INTERVIEW: Innovative Zimbabwean musician and composer Edgar Muzah
Edgar Muzah, also known as “Eddiebass” is a highly talented Zimbabwean born bass player, mbira player and music producer based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Edgar has released one of the finest African music albums we’ve heard this year and deserves wider international recognition. World Music Central’s Angel Romero talked to Edgar Muzah about his background and his superb double album, Son Of A Tribe: Royalty Edition.
Can you share a musical memory that has stayed with you throughout the years?
It has to be the first time I watched a live band playing, and I must have been 7 or 8 years old. I was in awe of the music being played in front of me, and this was music I remembered from the radio as well. All I was asking myself was why did the music sound different from how it sounded when it played on radio.
Have you undergone any formal training to hone your musical skills?
I have a background in ethnomusicology which basically embodies everything I have learned musically, with mbira being my first instrument.
What was the first song or piece you learned to play on an instrument?
First played the folk song “Chemutengure” on the mbira back at home in Zimbabwe when I first learned to play it, I think I was 11 years old at the time.
What elements do you prioritize in your music-making process?
Making music for me is spiritual, and I always try my best to respect the spirit and light that a song carries. In order to achieve that, I prioritize listening to what the song is saying and interpret it accordingly, that way I don’t lose the emotion and direction of the song. In most cases, it’s easy to get carried away trying to make the song sound nice.
What inspired you to pursue a career in music, and when did you realize that it was your calling?
I think I always knew and felt that I would have a career in music because I remember the time when I was in high school; my best friend and I would dream about the future I would always say tell him I will be a musician, and he would be a sportsman. Didn’t have a plan back then, but surely felt that it was my calling.
Can you describe your creative process and how you go about crafting a new song or composition?
Songs come to me in different ways, sometimes I dream of songs, sometimes I wake up with a melody ringing in my head and at times I stumble on nice chords or a melody whilst practicing my instrument. From there I always speak to my friend and co-producer Mthokozisi Mabuza who always help me carry the vision to life. We then sit in the studio for hours and hours trying to put the song together.
How do you balance preserving musical traditions and pushing the boundaries to create something new and innovative?
I think for me, it always stems from the fact that I listen to the emotion of the song and move with it in that direction. However, with all that said I’m always excited to push boundaries and challenge myself to try out new things. It always helps me not to follow the norm, but instead follow the spirit and emotion of the song itself.
Who are some of your musical influences, and how have they affected your work?
I’m inspired and influenced by a lot of African music, mostly because it is my go-to music anytime. I grew up listening to the likes of Salif Keita, Ismael Lo, Youssou N’Dour, Oliver Mtukudzi and a lot of other incredible giants that have shaped my musical taste. I am a huge fan of Richard Bona; I love his approach to music. He has inspired me the most to find my own sound.
How has your musical vision evolved from your early work to your latest recording, Son of A Tribe: Royalty Edition?
Since releasing my debut album, I found my sound and Son Of A Tribe: Royalty Edition was another chance to dig deeper in-search of that sound. So in response to your question I would say there is more growth and evolution, however the main goal and vision is still the same.
Your new album is a double set, full of fantastic music. How long did it take you to develop and fund the project?
The new album is an extension of my debut album Son Of A Tribe which we released in 2021. That was recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown and took 2 years to put together, so this year I decide to add more tracks and release the Royalty Edition, so that took another 2 years.
Son Of A Tribe: Royalty Edition surprised me in the sense that it seamlessly combines various Southern African traditions and other elements. How did you put it all together?
Like the name suggests, I am a son of a tribe, that covers many and different tribes where I draw musical inspiration from. You will fine sounds and rhythms drawn from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique covering Southern Africa and at the same time you will pick up West African elements as well East Asian elements. I hope now you get why it’s called Son Of A Tribe: Royalty Edition 😎
Tell us about your guests on the album.
I had the honor and privilege of working some amazing artists I call family. Everyone on the album was handpicked to help bring the music to life. Because I love collaborating with other artists, I always have specific people in mind for specific songs. I wanted to play by my own rules and I decided to infuse some spoken word on the album and invited 3 amazing poets. Angelyric featured on The Calling, Dongadala on Bath’asinamali Revisited and Poetic Soul on Evergreen.
Invited some powerhouse vocalists as well, Andy Ndlazilwana who features on 4 tracks has the most features because I always have her in mind when, I refer to her as my voice. I had the honor to have my brothers from back home in Zimbabwe, the multi award-winning Willis Wataffi Afirika as well as Samasamba on the song Madama’s song.
Mariloe came and sang her heart out on Evergreen, my brother Joliza featured on Nal’ibali with Andy Ndlazilwana as well as Ubuntu where he was joined by the amazing Xhanti Nokwali. The album was produced by myself and Mthokozisi Mabuza who understood the assignment and did a splendid job.
Most of the South African music that arrives to the United States is the a cappella and gospel groups, as well as some amapiano. Are there other artists like you, doing this form of world fusion?
Indeed, there are a lot of amazing artists that do world fusion in South Africa, the country is full of talent. Please do yourself a favor and check out all the features on the album, they all have amazing projects out that you might love.
What do you hope listeners will take away from your music and performances?
I really hope that they can relate to the music and find at least one song that will be a soundtrack of their own lives. I hope someone will find healing from the music, even if 1 out of 1000 my job would be done 🙏🏾
Can you share a particularly challenging moment in your musical career, and how you overcame it?
It has to be at the beginning of my solo career, I always find myself feeling inadequate and not good enough until the day I told myself this isn’t a competition. No one should make me feel like I’m not good enough. There is enough room for all of us, and all we need to do is run our races in our own way and in our own lanes. In that discovery I found healing.
How do you stay motivated and inspired, even during times when the creative juices may not be flowing as freely?
By believing in myself first before anyone else does. I also get a lot of motivation and inspiration from people who’ll relate to my music and make it a point that they reach out to me and tell me about their healing. That pushed me to do more!
How do you see the music industry evolving in the coming years, and how do you plan to adapt to these changes?
The industry is evolving in a very scary way and if I’m being honest I worry about space for the music that I do. How much of it is still going to survive in this digital age, Gen Z, all about social media, popularity contest and tik tok dance challenges. I guess I will adapt as it goes, it’s scary.
How has music affected your life outside your professional career?
Music has kept me alive and sane, music has been a healing tool in my life. During the COVID-19 lockdown I slipped into a depression phase and music saved me, that’s how I managed to record my debut album. Music has given me hope by seeing people being touched and healed by the music I do.
Can you tell us about a memorable performance or concert experience that has stayed with you over the years?
It has to be the time I played the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, I had 2 electrifying performances there in 2019 and til today I’m still longing for that feeling. That feeling of thousands of people singing and dancing to your music in incomparable.
With world music being underrepresented in mainstream media, how do you go about promoting your music to a wider audience?
I have been privileged enough to get radio interviews that help promote the music etc. but other than that it’s social media and during tours. My management always looks for opportunities to promote the music and for that I’m always grateful to my team 🙏🏾
For beginners who may feel anxious about pursuing music, what advice would you give to help them overcome their fears?
Fear is the currency of the unknown so believe in yourself first because that’s one thing you know for sure, once that is done you take a leap of faith and let it all work itself out. With my experience, I realized that it was the fear of being unacceptable.
If you could collaborate with any musician or band, who would be at the top of your list?
I would love to perform my music with the WDR Big Band and maybe score a collaboration with Richard Bona.
Can you give us a sneak peek into any upcoming projects you may have in the works?
What I can tell you is that I have already started putting together music for the next album and in good time I will be ready to share it with the world