When you hear something different you can actually tell and feel it in you. There’s something about the music now in Africa that screams different, it screams from a place of stagnation and poor expression. The music is free, it’s been growing for years, it’s changing, it’s realizing what it wants to sound like. If you know me you’d know I’m a big fan of all things music, I’m also very vocal about the industry especially the new age one. New Age music which metaphorically is the prodigal child taking returning home.
There’s a lot of music pouring out, the will to explore what hasn’t been strong within the underground scene. Day after day I hear a new song constructed with the most unorganized, most unorthodox pattern and melodies sung, rapped or a mix of both, and I hear that voice scream “different” again. It’s exciting deciphering what their sound is, going through their catalogue of music on SoundCloud. Truth is, the music is theirs to create and its organically pouring out, they want to keep sharing more of their stories as unique as they can, that’s the core of New Age music taking over Africa.
As with every rant, I’m heading somewhere. This time I’m heading to Timothy Zirindza Tsakma, AKA Zirra Zirra who literally took me on the most distinct and vocal journey in all my months of doing interviews. His music is his music as it should be, with every track on his tape “Save Me From The Fire”, literally he showed his growth from track to track maybe he wanted us to see him, see him become the man he sees in his music. It was something I’ve heard, a “the weekend” approach, being as raw and vulgar as he can while describing his life what it revolves around. The interview took me by surprise as we ranged across topics of sex, the music industry and its terrorizing past, the future of African sounds and his work, everything about his work from inception to date.
Putting the mind I spoke to and the music I heard together results in a very complex answer, one that keeps a fan (like myself) excited and more hungry to follow the crazy but boundary breaking path of the artist behind the music they admire.
Tell us about the music, how did it all begin?
Zirra Zirra : Well, I was always singing in the choir when I was really young, they used to give me solo performances cause I could hit some really high notes. Then I started writing raps when I was 12. First rap I wrote was to “Touch It” by Busta Rhymes. Then I decided to record my first song at 13, started going to a Dipozit’s studio in Adeniyi Jones, where I met the artiste like Tomi Thomas, Briss and some others. Then in 2012, I dropped my first official single, and it been a journey of finding my own sound and progression ever since
What has music meant to you since you started creating professionally?
Zirra Zirra : Every ‘fucking’ thing. I mean I was homeless for a month just so I could save up and buy my studio equipment. I’ll never forget when I got abused by a babe a couple years ago cause I asked her to support my music, She said I should stop messaging her about my music because it’s annoying. Various okada rides and bus rides to studios, had to runaway from my house just so my parents could realize how serious I was about music. I have fought many secret battles for my craft, but I thank God for them, and I wouldn’t trade a second of anything I have been through, because it’s made me the artiste I am today.
I have faith in my ability, and I feel I will not make heaven if I don’t do something with the talent God has blessed me with.
Your sound is something, it has a raw and youthful identity to it. How would you define it?
Zirra Zirra : That’s a tricky one. Reason being my music has always been deeply rooted in RnB. However, during my artiste development there was a period where I was only recording up-tempo songs and afrobeat songs. I also think I am a decent rapper. So when I make music I just combine a whole lot of elements. It is youthful because I try and stay true to myself in every record. Asides that I can’t really define my sound. I’m a chameleon.
Before I go on asking questions about your new EP “Save Me From The Fire”, tell us about it?
Zirra Zirra : Okay. SMFTF basically came about because I was in a really depressed place in my life. I had been expelled from uni. My girlfriend and I had broken up. I was heavy into drugs. I was just in a dark place. Then I made the first song Save Me From The Fire, which was then called “to the test” but then there was a line I said that stuck to me. “I need somebody who’s gon save me from the fire”. I felt that was the exact line that described my whole perception of myself at that point in time. I built around the vibe of that song, hence the project came to what it is today.
The EP touches the topics of life, a lot of sex, love and your growth. How do you relate with each of these topics as a young African?
Zirra Zirra : (Beautiful question.) Sex in Africa is such a difficult topic to talk about for some people. But let’s not pretend that Nigeria has the second largest HIV positive population in Africa, so people are definitely fucking. So I made sure I didn’t filter anything sexual on this EP cause it’s only natural for a young adult in Africa to relate and people shouldn’t lie to themselves. Love as well, part of the reason my relationship fell apart was because I wasn’t open to my partner, I felt like I owed it to her to tell her how I felt with the way I knew how to, which was through the music. Growth, I touch on growth in Bando & Oshodi, because growing is a beautiful thing. It’s stress , but we become more mature and our perceptions change. I’m not the same person I was two years ago. And two years from now I won’t be the same person I am today. Two of my friends have died this year, makes you think it could have been you. So I just try and express it in the music. Before I used to care about how many people would listen to my shit, getting radio play, then I had a couple songs that got on radio and realized that shit don’t really matter. What matters is passing a message to the people that are listening, if only 20 people truly appreciate my music, I’d take that over 500 people that just hear my song once and never play it again. I feel like that’s growth, at least mentally.
People tend to discredit art of sexual narratives, does this take away from the craft and why do you think such topics aren’t openly spoken about?
