Rap artist Jazz P has broken into the male-dominated hip-hop music genre in her home country, all thanks to a successful career launch in neighbouring Mozambique.
By Nokukhanya Musi-Aimienoho
Phephile Fiona Hlophe, better known in music circles as Jazz P, epitomizes everything that most women performers have to go through to get ahead. But she’d rather that young women musicians learn to avoid the pitfalls that gave her so many scars.
Despite her current success, Jazz P struggled to get ahead. Her struggles involved moving to a new country with a different language, having to find ways to pay rent and performing to large audiences as though everything in her life was going perfectly, even though she’d be performing on an empty stomach.
Jazz P understands fully well what it feels like to deal with dodgy promoters who refuse to pay on time. She understands the struggles associated with pursuing a musical career when there was no support available – until very recently.
It is exactly those experiences, however, that now give her work credibility and authenticity and are a good part of why she can relate easily with the average hustler on the streets of Mbabane in Eswatini – or deal with international promoters or celebrities.
“Sometimes I would ask myself if it was worth going through all the trouble. But when you have a calling, you cannot stop, you keep going,” she said.
Fed up with the struggle to get ahead in Eswatini, she said, one day, with just a bag full of her personal belongings and not a cent to her name, she simply took a leap of faith and moved next door – to coastal Mozambique.
While the one thing she could take with her – her voice, could bring her an income, in Mozambique life was not as easy as expected. Despite a demand for her talent, the language barrier in Portuguese-speaking Mozambique remained a problem.
“Getting a job was a major challenge for me, because music on its own couldn’t pay all our bills. Mozambique taught me to rely on more than one financial source. It is how everyone lives over here. Very few people have one job..most have personal small businesses on the side,” she explained.
Her earlier life-defining moment, one that really cemented her dream to pursue music, had come through a trip to Mozambique. Back in Eswatini, she had been invited to join a local band called Lilanga, which was formed by Bongiwe Dlamini and Vincent Caudry.
“We travelled to Mozambique on a brief tour. I remember artists that were part of the tour were Flow D, Magaba, Koyas, Bongiwe Dlamini and Vincent Caudry. That is when I noticed that Maputo loves Hip-Hop. It was then that I observed that Mozambique understood and appreciated the spirit of lyric and rhyme,” she said.
Thereafter, she was invited by three Mozambican music promoters to perform at a festival called ‘Tunduru Festival’ in Maputo, in a collaboration performance with Mozambique’s Reggae sensation, Ras Haitrm.
“It was God’s plan. A mere coincidence that occurred at the most sensitive time of my time. I was battling with my rent and day-to-day needs, yet had a few good, well-sponsored shows that were taking too long to pay,” said Jazz P.
From there, more opportunities came flooding in. It was difficult to penetrate the music market in Mozambique as a foreigner, she said, but eventually, that changed as the fans started warming to her.
“Mozambique is a very patriotic nation. They naturally give their first choice to its people but what helped me break the market was being female and I’m damn good at what I do. I won’t lie. I have been tried and tested in different situations and always seemed to come out alive and unscathed. Today I am greeted in every corner of Maputo even in provinces such as Beira, Chimoio and Tete. I am known because radio and TV is largely followed by the masses. If you make an appearance on TV or have your video played in one of the music/entertainment programmes everyone will know and they will tell you if they liked your music or not. Just like that!” she said.
Looking back, she said, moving to Mozambique was the perfect career move for her.
“It helped (me) to grow up and smell the ***damn coffee!! Mozambique taught me survival tactics and always having to look on the bright side of things until I started seeing a beam of light shining from afar. Signal of hope. I learnt to be totally independent, especially being far from home and family. It changed me. My mentality of life and things. The downside of it, though, is my family, being away from my family and my kids. It has partly damaged the relationship I have with my kids. I have a lot of making up to do. It’s not easy, stepping up with a Metical currency in an Emalangeni or rand currency country, so I still need to work even harder,” she explained.
She further pointed out that it’s taken a massive effort – and wits – to be where she is today.
“It has been a process. I started with a small crowd. Then I started getting more followers as I continued with live shows with my local band. Strategic and random TV and radio interviews as well contributed in my name being spread gradually till other well-known artists started approaching me for collaborations. I became known for empowering specifically female MC’s and inviting them in my shows and studio recordings,” she said.
She is optimistic about the future and is currently working on her very first “live” album with one of the most professional bands in Mozambique. Her upcoming album will include tracks she wrote and performed live but which reminded largely unrecorded back in Eswatini.
“It will be a compilation of current and future work. Taking my skills to the live zone, even in studio. I also want to work with young female rappers to help them understand that you cannot always rely on music only to earn a living. I know what it is like, doing a show with an empty stomach. It is not fun. We need to educate the new generation in being a little bit smarter and calculative in their life choices,” she said.
As a youngster, Jazz P already knew music was her path. While she studied electrical installation and enrolled for a degree in Commerce, she didn’t complete it. She would later teach English and Commerce at a private school, but the calling for music was overwhelming.
Her parting message to the youth and the aspiring musicians in Africa echoes the ideals of the continent’s independence leaders, Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
“I am a proud African that belongs to the world. I was born and bred in the Kingdom of Eswatini but I was moulded and refined in Mozambique and since I am an artist I have no boundaries, I belong to the world at large but rooted in Africa and in my own true essence. I take pride in my scars, in my mishaps, for I am who I am today in and out because of everything. Jah bless mother nature.”
First Published by Bird-Africanofilter News Agency697