Interview with Proverb Nesta I - Will They Finish The Tower Of Babel?
09/10/2021 by Gardy Stein
"All eyes and ears on Zimbabwe!" That's how the album review of Tower Of Babel ended, and it is a perfect start for the interview with its originator, Clive Jonga aka Proverb Nesta I. This young artist has followed Reggae's calling early on, combining God-given talent with a vision to bring beauty and wisdom to the world. His songs speak of a deep love for his African homeland and is people, of hardships and pain, but also of faith and hope.
Although he's not been in the business for long and has neither a huge discography nor a lot of performances to talk about, his extraordinary voice and the fresh approach his music takes prompted us to reach out to this impressive singer (and, hey, Koffee had just released her second track Burning when we linked her in 2017!).
In his first ever interview with Reggaeville, Proverb Nesta I opens up about his humble beginnings, about the circumstances in Zimbabwe and, above all, the motivation to create his phenomenal debut album Tower Of Babel:
Greetings Proverb Nesta I! Let's start this interview by introducing Zimbabwe. What is your country like, how is the music scene there?
Well, Zimbabwe is one of the most beautiful countries of the world. A beautiful destination for the tourists, if you are looking to visit any place in Africa, this is the place to be. Here you'll find one of the seven wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls, a place which I recommend people to come to and witness, and a whole lot of wildlife. And it's lively, the weather is also nice, right now in the summer, lots of sunshine. It's a great place, a lot of cultural activities are really rooted in our culture as well, that kind of thing. Also great music, from traditional music to various kinds of modern music. Now that there is a lot of internet and social media, we are getting to infuse that with a lot of music from other parts of the world as well. A great place to be!
What about Reggae music, is there a big crowd, do people love Reggae there? I'm sure most people know the name Zimbabwe from the Bob Marley song, but how is the situation in the country really?
It's good that you mention the Bob Marley track. To some extent, that is where the whole thing really started, from Bob Marley visiting back in 1980 for the independence. Reggae has been a vibe from ever since then up until now. It's growing still, a lot of subgenres are coming out, but Reggae itself is there evidently, and it has room to be more than what it is right now.
Dancehall is quite big also, right? I read that there is an own genre called ZimDancehall...
Yeah, ZimDancehall is again a growing movement, a lot of people, especially from the city suburbs, the places we call the ghetto, really vibe to ZimDancehall. It is the type of music that has captured the young especially, growing up to the old. The thing is, with Dancehall, this is the music that you listen to every day, this is the music that narrates what's happening on a daily basis, it is kind of a newspaper, you get to hear the real stories. It's quite huge, yes!
Ok, that sounds interesting! Let's now turn to Reggae, since that's the path you chose. How did you start to connect with Roots music, what is your journey so far?
I strongly had a feeling that this is part of me, you know. I've been in a lot of circles when it comes to arts, and Reggae really is that one thing that speaks to me and gives me the room to express myself to the fullest. I just vibe to it, I don't even put much effort, it's my life's work, I can't really do without. That alone pushes me to do more. It's like a chef who knows that he has to create, he has to prepare a meal for the people. So, I see people readily there, and what I can give to this world is Reggae music.
You said you moved in a lot of art circles, can you elaborate on that? What is your education, your experience in arts?
Growing up, I was really exposed to a lot of artistic activities, from acting to directing, even painting. Officially in 2014, I went for an art school in Bulawayo, this is the second largest city in Zimbabwe. I went there to study performing arts, this was with Amakhosi Arts Academy. From then I moved back to Harare and enrolled with the Zimbabwe College of Music, which is where I did my diploma in musicology. Then I moved to Zimbabwe Theatre Academy where I did my physical theatre program. So, I've been moving quite a lot.
You also formed a band, The Rock Solid Band, can you introduce the members to us?
The Rock Solid Band was formed in 2016, this was at the Zimbabwe College of Music. We got there and Reggae was on a low then, so we kind of revived it. We started working together, up until now. In the band, we have Theo Chitanda on saxophone, Tonderai Chukera on bass, Tanatswa Marara on keys, Tadiwanashe Gondiwa on drums and myself on vocals.
Do you play an instrument as well?
Yes, quite a few, I play mbira, marimba, acoustic guitar and so on (laughs).
When did you choose the artist name Proverb Nesta I?
This was in 2014, when I was at Amakhosi. That's when I did my first recording, it's called Better Than Before. So, this is where I started really singing and getting into the studio, getting to know this kind of vibe. And then, Proverb I originally for me, this simply means "my proverbs" and it was taken from the biblical proverbs. And then the Nesta, people likened my dreadlocks to those of Bob Marley (laughs) and then they called me Nesta from that, that's how the whole thing really came about.
Speaking about your debut album, how long has it been in preparation? When did you decide that you want to do that?
Well, the making process of the album really started late 2017. This is when I started to create it, I went back to Bulawayo, I felt that this is the place where all the music started for me. So, I sketched quite a few of the songs there. Then I moved back to Harare, that was in 2018. We did a couple of songs in one studio, but it didn't really quite work out and I had to move. Throughout 2018 and 2019 I was working on it and I had really planned on releasing it last year, but then Covid happened and a lot of stuff didn't really work out. I then decided that whenever things free up, I can release the album. Which was...
Now! You worked with a producer called Vic Enlisted, is he from Zimbabwe as well?
