Jah Prayzah is the Biblical Canaan in Zimbabwe’s showbiz industry today — that land of milk and honey — and naturally no one should want out of the musician’s orbit. Unless it is all a facade.
Gonyeti aka Pamela Zulu has shocked everyone and even angered the closest of family members and friends with her decision to walk out on the most sought-after entertainer in the country at the moment.
Her unexpected move has made her the butt of many jokes, some have even questioned her sanity while others believe there is more to it than meets the eye.
However, a chat with the chubby yet pretty songstress reveals she has no regrets, she is not insane, but carries deep-seated frustration with her former employer and how he has transformed over the last few years.
“Mukomana (Jah Prayzah) hasisina moyo, hasisina rudo. Zvake zvaita hasisina basa nevamwe (the guy no longer has a heart, he has no love anymore. His ducks are in a row now so he does not care about anyone else),” said Gonyeti as she opened up.
But is lack of love in a workplace enough to show her band of three years her back? After all, who needs love when one is well paid, treated fairly and living a comfortable life? Or is this 30-year-old career backing vocalist being a cry-baby, a spoiled brat?
“I know people are laughing at me and calling me names. Harisi shavi rehurombe and handipengi (I don’t have some poverty-loving spirit and I’m not insane). This is like an abusive relationship where one feels not loved or cared for anymore and just wants out. When I met Jah Prayzah he was curtain raising for Jabavu Drive, a band where I was the lead singer, upenyu ivhiri hunotenderera,” said a dejected Gonyeti.
She added: “Of course we had disagreements especially over money. The monies we agreed on when I joined the band, when the band was charging less for shows have gone down instead of up.”
Gonyeti says when she joined Jah Prayzah around the release of the hit album “Tsviriyo”, life was awesome. She says when they went on tour, the monies were great and she also loved the publicity.
“Others got more, of course, but it was still fine,” says Gonyeti, adding, “the departure of Mai Shinda (Mother Filda aka Mama Filo), was the turning point in the welfare of band members.”
“These days certain shows we do we are told it is for charity and we do not get a single penny. Where we had agreed US$60 per show sometimes they give us half or so. It is so disheartening after lifting those boots through four sometimes five shows in three days.”
Gonyeti says when they confront Jah Prayzah, he gets angry and refers their (mostly her) questions to the manager and when they confront the manager, Jah Prayzah tells them the manager works under his instructions and thus he is a no go area.
“We were in a fix. When we go out of town we all get into that Baby Quantum, everyone including the bouncers. Sometimes the marimba set is thrown in there, making things worse.
“But the worst of it is that most of the times there would be no accommodation, no food, no place even just to freshen up and relax before going on stage. They (Jah Prayzah and his closest) travel in comfort and sleep in luxury yet we toil,” said Gonyeti.
Gonyeti says at Third Generation its each man for himself as Jah Prayzah and his management have mastered the art of divide and rule.
“The band is not united, he picks and chooses. He causes divisions. People are angry, most band members and workers, but they are afraid to speak or like I have done, leave. They are afraid of what people might think of them, that people will laugh that they walked out of opulence for poverty. But I came from Binga alone, so I left by myself,” she said.
Gonyeti dismissed the widely believed notion that she walked out of the band because she was protesting being left out of the USA and Canada tour, and that she tried to incite a rebellion of the band members at the album launch.
“I did not even want to speak to the media but that talk is precisely why I have come out to set the record straight. I went to the UK, I went to Australia, and I know how things work with promoters and all.
‘‘Being angry about the tour is completely wrong and out of the question. But for two weeks that they were away on tour we did not get the monies that we had worked for.
“Other band members got their monies yet some of us were left out, so already its clear there can never be such a revolt of all band members. I just asked myself a simple question: Every time I go out people say ‘Gonyeti Gonyeti’ but what exactly am I toiling for besides the fame? Other bands are envious of us, especially when we return from tours but the truth is there is nothing to be envious of.”
Gonyeti says the straw that really broke the camel’s back was when she had an accident on her way to a show and could not make it.
After informing her superiors she got a call the next day thinking she was about to get help but alas, she was threatened.
She says just before the tour, she complained about outstanding salaries, about US$500 per person, and all she got from her bosses was, “you talk too much”.
Confronted with Gonyeti’s allegations, Keen Mushapaidze, Jah Prayzah’s manager had this to say: “We parted ways amicably. If there are any outstanding issues she is free to come to the office to talk to me or Jah and everything will be sorted out.
“We worked well from the very first day I assumed office and there were no problems and if there were any they would be work-related, which is inevitable in any organisation. Apart from that we have always been cool, we wish her well in the endeavours that she wishes to pursue.”
As for outstanding monies or where full pay did not come Keen says, “In the entertainment industry and I’m sure all other businesses, things don’t go well each and every day but we have always done our best to make sure that everyone gets their dues. Whenever there were challenges, these were communicated to everyone and everyone was in the loop and they agreed to everything.
“We have records to that effect. Any arrears that are there are known to everyone and it is not a secret. I’m sure it would have been a problem if we did not acknowledge that we owe our guys monies. In everything that we do we always make sure that the band is in the know.”
Keen says Jah Prayzah has always been fair to everyone from management right down to the lowest member.
“When we travel it even hurts him (Jah Prayzah) that others have to stay behind and I have to explain to him. We have different events that have different requirements and we have to meet them. When such scenarios arise we have to take certain band members and drop others — it is not even the same people or same faces every other time.
“Some are in videos that we are shooting overseas now, everyone has their opportunity to shine and Jah Prayzah has never favoured anyone. We do not know of any favouritism. We have structures. Everyone knows how much everyone gets.
“Those that get more than others it is because they have specific roles they have been given since Third Generation was created and everyone who joins is made aware of such arrangements,” explained Keen.
So, where to now for the Binga-born and Victoria Falls-raised songstress?
“I’m creating a small manageable band and going back to doing cover versions while composing my own music. Ndakashingirira njombo surely I can get by on my own. I’m 30 years old and have two school-going kids, do you really think I would endanger the livelihoods of my kids if I did not have to? One has to be happy on stage because we are entertainers but I was not happy anymore,” said Gonyeti.
The former Summer Breeze and Jabavu lead singer has a message for Jah Prayzah, “Please take care of your people, love them, because they love you and even pray for you. Bring back the love of old when you would talk to your band members, have time to braai with them, have drinks and laugh, they miss those ‘Big Brother’ get-togethers and please pay them what they sweat for on that stage, it is their money, they have earned it.”
Jah Prayzah, who replaced his formative years manager, Mother Filda, with a new younger, degreed manager Keen Mushapaidze, a couple of years back has already said the Third Generation train will not stop because of Gonyeti.
Gonyeti replaced Generator, another talented vocalist and dancer, who found herself in the newspapers, on many occassions, for the wrong reasons