Jackie Meets Chris OswelMusic has a way of bringing people from different cultures, life styles and personalities together. As a lover of music myself, I came across a union that I for one enjoyed very much. This union was of a British born musician called Chris Oswel and Zimbabwe’s “man of the moment” Jah Prayzah. Last September 2012 Jah Prayzah had his very first international tour to the UK . This show was promoted by his recording label Diamond Studios.
Chris Oswel accompanied his friend who was doing the sound engineering for the tour. While in Coventry, Oswel like the rest of us enjoyed the great performance that Jah Prayzah and the 3rd Generation put up on stage to the extent of wanting to also join them on stage. With the help of Diamond Studios CEO, Steady Munyanyi arrangements were made which saw Oswel land at Harare International airport to meet and join Jayh Prayzah for what was to become a musically unique exploration. Chris Oswel spent two months in Zimbabwe touring around the country with what has become the most sought- after musician and no doubt man of the moment Jah Prayzah. I had an opportunity to see Chris on stage playing his saxophone and I must say it totally brought out that whole jazz/sungura feel that Jah Prayzah is all about. I particularly enjoyed him playing to the Gochi Gochi song which always left the crowd going crazy with joy.
Before getting in touch with Chris Oswel to find out about his experience, I decided to speak to Mr Steady Munyanyi CEO of Diamond Studios to find out from him what was it that made him decide to facilitate for Oswel’s trip to Zimbabwe and this is what he had to say “I saw this as an opportunity for exchange of talent between the two musicians, I wanted to see how this would impact on Jah Prayzah’s music. I also wanted Chris Oswel to experience how it feels like to play music to a Zimbabwean audience. This was actually part of a pilot program I am working on to bring together artists from all over the world to be able to share talent.
So as I always do, I caught up with the man himself Mr Chris Oswel to find out what really made him pack his bags, leaving behind his friends and family and travel thousands of miles to a play and stay with people he did n’t know. This is what he had to say...
JC: How are you doing?
CO: I am great Jackie thanx, How are you?
JC: I am well, thank you very much for allowing me this opportunity to have a chat with you.
CO: You are most welcome.
JC: Tell us a little about yourself and your history as a musician.
CO: I was born in Buckinghamshire UK, grew up mainly in Hong Kong and have been a saxophonist for fifteen years. I studied jazz and have been lucky enough to have played gigs throughout Europe, Asia, and now Africa. Before I met Steady (Mr Munyanyi), I was living near Reading playing with ska band "The Skangsters" and tribute act "The Floydian Doors" as well as teaching saxophone at a local studio.
JC: When and how did you get to meet Mr Munyanyi?
CO: I was working for a friend and Floydian Doors front man, Nico. He was employed by Mr Munyanyi to do the sound engineering for Jah Prayah’s UK shows 2012 and needed a roadie for the show in Coventry. During the course of the gig, I got into a conversation with Steady about the band and the music industry in general. I told him I thought the band was great and would love to jam with them if I could. I gave him my card and he phoned the next day. We had a meeting in Kent a week later to discuss matter, and less than a month later, he funded and facilitated my trip to Zimbabwe.
JC: What made you decide to pack your bags and follow Jah Prayzah and his band to Zimbabwe after their first UK tour last September 2012?
CO: African music has been an interest of mine for a long time so the chance to tour with Jah was an unmissable opportunity to learn more about the music and culture of Zimbabwe.
JC: What was your first impression when you landed at Harare International Airport?
CO: My first impression was not being able to find Jah or Steady at the arrival gate and thinking I should probably have held on to more than the five dollars I arrived with! I found them outside shortly after. Otherwise it is much like any other international airport in the world. A clean modern building full of helpful people. You land, pick up your bags and carry on your way.
JC: How did you find the people of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe as a country?
CO: I found the people to be very friendly and accommodating. The countryside is beautiful, varied in landscape and was a joy to watch roll past the window of the Kombi on route to shows. When the band was not gigging I was mostly in Harare where I enjoyed exploring the bustling city as well as hanging out with the guys at the studio where I stayed.
JC: You stayed in Zimbabwe for two months before coming back to the UK, can you tell us how this was like for you considering the fact that the life styles and cultures are completely different.
CO: The life styles and culture are indeed very different to the UK. However as a musician, I personally found a lot in common with the people I met working in the industry. I have found that music is a very similar game wherever you are in the world and seems to transcend location.
JC: Did you travel freely?
CO: Yes. There were no restrictions about where I could travel.
JC: Did you meet any racism towards you of any nature at all?
CO: Not at all.
JC : The reason for your visit to Zimbabwe was to be a part of Jah Prayzah and The Third Generation Band, what was it about this particular band that made you decide to join them on a two months probation period?