I've been working with Vic since late 2019 on a project, we did Love Again. He is from Zimbabwe, he is a great guy and he kind of interpreted most of the things that I really wanted to be on the album. Also Slage, he is based in Namibia now, he did three tracks on the album, Beautiful and Lion Roar for instance. We did a couple of tracks together and he is someone who really understands my direction when it comes to music, so everything was adding up.
About the title now... you called it Tower Of Babel, can you describe what made you chose that? It seems to have a close connection to Proverb as well, because it's also a biblical tale.
If you take a look at the track, the Tower Of Babel, this is a question that's been posed to the world, with the example of a woman who is asking the whole world, asking what we are doing with it. If you take a look at it from that perspective, a lot of people are not really aware or conscious of their surroundings. There is a lot of pollution on the land, in the water, even our eating habits, it gets to that. A lot of people are not aware of themselves from within, and to me, this is the Tower Of Babel. If you now try and compare that with the biblical tower where people were in one accord to do something that was so big… I took my time to look at this from that point and really pose this question to the people, like "Will we finish this Tower Of Babel?" If we continue along this path, where is humanity going? That is the question.
Another song that really touched me is Lion Roar, which is an homage to your father, I think. There is so much love and admiration in this song, maybe you can say something about him?
Yes, Lion Roar is one of my favorites (laughs). The thing is, I didn't get to spend much time with my Dad, he passed on when I was very very young. But the little time we were together, we had magical moments. I can still remember some of the things that he taught me, even from that very young age. And so... since I think in the past I heard so many songs about mothers, I thought it was time to also talk about the real general.
Good to hear that, I love it when the real fathers out there get their spot. What is your first language, by the way?
I speak Shona, that's the widely spoken language in Zimbabwe. Then there is English next to it and Ndebele. We have 16 languages altogether.
Do you ever compose music in Shona?
Not quite, but some of the projects that I'm working on right now have Shona.
Another song I want to ask about is South Of Samora. What is Samora, what does the song talk about?
Samora Machel Avenue is an A5 road in Harare that was named after the former president of Mozambique. It runs through the Harare CBD, the Central Business District. North of it, you have low density suburbs, where people live that you might call the middle or upper class. South of it is the place where you find the high density suburbs, the ghettos, this is the place where the real stuff happens, this is where, if you want to picture what's really happening in the country, this is the point to start from. Girls getting married while they are still very young, boys addicted to drugs… it's hard. But also, this is the place where you find most abundant talent, very intelligent people, but no one to really gets them to that level where they can express themselves. So, this is South Of Samora.
Are there any projects, either government or NGO, who do some cultural project for the youths or the children, any art classes or whatever?
Yes, there are people who try to do that here and there. In most cases it is the NGOs trying to help. This is the place where I come from, so every time we try to help each other whenever we can. You find love in abundance in these places, it's not only the bad things that happen, a lot of good has come from these places too!
The next song, Kings And Queens, is very empowering and uplifting for African people. What was your motivation to write that song and put it on the album?
Kings And Queens is a tale of Africa. This is my understanding of this beautiful continent and its people and the culture and the vibe that is there, so this is my view of it and how I express it. I think it's basically that.
How do you personally see the future of Africa, what is the great power Africa has?
To start with, there are a lot of intelligent people coming out of Africa, a lot of intelligence, and people don't know about it. Also, a lot of resources. What I would say would be the way forward is for us to realize the power that we have, the potential that we have. I mean, we are there, but we need more self-belief and that kind of thing, really to gravitate towards impressing ourselves and working while endorsing ourselves in doing great things. We can do better!
That's also something that rings in Conqueror, but I think it's more personal. Is that a track about yourself?
Conqueror is more… I would say more of a tale of conquering, yes. Of course we can relate it to you, whichever place you want, but basically it's a story of making it out there. It wasn't really directed to me, but these are the things that I see every day, the things that I feel.
I think the things that you feel come across very strongly, in your voice, in the way you sing, and in Tales Of A Broken Heart which seems very intimate, very personal. When did you write that?
To be frank, I wrote it when I was in a very depressed state. I wanted something that would express how I was feeling at that time, something that would again motivate me and give me hope in the process. So that's how it all came about, with the help of a heartbreak (laughs).
Which leaves us with three more songs. I mean, Beautiful just speaks for itself, it's simply beautiful, so people should just listen to it. I-Ternal Happiness and Praise Him express a deep gratitude for life...
Yes, I-Ternal Happiness is a word I combined from eternal and internal because it talks about happiness from within. Before you start looking for happiness elsewhere, you have to start looking from within. It also talks about dreams, if you really listen to the first part where I say "A great chef I told myself I was, right before my mirror". This is someone who dreams of making it in the future, and looking in the mirror and seeing themselves right there where they want to be in the future, that's what it talks about. And Praise Him is more gratitude, it talks about a superior being and the recognition that we should give to that superior being. It's no coincidence that we are here, we are here for each other, we are here to take care of nature, things need care from us, so that it's more from that end, gratitude as well.
Where do you wish your journey takes you in the future, where do you see yourself long-term or short-term?
Well... (laughs) I don't really talk about those things much, but what I would say is I am a vessel and I put out things that I feel need to be put out at certain points in time. The universe has its ways, it works. If it needs us to be somewhere, we will be there, now or in the near future, in 5 or 10 years, so we work with what the universe gives us.
Wow, yes. Thank you for the input! Would you like to add something?
I think we exhausted everything (laughs). Do look out for Proverb Nesta I, because this is the beginning and we are coming in strong, that's all I have to say!