By Bongani Ndlovu
Musician Rockford “Roki” Josphats has revealed that producer, songwriter and radio personality Delani Makhalima asked him to drop trying to sound American and embrace his being Zimbabwean which was the tonic to his and peers’ success in the industry.
Roki said this opening up to Arnold “SoProfound” Chirimika on his YouTube channel during the Chamhembe Story: The Roki interview. The five-part series chronicles the rise of a movement that gave Zimbabwe the likes of ExQ, Mafriq, Stunner, Leonard Mapfumo, Tererai, Maskiri and Plaxedes Wenyika.
It was during the early 2000s when Delani, through his Step Aside Record label, saw that there was a niche market that was not being serviced.
However, according to Roki, try as they did in singing music in English emulating people in America, songs in local language were resonating with the masses.
During one of the first studio sessions after being signed by Delani, Roki said he was asked to sing for him.
“I was singing for Delani a song by Dave Hollister …. I could sing like an American, even better, so convincing that I thought that I had done the most on the song. But then Delani says ‘Ay bootie, its very nice but urikunoza. This man can speak Shona properly and he was speaking in the eloquent accent thinking that we couldn’t,” said Roki.
He said when he asked Delani what he meant he said he did not sound Zimbabwean.
“So, when I asked what he meant, Delani said I don’t sound like a person from Zimbabwe. I said isn’t that the idea…. Then he said ‘you have to write a song that your mother at home can take you back, a song that can take you back into that place.’ Now you start thinking of localising your struggle, because your struggle was competing at the international level as much as you can,” said Roki.
He said he was adamant that he was doing the right thing to make it big in the industry.
“At that time, I was a gimmick and Afro gimmick, copying what was in the industry from America trying to emulate it here. In America there was Wutang clan with U-God and Inspectah Deck. So, when you in Zimbabwe is making up a personality it got a lot of complications to you because you’re making it at the international standard that you think will compete with the person from outside,” said Roki.
He then started translating the love ballads he wrote in English into Shona; the rest was history. The Chronicle