Zirra Zirra : It only takes away from the craft if I as the artiste decides to take it away. If I do that then I am not fully expressing myself, if I am not doing that, then I am not being true to myself. I feel it not talked about because of society, slut shaming is still a really big thing in Nigeria girls aren’t as open about their sexual life. Religion also plays a part, everybody likes forming holy. Holy in the sense that, we are in a higher religiously conscious environment than places in the western world. So people feel like sex is a major no no. Acting as if God is not the one that created sex. However, if you actually study the bible you’ll notice that the reason why sex is such a big deal is that God created it for man and wife to become one blood. Through virginity and all. I’m not really going to get into it. But Nigerians are really afraid of being judged. I feel like that really has to change. I’m going to do my part as an artiste by being fearless.
It must be really exciting creating music as a young Nigerian in our generation? What’s different?
Zirra Zirra : I don’t think a lot has changed you know. Well asides the internet. I mean think about it. Odunsi told me that the biggest song at one point in Nigeria was a trap song and its true, Eldee — Big Boi was indeed a trap song. So the things a lot of people are paying attention to now at least sonically has always been around. I feel like people are just more willing to listen now.
Does this make it easier for more diverse sounds to be made mainstream other than ‘Afrobeats’?
Zirra Zirra : Thats a very tricky one. Because if we look at the stats, a song that will be considered alternative like Nonso’s Tonight, is big as fuck, International acclaim and all that. But I guarantee you 80% of Nigerians aren’t jamming that song. There are niggas in Sokoto and all them remote places that all they get to hear is Psquare and Davido. So there are two different paths in the Nigerian industry, we are in the age were a Nigerian song can be bigger outside Nigeria than it is in Nigeria.
What sets the new identity, the new age of Africa apart from older generations and how can we, using music spread ideologies that push the music forward both globally and locally ?
Zirra Zirra : I honestly feel like this new age is different cause it’s not just musicians we have. We have new creatives, fashion designers, bloggers, radio host. Everyone coming up and supporting each other. The main thing for us younger guys at the moment is, we need the support of the older cats which we will not get till we come for their necks cause these old guys are spending all the money they have to ensure they stay relevant and steal all the shine. They want the limelight for themselves. We have to say fuck them, take whats ours and divide it amongst ourselves. Then we can move, well that’s what I think.
Its not been easy, cause I’ve never been the most supported artiste. But good music will always spread, I will continue to try my best to make good music, with the hopes it pays off eventually.
What’s the next evolution for you as an artist trying to push the culture forward?
Zirra Zirra : Just continuously being myself. Not stopping, I feel I need more support. I’m fighting to make the fans believe in me. My next project is 80% done, features Santi, Odunsi, Ozone, BrisB & PsychoYP again, Bobson, Jinmi Abduls, Idris King, FreshL, Boj, Koker, production from Adey, Remy Baggins etc. I’m trying to make it the project that has all the new school niggas on it, so if that’s not pushing the culture forward I don’t know what is.
You speak a lot on self-expression which is something most kids don’t have growing up cause the environment doesn’t believe in the arts, with your work in music and the new age will this change going forward? How can more self-expression and exploration help shape future African minds in the new age?
Zirra Zirra : I don’t think the Nigerian environment is going to change for another 15 to 20 years. But we can encourage our younger ones in high school today and all to express themselves regardless of anybody or anything. If you feel your craft is worth fighting for, then fight for it. Express yourself.
Why do you think Nigeria won’t change soon?
Zirra Zirra : There are too many factors. One, its not easy for an upcoming artiste to get money. SO from the get go parents are skeptical about their kids choosing a path with such a high percentage of uncertainty, Secondly the government isn’t doing anything at all to promote the art culture in the society. At least in 15 years, our generation will be the back bone of the nation and fathers and mothers of the next generation. I feel we will be more supportive of our kids if they want to be artist, or even sportspersons.
There’s an angle of how the new generation will handle the music business, monetizing our sounds which haven’t been sorted and seems to be an on-going discussion, your thoughts?
Zirra Zirra : The consumers really need to realize that the only way an artiste can reach his/her full potential is if they buy the music. Then, we can buy better beats, shoot higher quality videos and put others on eventually. Sadly piracy is a huge issue in Nigeria, somebody will just download your song and post it on their page. Nobody sees royalties so much. Like I said before the government really needs to be involved in order for artiste in Nigeria to fully reap the fruits of their work. In places like America, an artist can have one hit song, that’s just big in their city, and they’ll see 20,000 dollars easy. In Nigeria you can have the biggest song, but your income won’t represent it if sales are taken into account, that’s why artiste have to charge stupid amounts for 10 minute gigs. Okay, for example. Womanizer. A song I put out in 2015. Cost me and my team 150k for the beat. 50k to mix and master, Paid about 30k for online promo thats already 230k. In Nigeria you now have to pay your PR to get it on all these big blogs like NotJustOk, BellaNaija, because they don’t give a fuck about if your music is nice they want bar. That’s an extra cost. So think about it as an artiste, that’s virtually unknown, how do you expect me to get back all the money invested? The blogs are meant to be paying the artiste and not the other way round. If it was a thing of they are just supporting the music then calm, but these guys are collecting money from the artiste instead of collecting money from businesses that should be paying them for placements on their blogs. So the artiste goes broke from just making the song.
This was beautiful, having this discussion with Zirra Zirra about life and music made something in me smile. The depth and passion he shows is the beacon of the new age and their music.
Listen to Save Me From The Fire.