chanters came in support, the latest album demonstrates he has matured with age like vintage wine.

He was quoted in the Press recently saying he never saw this day coming — not even in his wildest imagination.

“I used to operate kombis plying Mbare-City and I never knew that I have this talent until I tried my luck,” he reflected. “I started music with the aim of passing time but it later turned into a profession after I realised that ghetto youths were being entertained by my songs.”

Incorporating top producers in the mould of PTK, Oskid, and DJ Tamuka will definitely pay dividends for him as the new album — which is miles ahead of its predecessor Bvunza Tinzwe — demonstrates that while form may be temporary, class is permanent.