How do you become yourself?
You’re an unknown teenager and one of the biggest stars in the land chooses you to be the first lady of what would soon become the most recognized label in the country — Military Touch Movement (MTM). It’s like a Jay-Z signs Rihanna scene with Jah Prayzah playing the role of Jay and Tahle weDzinza playing Riri. Then everybody starts asking who is this Tahle weDzinza? What makes her special?
Firstly, Robyn Ketahle Anesu Dawani is the musician, actress, entrepreneur and content creator known as Tahle WeDzinza. Tahle WeDzinza translates to “the light of a generation”. In her teens she received over 18 distinctions and awards from National Institute of Allied Arts in Zimbabwe and today she is known for her powerful operatic voice — as well as blending cultural sounds from Africa, Arabia and Asian in her music. But that’s not what makes her special. What makes her special is her decision to leave MTM. Walking away from the Jah Prayzah co-sign, DJ Tamuka’s beats and an EX-Q / Nutty-O feature might seem like career suicide to some but one must always remember – to say yes to something is to say no to something else. And in the case of Tahle – as was the case of Dr Dre leaving Deathrow or Eve leaving Dr Dre – they were all able to survive and redefine themselves on their own terms.
Today Tahle is no longer Tahle from MTM but the Zimbabwean Music Award (ZIMA) winning artist, Tahle weDzinza who has been featured on CNN’s “African Voices”. In addition, Tahle was the lead in the National Arts Merit Award (NAMA) winning theatre production “Bongile”. We caught up with her to talk about her sophisticated musical background and what makes her “Tahle”.
AG: First things first. You are managed by your mother. Michael Jackson, Beyoncé and Nina Simone were also initially managed by a loved one, then they ‘broke up’. On the other hand, the Kardashian clan are still chasing billions with their mom. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of a “Momager”?
TWD: I have to be careful how I answer this because it’s mom (laughs). What some people don’t know is that my mother is an amazing musician and composer. So my relationship with her is first and foremost that of a mentor and protégé. But the best thing about being managed by my mother is that I always know for sure that my interests are protected. And, I’m also not bullied as much. At times, there’s a healthy fear which I think is necessary between a mentor and her protege, but her understanding of me and my goals is more intimate than any manager can ever get because there is genuine love and concern there. The not so great part is probably the generational gap. Though I should say my mom is definitely a cool but head strong kind of woman (laughs).
JP: Aww. That sounds sweet. Talking about your goals and desires — you’ve talked about your desire “to be a beacon of light for my people”. How do you deal with the pressure of being in spotlight in the age of social media scrutiny?
TWD: You know what, I’m a very private person by nature. So the desire to be seen outside my music doesn’t really exist to me. I sing, I release, hibernate and repeat. I’m a bit of a hermit and as shy as they come (laughs). I do of course from time to time deal with internet trolls and keyboard warriors, but that doesn’t phase me as much as it used to when I started. Because it’s not as real as my own everyday African reality.
JP: You’ve expressed your ‘distaste’ for popular culture before. Opting for an authentic African culture instead. Often times people prefer Western ‘things’ before any African things. Besides our skin/hair, what other things are Africans failing to see in themselves?
TWD: I wouldn’t call it distaste … rather let’s say there is a difference between cultural integration and abandoning your culture for someone else’s. All I really want is Africans to be about themselves first. To show the world who they are and what they are about in an unapologetic manner. We need to live the way we want and believe what we believe without having it dictated to us by what is trending out there or on social media. That’s how we can influence culture. There is nothing wrong with pop culture by the way. Hell ,with my love for fusing sounds I might just blend r’n’b and pop with Afrofusion and Sungura. What do you think?
AG: I think you are more than capable of making those genres work well together. Which reminds me. Before your debuted your “Rushesha” EP, you released a gospel project called “Songs of Clay”. Some musical geniuses from Aretha Franklin to Bob Dylan and Kanye West have also released gospel albums and gone back to some type of popular “secular” music. Why?
