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Bald head, beard just a trademark: Nicholas “Madzibaba” Zakaria

By Tafadzwa Zimoyo

Two weeks ago, social media went agog after award-winning sungura giant Nicholas “Madzibaba” Zakaria posted a picture of himself standing in his plot, posing with a thriving tobacco crop.

Madzibaba Zakaria at his farm
Madzibaba Zakaria at his farm

Many people were not only surprised that the musician was a farmer.

Zakaria proved that although art was business, there was room for one to venture into other projects to sustain livelihood, especially during these hard times of Covid-19.

Artistes are urged to have alternative sources of income.

A lot has been written and said about Zakaria — who is affectionately known as Madzibaba in music circles — but not much is known about his family, farming business and religion.

The Herald on Saturday Lifestyle visited the left-handed lead guitarist at his Seke Unit A home where he was in a jovial mood, celebrating the arrival of his grandchild.

Donning in a blue-and-white spot-dotted shirt, relaxing in the lounge with his wife Magareth Gweshe, who was holding granddaughter Mikaylah, as he sipped a cup of maheu which he said was his favourite, Zakaria opened up on his life.

He pointed out that his bald head and beard were his trademark and had nothing to do with religion.

“Most people confuse my hairstyle and beard with being an apostolic sect member and this is worsened with my moniker Madzibaba,” said Zakaria.

“Now I am used to that, but the truth of the matter is that I am no longer a ‘mupositori’, but I attend His Grace International Ministries Church. The baldness and beard is now my trademark, just like any artiste who can choose whatever style they want to go with.

“I am no longer a member of the apostolic sect, but when I joined the church at some stage in my career, the majority of my followers and the majority of Zimbabweans got to know and just like my churchmates then, they all addressed me as Madzibaba Zakaria and that name became a household name.

“The fact that my music has got a gospel inclination also made it stick even more and few could make the differentiation, hence the name Madzibaba Zakaria stuck.

“I don’t have any problems with that because some call me Madzibaba, some Senior Lecturer and some Professor.”

Zakaria said he believes in the Bible.

“I move around with my Bible in my car,” he said.

“At home, I usually do afternoon devotion and virtual Bible study. That is why you are seeing this Bible next to me. So far, it keeps me going and occupied apart from being in the studio or at the farm.”

For someone who was born on April 5, 1956, the Senior Lecturer looks fairly young and full of life.

“I have three children — Matthew, Trish and Felix and now I have grandchildren,” he said.

“My family lives a private life, that is why a lot is not known about them. It is me the celebrity father.”

Many have achieved greatness in their chosen career paths, but have lacked the pedigree to sustain that success overtime because of limited staying power and professional tact.

Zakaria said while talent can take one places, it is strategy and focus that sustain and keep you relevant.

The sungura godfather, who celebrated 46 years in the music industry and a further 38 years of leading the trailblazing sungura outfit Khiama Boys early this month, is one such tale of a game-changer who has weathered the storm in a music career spanning close to half a century.

Like good wine, he continues to mature with age and believes he has a lot to offer in the music industry.

“I am grateful for life and the milestones I have achieved over the years,” said Zakaria.

“Life wasn’t easy when I started off on this career path and I had little hope of becoming a name in the industry let alone earning a living from my talent.

“A lot has come my way in terms of achievements and recognition, but I believe even more is coming, especially now. The journey had its fair share of highs, but I thank God for the breakthrough and career rewards to date.

“I have earned a living from this career, nurtured and inspired local talent and played my part in the fight for a gender-just society through my music and active participation in programmes that fight for the emancipation of women.

“I may not have it all, but the Lord has been merciful and I am even more encouraged by the recognition that is coming my way during these later stages of my career.”

Zakaria, known for his penchant to nurture talent, boasts of 28 albums under his belt.

He said character, faith, talent and professionalism were the cornerstones of his success and is happy to have carved a niche in the local music industry.

“The music industry is one awash with challenges and various temptations that can easily sway you from your goals,” he said.

“It takes a lot of character and determination to rise and stay on top amid all those complexities, but I am one person with strong faith and character and that has helped me stay resolute even when it’s easier to stumble.

“As celebrities, we are prone to so many pitfalls and it’s not easy to steer off all these. For some, it’s women and for some it’s drugs and substance abuse, but I thank God that I have been able to circumvent these, thanks to my character and strong faith.”

Zakaria said his new interest in farming was good for his creative mind and helped him invest in a good future.

“There is something magical about working the land and seeing the plants grow and thrive out of it,” he said.

“For me, it aides my creative mind as a musician.

“This is why I support the allocation of land to productive black farmers and I am happy that I have also embraced farming not only as an extra-curricular activity, but an investment for my future.

“I have a plot in Mvurwi which I hope to extend given my current engagements with local authorities. My plan is to go full-scale into commercial tobacco farming and now that I have explained how the name Madzibaba Zakaria came, I am sure my followers will not be confused by this new venture.

“I know the benefits of productive farming for me as an individual and for the nation as a whole and I am working on some financial investment into this venture with my corporate partners. I want to be a model farmer.”

A fond lover of traditional foods, Zakaria said eating healthy and staying off drugs and other substances kept him in shape over the years.

“I am very particular about what I eat and on a good day I love sitting down to a nice home prepared traditional meal with my family,” he said.

“It’s not every meat I eat because of my tradition and faith, but I am very fond of traditional meals that are rich in nutrients that nourish the body.

