It is rare for a Tumbuka urban song to grab airwaves, be it on radio or in clubs. But recently there was an exception. Pambele, a collaborative piece of musicians in Mzuzu, blew up the ceiling of the urban music scene.
This is a song that calls on young people to enjoy their youth before age catches up with them. Zephy Oldies is the man behind the song which features Royal Star, Pablo, Homage, Gremmer and Wakisa James.
Apart from hogging the limelight, the song also earned Zephy (born Joseph Mbundungu) a nomination as Best Producer of the Year (2019) in the recent UMP Music Awards.
But who is Zephy Oldies as he calls himself?
“I am a producer, songwriter, singer and rapper,” says the artist who uses ‘Zephy on the Beat’ as his signature in his productions.
“I take 2010 as my major turning point, when I moved to South Africa for media, visual and sound engineering studies,” he says.
Zephy says he did a bachelor of arts in media studies at Wits University and a year’s course in visual arts and sound engineering at the Academy of Sound Engineering, SABC Campus.
“These courses opened up a whole world of possibilities,” he says.
While in South Africa, Zephy worked with Sisqo Productions, a Nigerian-owned promotion and events management firm, where he worked as head of post-production between 2012 and 2014.
“I worked with different artists from across Africa, including Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Kenya. Some of the artists include the late Mandoza, AKA, Casper Nyovest and Don Franko.
“One thing I learnt from these artists is that they put in a lot of work and money into their productions. Music is business to them. They invest a lot of money, and they are able to reap dividends,” he says.
Zephy returned home in 2014, to replicate the concept that drives Sisqo Productions by establishing Green Jam Records in Mzuzu.
“I opened a studio from the scratch, and started managing and promoting artists. I have invested some money in the music company to uplift the quality of music in the country.
He adds: “The reason I settled in Mzuzu, or I opened the studio in Mzuzu, is because the city is looked down upon. I noticed that because of this, Mzuzu is also shunned. Not many people are able to open quality music studios here.
“For me, music is a service. I needed to go to a place which is neglected rather than saturating the city which already has good studios. But Mzuzu is the place where artists need us [music producers] the most, that’s why I am here.”
On the future, Zephy says he is working through his company to unearth talent in Mzuzu. He says Pambele was his first attempt to promote the talent by collaborating with musicians who lack the platform to showcase their talents.
He says: “My plan is to change the game; to change the narrative of how musicians in Mzuzu are viewed.
“As a country, especially radio DJs, we don’t need to look at a musician based on the region they come from, but rather on the talent. It concerns me when we stereotype artists from Mzuzu with tags such as ‘Mzuzu-based musician’.”
On his UMP award nomination, Zephy says it is “a recognition of the good work” that he is doing in Mzuzu and the music industry in general.
“This means the message is going out there. People are noticing what we are doing. It is an achievement to get the nomination, a big achievement because not everyone was nominated,” he says.
But Joy FM’s DJ Spyda says while it is true that artists in Mzuzu are not getting enough airplay, the situation can be attributed to lack of connections.
“The musicians from Mzuzu mostly lack connections. They need to establish connections and relationships with radio station presenters and producers,” he says.
DJ Spyda says he personally likes Tumbuka songs because they sound more African.
“A song done in Tumbuka has this African touch. I think radio presenters have no problem with the songs, but they simply do not get the music. Mzuzu-based promoters need to do more to ensure that they are connected to people who can play their music on air,” he says.
Timveni Radio presenter Charles Kululanga AKA C-Dub, says most artists who do not get their music played on radio are to blame as they do not follow the right procedure.
“Some artists send their music using WhatsApp which is unprofessional. Musicians need to change their strategy,” says C-Dub.
Additional reporting by Edith Gondwe