The Dancehall Doctor: Freeman HKD Q & A

The doctor is in.

Words by Alex Gwaze (Curator)
Questions by Alex Gwaze and Zaza Muchemwa (Director & Writer)

A ‘love doctor’ is someone who is well versed in dealing with relationship matters and translating couples’ emotional needs. Essentially a ‘love doctor’ brings people together and helps them attain a greater affection, liking for, and pleasure from their significant other. Although it’s not the same thing, the concept of ‘a love doctor’ is what comes to mind whenever I hear Freeman being called “the Dancehall doctor”. This is because Freeman has an innate ability to foster meaningful relationships with his family, fans and collaborators.

Born Emegy Slyvester Chizanga, Freeman HKD is a ZimDancehall heavy weight who has been listed on several most influential Zimbabweans lists for years. He first came to prominence after the release of his 2011 track “Joina City” but he has been releasing an album every year since 2011. One of his earlier singles “Doctor weMagitare” probably inspired “the ‘Dancehall doctor” moniker, but the fact that it has stuck is a testament to his character. Doctors are often known for their expertise, qualifications as well as their ability to heal – this is also the same with Freeman. Over the last decade he has amassed numerous nominations, awards and accolades that include: 2 x National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA), 10 x ZimDancelhall awards and 4 x Star Fm Music awards, just to list a few. In addition, he was the first ZimDancehall artist to perform in China and he has toured Australia, Botswana, Canada, England, Mozambique and South Africa.

Besides his accolades Freeman is known for his “good vibes” and versatility. He has collaborated with artists from other genres like Sungura legend Alick Macheso, Jamaican Dancehall artist Chris Martin, Afropop singer Tamy Moyo and rapper EX-Q. Furthermore, he belongs to a musical family called “Dangerzone” or HKD, which includes Maggikal, Tetlaz, Da-Ruler, Delroy, Kemikal, Crystal, Viviuun and Black Warrior. Not bad for someone who started out as a butcher’s assistant. We caught up with ‘Dr Freeman’ to see what he can prescribe for us free of charge.

AG: Firstly, you have so many names -Freeman HKD, Dancehall doctor and Boss WeDangerzone. I looked but nobody seems to have asked you what all these names mean.

FH: Well, Freeman is not a self chosen name. Rather it was a nickname I was given by my friends during my high school days. I was a goal keeper and they just started calling me “Man Free” until it eventually changed to “Free Man”. As for HKD, it stands for Hatimire Kusimbisa Dangerzone (We don’t stop pushing the danger zone movement). That my clan, or group. And Boss of Danger zone just means I was there when the “danger zone” movement started and I am still here. But when we are talking about the “Dancehall Doctor”, it’s an alter ego ascribed to me by my fans. In ZimDancehall there are artists who’ve already been labelled the Dancehall Father, Dancehall Chairman and so forth. But it’s the fans that decided I am the Dancehall doctor.

ZM: Your fans are dedicated to you just like you are to them. You’ve released something for them every year since you started. Your consistency is incredible. Lately new artists drop a couple of singles and that’s it. Why do you think they don’t make albums these days?

FH: I know some people might assume it’s a lack of focus, not being hard working or the streaming culture – but in my experience it’s not. It’s just the usual economics of production and creativity. Some of us, we face many financial challenges that make it impossible to release every year – or we hit a creative block, that’s all.

AG: You do not seem to suffer from writer’s block. I read somewhere that you don’t write your lyrics like Jay-Z, Biggie and Lil Wayne. Is this why you can make so many albums?

FH: I wouldn’t compare myself to the people you just mentioned. Those guys are legends in their genre. But it’s not true that I don’t write my lyrics down. It’s like this – sometimes I get inspiration while I’m in the studio and we just record without writing down. And other times I do write some songs down on a paper then I go and record them in the studio. I’m not free-styling everything.

ZM: Talking about inspiration, people often talk about international artists that inspire them and forget about the local artists like the Decibels, Innocent Utsiwegotas, Bettys and the King Pinns who set the foundation for many Zimbabwean acts. How did such artists influence you?

FH: For me these guys showed us it could be done! They showed us that you can make a living from just your talent and they also paved the way in showing us how to conduct ourselves on the business side of the entertainment industry. They were examples of what to do and what not to do. But mostly they showed us how to take pride in our vernacular languages and African art forms. They provided the blueprint for some the genres that now exist in Zimbabwe like ZimDancehall, ZimHiphop and Afrojazz.

AG: The music industry has come a long way. I really enjoyed the “Freeman and Friends” mixtape because it featured almost everyone in this new scene. From Gemma Griffiths to Shinsoman, Sandra Ndebele, Ti Gonzi and more. It’s great to see artists working together rather than beefing. How important is it to you to build relationships in the industry?

FH: In Shona we say, “Rume rimwe harikombe churu”. No man is an island as well. We all need each other in this industry if we are ever going to grow we need to support each other. So when I was working on that project I reached out to some guys I had not worked with before. Fortunately for me they were willing to collaborate. And it’s the people that really benefited from the music we made together.

AG: You’ve collaborated with, or shared the stage with artists like Movado, Capleton, Antony-B and Christopher Martin. What is the greatest lesson you have learnt about Dancehall from watching these Jamaican artists?

FH: I’ve learnt a lot about performing from watching these guys on stage. However, what I really learnt or realised is that if we (Zimbabweans) remain true to our artform and we’invest back into the industry, local venues and our sound, ZimDancehall is a genre with so much potential to grow and be known all over the world. We could also export our sound and headline festivals in other countries.

ZM: One area that some local artist’s invest in is their musical videos. I liked the visuals for “Robbery”. For me it’s always more interesting when artists chose creative concepts over the default alpha male with girls, drinks, money and cars type of videos.

FH: Well, with us it has never been about being the alpha male in the video but rather we would like to make videos which go well with the theme of the song. For example if it’s a happy time song or summer song of course there will be couple of girls and drinks. However, if it’s something with a more deep meaningful message, we choose the other route with different scripts.

AG: It must be difficult being a married man and being surrounded by girls in summer time videos (laughs). A lot of artists find it hard to settle down. When they get married or get a girlfriend you read about ‘things happening’. How do you maintain a relationship in this industry?

FM: (laughs) I’ve been happily married to Barbra since 2012. The one lesson I can share is that it’s all about knowing your self worth and understanding that family comes first and matters – before anything else. Temptations are there but the main goal is to remain focused and keeping your eyes on what matters, that is your real relationships. Just be professional and remember your job is to entertain people with your music not your private life.

ZM: Zim has become this ‘guma guma’ hustling culture and people do a lot of stunts to entertain people, get people’s attention and remain relevant. However, others start businesses. So, besides being a musician, what’s your side-hustle?

FH: Music is my main thing. Apart from that I am a brand ambassador for a couple of brands. And also, I sell ‘merch’ (t-shirts and stuff) online and at my gigs. So that might be regarded as my side hustle.

AG: Is it true that you gave up a career as a footballer? I heard you played for Mwana Africa F.C. I believe they were in the first division at the time. Do you still play football (just for fun) or did you give up on it and never looked back? That’s our last question.

FH: I still play for fun mabhuza (laughs). But yes if I wasn’t an artist haaa, I would be saving shots from the goal post (laughs).

Follow Freeman HKD at: @realfreemanhkd
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