“At 65 I look fairly younger than some of my age mates who have wasted away to drugs and substance abuse and I thank God for preserving me.

“I am doing my best to watch my health, but I am even more grateful that God is keeping me.”

With the Covid-19 induced lockdown hitting most artistes hard, Zakaria misses the stage and connecting with his fans through live shows.

He called for patience and caution as authorities seek a way round public performances.

“The Covid-19 threat is real and we have lost many lives to this pandemic,” said Zakaria.

“It has been a tough time for most musicians because we take our earnings from the live performances.

“We, however, respect measures taken by the Government to control the spread of this virus. I miss the stage and connecting with my fans, but life is important and we are better safe than sorry.

“We recommend on-going engagements between arts stakeholders and the Government in seeking a solution to this stalemate.”

Zakaria, who recently got Living Legend Lifetime Achievement recognition at the National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) after walking away with a consecutive Best Sungura Award at the Zimbabwe Music Awards (ZIMA) in February, thanked the various art players who are providing a platform for artistes amidst the lockdown induced limitations.

Asked about his most successful protégé, Alick Macheso, Zakaria was all praises and said he was happy to have been a part of Macheso’s early career days.

“Alick is a student who dwarfed the master and I am really proud of his exploits,” he said.

“I am a person of strong faith and I believe it is by God’s design that we got to work together. Besides being brothers, given that our mothers are sisters, we laid the foundation of the Khiama Boys brand together and I am happy that he went on to set up his own Orchestra Mberikwazvo which excelled well.

“The quality of a teacher is often times depicted in the quality of students he or she churns out and I am really happy that many of the artistes I have nurtured from the yesteryear crop like Amon Mvula and the late System Tazvida as well as the younger crop like Simon Mutambi are doing well.”

Zakaria said while he was above competition given his stature and poise, he was happy with the creative edge in the industry.

“I am happy with the innovation, creative edge and competition that the music industry is witnessing, particularly given the dynamism as we seek to compete on the regional and global market,” he said.

“This is good for the industry and we must all fight to take our music to the world.

“On the business side of things, I am also happy that I have turned professional and that has helped my brand become formidable and attractive enough. I am not one to give up easily; my determination has carried me through the highs and lows of my career and I don’t see myself looking back.”

With everything pointing to a positive turn after signing a branding deal with a multi-award winning brand management and advertising agency, Esteem Communications, in late 2019, Zakaria is upbeat about the future.

He was happy to be working with various brands while pursuing other interests like farming, as he plans for his future.

“After many years of producing hits and nurturing local talent, I still felt something was lacking in my career, especially given how dynamic the music industry has become,” said Zakaria.

“New sounds are emerging and the game has really evolved, hence the need for a new way of doing things if one is to stay relevant.

“I then consulted with my team and we decided to engage a professional brand management agency to handle our corporate affairs and guide our strategic direction. This gave birth to the business marriage with Esteem Communications, a brand management company under the aegis of Takemore Mazuruse in 2019 and we are happy with how things have turned around for us since then.

“From what I have gathered now, music is a business and it involves a lot of tact beyond music production and live performances. You must be visible and easy to work with professionally, an attribute which is lacking in many music outfits.

“There is too much bureaucracy and even a basic business engagement with some musicians is difficult, which is actually counter productive. As Khiama Boys we have seen a great improvement in our online presence, corporate engagements and the general style of management in our band.

“We have the band manager handling day to day running of affairs, but our corporate affairs and all public relations issues are handled by Esteem Communications which makes us one of the most easily accessible and professional music brands in Zimbabwe.”

A check on the musician’s social media handles like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram proved that he is doing well in his digital marketing, while the various brands that now associate with Khiama Boys range from finance and agriculture, home décor companies, construction companies, car dealerships, hotel and tourism industry giants, gender rights organisations, as well as the banking sector.

Zakaria, who is working on his 2021 studio album, shared plans to produce more videos following the success of his golden oldie Zomvelamvela video launched last year.

“We have exciting plans in place and we are not stopping,” he said.

“Our 2021 album is currently underway and we are promising fans a production they will cherish for generations to come. A look at our yesteryear hits like Mabvi Nemagokora, Ndine Mubvunzo, Kubva Kure, Tsamba, Mazano and Zomvelamvela, to name a few, bears testimony to this claim.

“We are also working on plans for more videos to the old and new songs so that our fans and followers can better connect with our brand and music. Once the situation allows, we will also scale up the Executive Sungura Nights with Madzibaba concept where we intend to cater for the upmarket and executive clientele in the right environments like hotels and upmarket venues fit for business and pleasure.

“We have already worked on this concept with our brand managers.”

Zakaria, who owns a number of properties and stands in Chitungwiza, Harare and Norton, said he had plans to start construction of his Nicholas Zakaria Arts Centre after he got 4 000 square metres of land from Chitungwiza Town Council.

“I thank God for all that I have acquired, but my wish is to bequeath a meaningful legacy in the form of an arts centre complete with a recording studio, rehearsal rooms, training halls, concert facilities, business offices, banking halls, and other recreational facilities,” he said.

“Chitungwiza Town Council offered me the 4 000 square metres of land for this arts centre and I am happy that one of my partners, Lonestar Construction and Engineering, is already done with the drawings and plans for this centre.

“It’s an imposing investment which will bring business and employment to locals and I am calling on partners and sponsors that want to support this venture to join me.” The Herald

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