Words by Elspeth Chimedza (Writer)
Questions by Alex Gwaze, Nonsi Tshabangu, and Elspeth Chimedza
Although it is regarded as one of the fastest growing sub genres in the Zimbabwean urban music scene, Zimdancehall has been kinda mainstream for a while. Actually, it’s so mainstream that it can be split up into three distinct categories. First of all, we could say there is the “socially poetic” side of Zimdancehall made popular by Winky D, Tocky Vibes, and Killer T. Then there is the Shinsoman, Enzo Ishall, and Uncle Epatan “party-comedic” sing-a-along aspect of the sub-genre. And finally, the more “old school eclectic” groove originated by the Decibels and Innocent Utsiwegotas. To me, the sub-genre is now an established stable – Sadza neMuriwo – and then someone played me “Munhu WeNyama” by Poptain.
Born Ameen Abduljaleel Matanga – Poptain ‘was’ one of the genre’s most underrated stars, but after a string of hits (“Fadza Mutengi”, “Ndikazvifunga”, Shumba haidye huswa”, “Freedoom”, and “Panado”), frequent collaborations, and a show stealing performance against Enzo Ishall at the One House Battle Show – Pops is now the most wanted man in the entire Zim music scene. Despite being already well-known for his versatility, intricate wordplay, cadence, and socially conscious content, it’s really on “Munhu WeNyama” that Pops started to give off his own “afro-conscious -zimreggae-dancehall” vibe. It sounds different yet familiar, so I can only categorize it as “wilderness Zimdancehall” because of its focus on the creativity of the individual, the ghetto youth lifestyle, survival, and God. With this new sound Pops has finally added that halal “nyama” to the staple and emerged as the breakout star in contemporary Zimdancehall. Between the Nash Paints Colours Booth appearance and headlining the 2020 Shoko Festival #PeaceInTheHood Concert, the happily married Zimbabwe Music Award winner had a few things to say about his journey so far:
AG: Firstly, there is a little bit of confusion with your name – Poptain. Some people mix you up with Popcaan. Why Poptain Yardbwoy? Who is Poptain? What does Poptain mean?
PT: “I guess my friend (Nuddy Nice) who gave me the name is a huge Popcaan fan <laughs> … So, he had to make a meaning around the name Poptain. But my friend gave me the name Poptain and I liked it. It can be an anagram of words giving it a broad meaning like appoint, top pain – only to mention a few. Poptain is also a name found in the Indian culture a lot”.
AG: You are a Muslim and a Dancehall artist. The two rarely go together. How do you reconcile the two worlds?
PT: “There isn’t really a conflict, but yeah man if you look at my lyrics and medz you can hear my Muslim influence. And I try to keep my conscious self as much as I can”.
NT: Zimdancehall is very popular in the high-density areas but not so much in the suburbs. Why do you think this genre connects with the ghetto youth in Zimbabwe more?
PT: “I think the social commentary gives it the relevance it carries in the high-density areas, although it’s now crossing over and has become the enjoyable sound of the nation”.
AG: You are a versatile artist and your music has an obvious Zimdancehall background but it also contains very rich Reggae, Afro-beats, and even Gospel influences. Why so many flavours?
PT: “I choose not to identify myself with a certain genre because I seek the freedom to express myself in different ways. I have also been around mixed cultures so I love to be diverse in anything I do – especially music”.
NT: People love your collaborations with Tocky Vibes, Anita Jaxson, Uncle Epatan, Boss Sakina, Allanah, and Simba Tagz – just to name a few . What’s your secret to working well with others?
PT: “I believe collaboration is key and powerful to growth so I always find it fun to work with others and as I said I have been around different cultures so I’ve learnt to blend in and it’s the same with collaborating”.
AG: Zimbabweans often quote your lyrics on social media, and critics describe you as an intricate word-smith. However, we noticed you use less Patwa and more Shona in your songs. Why is it important for you to sing in vernacular?
PT: “I believe what I stand for and represent is what draws the audience closer to my lyrics and I realized that my lyrics affect my followers in some way. So ‘Shonarising’ my music was a way to get them to understand me more”.
EC: You said once that you wanted to be a lawyer and you are labelled as the “conscience” of the new generation of Zimdancehall artists. Do you feel any pressure to be an advocate for social issues?
PT: “I believe I took the pressure already so I vow to keep at it and change more lives with my lyrics”.
EC: You spent several years cultivating your career in the underground scene and now you are one of the most sought-after artists in Zim. However, you seem to be at odds with your new found fame. How are you adjusting to being wanted?
PT: “I enjoyed being in the underground so much because it allowed me to explore anything sound wise, lyrically wise etc. – but this stage of my career is just one of the roads I have to walk on. So, I will continue being myself as I sail through my journey of achieving and conquering. I just pray the numbers keep growing and catapult me to the utmost higher levels where God ordained for the ambitious me”.
NT: During the One House Clash with Enzo Ishall, you just killed it. What tips can you share with up-and-coming artists about performing live?
PT: “I enjoy myself on the stage and I also make sure I express myself fully and give my hundred percent”.
AG: Lastly, you have been featured on ZBC TV and done several lockdown concerts. Do you want to do other things in front of the camera like acting or presenting? What does the future look like for Poptain in the entertainment industry?
PT: “I believe the future looks entertaining. I used to present on ZBC some years back and it was fun. In regards to the future, well, I am looking forward to trying out different avenues in the entertainment industry, as well as even promoting my own shows”.
FOLLOW Poptain at: https://www.instagram.com/realpoptain
<All images supplied by Poptain>