How long is long enough?
Words by Alex Gwaze (Curator)
Questions by Alex Gwaze and Joanne Peters (Image Coach)
“You cannot rush success; when it’s your time to shine, it’s your time to shine!” – and for musician Nicky Genius his time has finally come. For over a decade the Kuwadzana-bred Norman Chipfumbu (Nicky Genius) has been skating around the mainstream harnessing his skills working with the likes of Andy Muridzo, Poptain, Dovey Magnum and Alkaline. However, it’s his work with one of Zimbabwe’s GOATs, Winky-D, that changed Nicky’s career.
Nicky’s production on Winky-D’s 2020 hit song “Chanderlier” caught the ear of US based record label Golden Generation who immediately signed the producer to their label. Since then the producer has become a fully fledged artist releasing his first EP, “Feelings”, in early 2021. The EP confirmed what everyone who has ever worked with Nicky knew – that is, Nicky is more than a beat maker, his a visionary. His vision is exhibited in the EP’s smash hit “Sonono”. “Sonono” exemplifies the ‘vibey’ mid-tempo beats and the ‘chilled-out’ verses that Nicky has come to be known for, as well as Nicky’s take on Afrofusion. Afrofusion is a genre made famous by Burna Boy and it involves blending all the sounds that have emerged from Africa (on “the Continent” and in the diaspora).
While Zimbabweans have always been known for Afro-Jazz, Afro-Pop, Tribal House, Sungura and Traditional music, embracing all the African sounds is a new direction for a breakout artist. Oftentimes new artists in Zimbabwe turn to the Americas or South Africa for their musical cues. Therefore, Nicky’s decision to focus on African sounds prompted us to chat with him about his musical choices, his career so far, and his forthcoming debut album.
AG: So tell us about Nicky Genius. What does the name mean to you because for me the “Genius” part makes me feel like you are going to drop some scientific or conscious bars, but you talking about “feelings” and “maramba doro” in your music?
NG: (Laughs) Funny story … the name Nicky Genius, started way back in school. When I was a kid, me and friend used to write Nicky Genius on the wall in every class. I always liked the dictionary and I grew up believing I could achieve anything I put my mind to, so the name stuck. I might not be dropping complex bars but the name Genius to me is all about adopting the right mindset for success and originality. That to me is what puts the Genius in my name.
JP: You seem to have come out of nowhere but you been around for almost ten years now. Please tell us a bit about how you got started?
NG: It’s always good to been seen as a newcomer when your roots run deep. It means you are bringing something fresh to the scene (laughs). But to answer your question – yes, I have been around since 2012. At that time, when I started as artist, I recorded my first track called “Vakandimaka”. I had to stop recording because the studio fee was too much for me so I had to do some more ‘hustling’ to make it happen. Part of my hustle was to focus more on learning music production. And by 2014 I had made so many ‘riddims’ for different studios it got to the point that that I would exchange the credit (the money the studios owed me for beats) for studio time. You know, there is more than one way to get through the door.
AG: So you are first and foremost a music producer. That kind of explains your eclectic mix of Afrobeatz, ZimDanceHall and Hiphop. What are your musical influences?
NG: Honestly I am inspired by any type of good music. If it is good I’ll will like it! As for my own style, it’s a mixture of Afrofusion and other continental sounds. There is just something about that African sound that just feels right for me as an artist. And if you look around, Africa is finally regaining it’s place in popular culture. It’s no longer that ‘world’ music genre – it’s in other popular genres like Hiphop, House, DanceHall and Grime.
AG: I think the spread of African sounds is due to digital softwares like Fruity Loops and Pro Tools. However, there are a lot of musicians who have perfected their studio game but sound horrible live. Why are so many artists more concerned with making singles than perfecting their live performances – which earn them real money?
NG: Digital markets are more visible to some because almost everyone who could buy your song has a phone. I think that’s why people focus on streams and a social media presence. It cuts your marketing costs and your consumers can access your music directly from your page. Plus there is COVID that’s making it hard to perform live. But you are right performing live is the greatest source of ‘real’ money but it also requires more work on yourself as an artist and more collaboration. Some people are not ready for that kind of work and want to be known fast. Either way, digital markets are leading because digital technology equalizes some of the barriers of creating music and building an audience.
JP: Another way artists are attracting an audience is through ‘beef’. Lately there has been this ZimHipHop versus ZimDancehall debate that has been fueled by the Enzo Ishall versus Holy Ten beef. I have never really understood why African music (Hiphop or Dancehall) always has to be a contact sport. In your opinion, how important is this kind of competition in the industry?
NG: Personally I love competition, it sharpens the mind. And this kind of competition of artist’s from different genres opens doors for different types of sounds. And it solidifies the music industry. For example, ZimHiphop artists are now aware competition can come from anywhere, because it’s all music. These genre divisions are man made.
AG: For me, I think competition amongst peers is normal, even when it is not made a public affair. It breeds better writing. In your opinion, what are the most important elements of good lyrics?
NG: Yes, all artists are secretly competing with each other and most of the time that competitive energy is directed at the writing process. So I don’t want to give away all my secrets but let me just say the best lyrics come from the idea itself. When you are writing lyrics you should visualize the story in your head. This helps you to focus on painting the picture you want your audience to see.
AG: This brings me to a very important question. In terms of the whole Creative Arts industry, meaning film, art, music, writing, modelling and more. How do you think we can grow and improve together? Right now I feel there are just individuals and cliques but nothing we can call an industry, would you agree?
NG: It boils down to one simple factor – to make the whole Zimbabwean Creative Arts industry work we have we need to first accept each other’s relevance to big picture. The industry is not one trend or one group. So people need to be aware of all the parts of the industry and how they feed into each other and the need for variety. Variety is the fuel for the growth of the industry.
JP: I’m interested in knowing what three Zimbabwean artists define the Creatives Arts for you, and why?
NG: The whole Creative Arts industry? That’s too much, let me stick to music. In music I like Winky-D because the message in his songs is good and I like his cadence. And he never disappoints his loyal fan base. Plus, he is great both live and on his records.
JP: Right now it’s hard to be a musician especially with Covid-19 safety restrictions. But everyone has their own challenges. What’s the worst part about being a musician, for you?
NG: I think the hardest part is breaking through as a new artist. No matter how much you pushing your music, especially in this pandemic, its hard to have a breakthrough as a new artist. You need prayers and luck (laughs) – and the right people to pay attention. Another hard part is surviving your breakthrough. You have to maintain and surpass the attention you gain when people finally take notice of who you are.
AG: And you need a side hustle! (laughs) Which brings us to our final question. Every Zimbo these days ari ku guma guma. Do you have any side interests or money making hobbies outside of music that you want to tell us about?
NG: (laughs) Sure I do have other side hustles but I can’t tell you about it cos you know how ideas get stolen in this climate (laughs).
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