CO : I was very impressed by the performance in Coventry, wanted to experience something new, and given that my position at the time allowed me the freedom to travel I jumped at the opportunity. Jah Prayzah writes some great melodies and the Third Generation brings a rhythmic energy to their performance that is infectious. No matter how stiff one’s upper lip may be, you cannot help but want to get up and dance!
JC: How was the fan’s reaction to you being part of the band?
CO: The fans were great. I have never been so pleasantly overwhelmed as at the ZNA gala where just three shows into my tour with Jah, five thousand people applauded my opening few notes with such enthusiasm that they drowned out the band. It is a moment that will stay with me forever.
JC: You were given a nickname while you were there that you were called on stage. What was this name?
CO: The name I was given is Kidza, meaning Chris in Shona I believe. It is always an honour to be given a name and I am happy to say Kidza has stuck with me. Friends from round the world now refer to me by it as well.
JC: You went over to Zimbabwe at the busiest time of the entertainment industry which meant that there was a lot of travelling around to different parts of Zimbabwe with the band. Tell us how that was for you because some of the places you would travel to were rural areas?
CO: We played in all sorts of places. The show at Jah Prayzah’s mother’s birthday was the first proper roots gig I played. It was a majestic setting for a show. The heat was at times a challenge for me on long Kombi trips but I got the hang of it by the end and got to see a great deal of the country. Jah Prayzah and The Third Generation work very hard, I enjoyed doing my best to keep up with the relentless pace of things.
JC: I watched a clip of the Unity Gala held in Gokwe in December 2012 where you guys put on a great performance that left the crowd asking for more as always. What do you think about this yearly event and what it stands for?
CO: This show was a great one to play. The reaction from the crowd was another awesome moment from my time in Zimbabwe. As far as I know, the Gala stands for bringing people together to act as one nation. From the short time I spent there I could see the event was well organised and people were enjoying the party. It would have been nice to have seen more of the acts before we headed off to the next show.
JC: What do you think of Diamond Studios and Mr Munyanyi the people who made it possible for you to be in Zimbabwe?
CO: I am very grateful to Mr Munyanyi and the people at Diamond studios for looking after me and making it possible for me to have experienced all that I did in Zimbabwe. I hope to work with them again in the future.
JC: What was your view about the Zimbabwean Entertainment Industry based on your experience that you encountered the two months you were in Zimbabwe?
CO: Zimbabwe obviously has a growing impact on the arts. It was great to see so many people turning out to support live music. The talent on the stage and in the studio is of a very high standard and the efficiency and creativity of the artists and producers shines well in the product.
JC: What would you say was the highlight of your trip?
CO: It is hard to pick just one, there were so many highlights. The best thing about my trip was the great friends I made and the many future possibilities that have been generated as a result.
JC: Any regrets about the decision you made of going to Zimbabwe?
CO: None at all. The experience gave me a healthy dose of self belief and reminded me of why I love to play music.
JC: Would you recommend Zimbabwe to anyone who wants to visit?
CO: Yes, I already have.
JC: Do you think Zimbabwe is getting enough or positive coverage in the UK?
CO: I do not own a TV and am not a big fan of the news in the UK so it would be wrong of me to comment on the frequency of Zimbabwe focused stories in the press there. Regarding the positivity of stories about Zimbabwe? Well in my opinion the UK headlines are as a rule more focused on negative stories than positive ones since that is sadly what sells. I would like to see more positive news stories concerning international interaction, and in general, such as the one I am answering questions for at this moment.
JC: So what are your future plans?
CO: Five months ago I had no idea I was going to be in Zimbabwe or that it would lead to my current six month contract with Cirkus Arena in Denmark and Sweden. I am using my time here to write up my journal from Zimbabwe and hope to put my own project together soon collaborating with artists that I have met from around the world.
There has been some discussion of me bringing a band to Zimbabwe, and I would very much like to see that happen. I made some great friends in Zimbabwe and look forward to working with them again. Otherwise who knows... Life has a habit of throwing the odd curve ball; I just try and catch them.
JC: How would you describe Zimbabwe to someone who has never been there before but would want to visit?
CO: It is the place for a great adventure!
JC: Chris, it has been great talking to you and again thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
CO: Always a pleasure Jackie....
It’s a nice thing to see that our music industry is certainly getting some were. Thanx to Diamond Studios, talented musicians like Jah Prayzah and Chris Oswel got an opportunity to try something new. I wonder what they have planned next; all I know is that I will certainly want to be around to find out. I will be updating you on what they have coming up next and I am sure it will be another wonderful experience for the musicians involved.