I will not condemn Robert Mugabe – Sizzla

HE’S no stranger to controversy, having long been used as the poster child for the exasperating ‘homophobia in reggae’ debate. And once again, much loved reggae star Sizzla Kalonji hit the headlines more recently because of a perceived affiliation with Zimbabwe’s notorious President Robert Mugabe.

The Dry Cry hitmaker spent much of 2010 in Zimbabwe, first arriving in the southern African country in the early part of the year to perform at celebrations marking the 21st February Movement (a welfare programme for the country’s youth).

The event also acted as a celebration of Mugabe’s 86th birthday, causing anger amongst many of the President’s critics, who felt that Sizzla was wrong to align himself with the man that many deem a dictator.

It is, of course, Mugabe’s land reform programme (the seizing of properties from mostly white farmers) that has drawn strong criticism internationally, most notably from former South African President Nelson Mandela, who called Mugabe’s leadership a “tragic failure.”

Nonetheless, Sizzla – who has made no secret of his ‘Africa for the Africans’ sentiments – refuses to condemn the Zanu-PF party leader, whose land reform sparked violence and chaos throughout Zimbabwe.

“I see him as one of my fathers from Africa,” Sizzla says of Mugabe. “He’s part of my nation, the black nation. In all that he’s done – whether it’s good or bad – I hope and pray that it’s for the betterment of the people.”

The Jamaican reggae star tells Davina Hamilton about his love for the motherland, as well as his love for his lady and his UK fans

WHILE Sizzla doesn’t call himself a Mugabe supporter, it’s clear that the Jamaican star supports the President’s supposed desire for black emancipation and empowerment. But with reports rife last year that the star had been given land in Zimbabwe by the country’s government, it caused many to believe that Sizzla was in allegiance with the President.

“Honestly, the government didn’t give me land,” Sizzla explains. “For me, going to Africa isn’t just about going to claim land. It was citizens of Zimbabwe that offered me land – they were like, ‘Sizzla, welcome home. Make use of this land.’ And I think it’s important that we do that. Zimbabwe is beautiful but it does need a lot of help and that requires people to get involved with farming and also to build on the land to keep the country beautiful and prosperous for future generations.

“[Mugabe] is the ruler right now and he’s an elder to me, so I’m not going to discriminate the president. I believe in repatriation and he must know what is best to make his country a better place. I just hope he continues to do what he believes is best for the people.”

One thing that Sizzla doesn’t shy away from expressing is his love for Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole. In fact, fellow reggae star Capleton expressed his excitement last year at the prospect of performing in the country, saying, “Sizzla told me a lot of stuff about Zimbabwe and I can’t wait to see it for myself.” Indeed, Sizzla is pro-Africa.

“Zimbabwe is beautiful, man. I want the world to see how beautiful all of Africa is. When I see some of the buildings and the designs and the architecture there is in Africa, it excites me to think of the beautiful future the continent could have.”

Though Sizzla was speaking to me from Jamaica, his passion for the motherland suggested that he plans to make his future stay in Zimbabwe a more permanent one.

“Africa is my home,” he says. “Jamaica is beautiful but you only have to look at our history to know that black people are from Africa. It’s only because of slavery and of course migration that we’ve ended up all over the world. But our ancestral roots lie in Africa. So it’s important to me to tell the people of the world about Africa and also to spend time in the Motherland.”

As the star lovingly lamented on the joys of Africa, it seemed almost unbelievable that this was the same man that gay rights campaigners had branded hateful and homophobic. Far from promoting any messages of hate, Sizzla seemed far more interested in spreading love. In fact, as he prepares to release the single Miss Right – his collaboration with Canadian MC Peter Jackson (see Q&A below), Sizzla was all for talking about love. It seemed only right to ask: is there a special lady in the star’s life?

“Yes, of course,” he says. “This is man and woman’s kingdom so it’s only right. It’s important to have that special lady and that’s why I was happy to make Miss Right – a song about that very topic.”

He sounds almost like an agony uncle. So Sizzla, what would you say is the secret to love and happiness?

“I would say truth and honesty. Those things are important to maintain true love and happiness.”

Well I never! Are we set to see a more romantic side to the reggae star?

“I’ve always been like this,” he laughs. “Jah is love and so I’m about love. A mother and father make love to create their child through the powers of the Almighty. So love is a natural part of life; it’s the foundation of so many things.”

So aside from promoting Miss Right, whatr else does Sizzla have planned for 2011?

“Just to continue to spread positive messages through the music. I also want to come out with a lot more in terms of merchandise. I’ve also got a magazine called The Black Magazine, as well as my label Kalonji Records. So I just want to continue concentrating on those things, as well as spreading love.”

Still, his UK fans can only hope that he’ll one day be able to spread some of that love on our shores. Having been refused a UK work visa back in 2004 – on the grounds that he promoted homophobia and that his presence in the UK could, therefore, upset public order – the singer hasn’t been back here since.

“Any time the UK government grants me my visa, I’ll come over so many times! And when me come ah England, the place ah go mash up coz Rastafari ah go come through with righteousness. But for now, big up all my UK fans. One love from Sizzla Kalonji.”

Miss Right is out on January 24 on Richmond Street Records. -Voice Online