TWD: Oh wow, I love this question! I wouldn’t say Its going back to ‘secular music’, it’s about the freedom of expression. Look, I am equally spiritual as I am a flesh and bone human. Think about it in the same way people party on a Saturday and go to church on Sunday. That doesn’t mean they are heathens or they are inauthentic. I love God, I really love love God! And I love people and things I’ve experienced and witnessed. Some of these things cannot be sung as Gospel or Afrofusion. This is because we have already defined what those genres are but we all know human beings are complicated. So let’s not call it going back but rather expressing their current state.
AG: On that subject of genres – you’ve been described as the “Jazz diva” who “uses her voice as an instrument” to “express a lot of issues that many may fail to amplify”. When you are writing your songs, are you torn between these two worlds: entertaining or educating?
TWD: Umm, another good question. You know what – not even. For me the two world’s can co exist. Personally, I’m a goofy character (laughs). Not everything is deep and philosophical. There’s a time for everything. But I do like to sit down from time to time and write something that touches the heart and causes someone to think and reflect. Who says learning is boring. Sometimes it’s the message of the song we enjoy the most, not the chorus.
JP: When I listen to your music I hear global sounds yet you’ve been pigeon-holed as an Afro-Jazz / Afrofusion artist. So my question to you is how do make these Arabic and Asian elements in your music still sound African?
TWD: As far as being pigeon holed, I get what you mean. I am a cross genre artist. However, I am not mad at if someone refers to me as an afrofusion artist or a jazz artist. My music does include those African and Jazz elements but it’s not limited to that. It also has Asian and European elements. But why someone might think it’s only African or jazz I think really has to do stylistic aspects from my personality seeping into my music – and what that listener is exposed to. I love being African with every fiber of my being. So even if I’m listening to Latin jazz or European Electronic music I’m always thinking – this tastes good but needs that African sauce so that I can call it my own (laughs).
AG: Talking about “sauce”, you were a “love interest” in ZimDancehall artist Tocky Vibes’ “Mukana” video. Being a video vixen is a controversial career path because it is associated with explicit acts and sexual favours. As a one-time video vixen what are your thoughts on how women are portrayed in music videos?
TWD: In every field, whether it’s entertainment, law or business – women are exploited and asked to do degrading acts. What I will say is as an individual just act the way you would like to be addressed. There’s nothing wrong with being a video vixen. It’s just how people view the creative arts and how some creatives view women. But I’ve seen women being portrayed in a tasteful manner and having fun doing the work. In some music videos women are celebrated for their beauty as well as their personality and wit. The trick is not be a tool for some other agenda that does not reflect your ideas and how you see yourself. Women are under-represented in the media. So when are on a public platform we don’t just represent ourselves but other girls and women’s dreams. So let us be our authentic selves.
AG: One thing that stands out for me about being a women in the media is the whole there can “only be one Queen” at a time thing. As a result there are these useless Nicky Minaj vs Cardi B or Tahle vs Tamy beefs. Why do you think this stupid idea exists?
TWD: (Laughs). Yah neh. The whole alpha female syndrome. I mean it exists because we as women buy into it but we don’t like to admit it. This is because it plays into our egos and fears. Like I said before, we are under represented in all fields so we are acutely aware that we are in competition with each other in some manner (laughs). But my remedy for this is simply run your own race. Wear your own crown and don’t fight for these man-made crowns. Create your kingdom by letting your work speak for it self. And collaborate! Collaborations will help your understand each other and exhibit how different you actually are from other artists.
AG: You’ve got to be a strong in this world. Mentally, emotionally, choice-wise – and in your case, physically. Apparently you were an expert hammer thrower in high school and you are an aspiring boxer. Would you have pursued a career in sports if you weren’t a singer?
TWD: Oh my God! (laughs) Hell no! I definitely would still be an artist. I still want to box though. I really think it’s cool. But hammer throwing (laughs) wow … yeah … fun times but nope!
JP: So if not throwing hammers in your spare time how do you relax? All that blending of cultures and amplifying causes sounds stressful. So we have to ask – is there a special someone providing some loving light in your life?
TWD: Loving light! (laughs). You! Who is we?(laughs). Anyway, what do I do to relax? Tjoh!! I’m a deep thinker my mind is always running. So probably sleep. I shutdown. That’s on rare occasions. As for this “loving light” (laughs) no one as yet. My other half will come along but I’m is in no rush (BELIEVE ME). But I do enjoy ‘the light’ my amazing family and friends provide.