Do you love good food and great music?
When COVID-19 hit I suffered from two types of cravings: the desire for good restaurant food and the need to hear live music. Honestly I’m not too picky about what kind of food I eat when I go out. I can even survive on finger foods, a three course meal or several drinks if the music is right. However, when I say ’live’ music I mean organic music played by a muso whose presence transcends the stage. That karaoke style – lyrics sung over instrumentals banging off the walls during a crowded night out (with the original vocals slightly muted) – doesn’t do it for me. Too cheap an experience. I need to see the sweat on the musicians brows, feel the energy of the atmosphere, taste the food, hear that unrepeatable ‘magic’ of the muso’s liberated expressions (with all the dirty colours of their imperfections) – before I can express my wows. I want all that jazz! To put it plainly, when I go out I’m looking for an artist like Rutendo Jackie.
Rutendo Jacqueline Ngoreta-Mugandani or “RJ” is a two time Manicaland Creatives Awards (MCA) winner: Best Female Artist and Best Collaboration. I first saw her video for “Handidi Nhamo” on DSTV’s Trace Africa before I started hearing about her high energy performances at intimate venues in the north of the country. From Bar Rouge to Theatre in the Park to the Holiday Inn, Jasen Mphepo Little Theatre, Gava Restaurant, Spitzkop Leisure Centre, Nhaka Gallery and so on – RJ and her band, Afro Blue, have entertained the locals and garnered rave reviews. Furthermore, they got me feeling like I am missing out on great music (you feel with your soul) with a side of good food. And now that RJ has released her “Tsvimbo Ne Dohwe” EP (to accompany her, “Love Me As I Am” project), I though I should get a hold of her before I miss out on anything else.
ZM: Firstly, you are known as a Mutare artist but you grew up in Bulawayo, right? How did you end up in Mutare?
RJ: No, I’m from Mutare! I was actually born in Mutare. I can understand how you might be confused but I grew up in Chiredzi and Bulawayo because my father worked for Plan International, so we moved from city to city. l did part of my schooling in Chiredzi at Chiredzi Government Primary School and in Bulawayo at Townsend Girls High. But I’m a Mutare girl from birth. And it’s my home now.
AG: Your musical style is often classified as “Afro Jazz”. However, I heard that your love for music was influenced by your father, Peter Ngoreta from the Folk / Country group, “Peter Ngoreta & The Peacemakers”. What’s your earliest musical memory of your father?
RJ: My Father (Peter Ngoreta) was a good musician and a great guitarist. I remember him with his guitar the most. When l was 8 years old he would take his guitar soon after supper and we would sit with my brothers together singing. He would play his guitar every night before we go to bed. In a way his music was part of my eating and dreaming (laughs).
AG: Like your father you also work with a band (“Afro Blue”) when you perform. Most new artists tend to bring a DJ for live performances because they say it’s easier and cheaper. Why do you choose to work with a band instead of digital tools?
RJ: Have you ever heard me live? You would know why (laughs). Jokes aside, l personally enjoy live music more because l want to hear that African sound that comes from a live set. Live music has such a richness to it. Besides that, the type of music that l do is shaped by live instruments like the Mbira, the bass, keyboard, percussions, drums and guitars. It’s a whole experience just hearing the musicians play those instruments and hearing how we interact in person. You gotta hear it to fully understand, so come to my shows.
ZM: One of your role models, the late Chiwoniso Maraire sound was also heavily influenced by her father, the Mbira and her band (“Chiwoniso & Vibe Culture”). You’ve said that Chiwoniso type of “traditional” music is “good for our soul”. Do you feel modern music has no soul?
RJ: Soul is displayed in many forms. As for me, I connect more with that traditional African sound. l appreciate my culture and I want to experience it as much as I can. Modern music is good, it has it’s place in my heart but l prefer those African beats and rhythms. They warm me up.
AG: Talking about modern things that affect the soul – social media has affected society in so many ways. Consequently, there are some celebrities who choose not to post images of their children or let them use social media. As an artist with kids, what’s your take on this issue?
RJ: It’s true social media has affected and destroyed so many lives. My kids are still very young so I think it’s best as a mother to protect them from it until they are mature enough to understand the uses of social media.
ZM: There is this stereotype that a woman’s career is over once she gets pregnant. But you’ve become more successful with two kids. How do you balance your career with your other mommy duties?
RJ: Let me tell you, It’s not easy being a wife, entrepreneur, mother and musician. But l believe in team work. You can never make it on your own, you need all the help you can get. l have people around me who help me to balance everything. I have people at home, at the business and with the music. They say it takes a village to raise an African child (laughs).
AG: Your husband, Alwyn Mugandani, also helps by managing you. Nina Simone, Tina Turner, Kelly Clarkson, and Tiwa Savage were also managed by their partners and it didn’t end well. However, Celine Dion and Ozzy Osbourne made it work. In your experience what are the pros and cons of having your husband manage you?
RJ: Actually, when l started my musical journey as a solo artist in 2019 my husband was my manager. It didn’t affect us in any way but now pressure is mounting and we have so much work to be done. So now, Roy Zuka (Alexio Kawara’s former manager) is now managing me. But my husband is part of management as well. We work as a team and we now have a bigger management team. So in my experience you have less problems if you work with your partner, especially if you have a strong relationship. The stronger the relationship the less problems you have. Also, let me just add that transparency is very important in any relationship.
ZM: Since you started in 2019, you’ve grown so much beyond the music. These days every artist is now a brand. In your own words what does the “Rutendo Jackie” brand represent?
RJ: What does the Rutendo Jackie’s brand represent? You are putting me on the spot (laughs). Hmm, Rutendo Jackie is all about tradition and culture – “tsika nemagariro edu echivanhu” as Zimbabweans and Africans. That’s why if you listen to my music and watch my videos l speak about issues affecting our African people’s day to day lives. Also I live in one of the most scenic areas in Zimbabwe (Manicaland) so I try my best to promote the natural beauty we have in my videos. So you could also say I’m about travel, tourism and our natural heritage.
AG: Wait you forgetting the whole clothing line and bridal shop you run in Mutare. Firstly, what’s the name of your shop? And secondly, why did you decide to focus on clothes as your side hustle? Are you a fashion addict?
RJ: I knew I was going to forget something (laughs). My shop is called ‘RJ collection’. It’s a bridal and interior decor shop. We sell you everything you need for the big day and everything you need to make your house into a happy home for all the other days to come. I started this business because I love decorating houses, paintings and ornaments. You know during my spare time I used to search for bridal wear just for fun. I love wedding dresses and seeing people happy on their big day and their loved ones looking good as well. That’s why l ventured into this business – it’s a business guys, not a side hustle (laughs).
ZM: You’ve really found a great balance of work, family and Art in Mutare. So for our last question, a lot artists from Mutare, Bulawayo or Chiredzi often relocate to Harare in search of fame and fortune. As an artist who has found success in Mutare, what should artists who can’t afford to move to Harare do to make it in their home towns?
RJ: That’s an interesting question to end off with. I really don’t know the correct answer to that. But I believe it’s a matter of passion not money. Money is a great motivator but if you are good, creative and passionate about what you do, you will definitely make your own your way to the top. You have to believe in yourself and be patient with your audience – success has no time frame.