ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: ishė is Pioneering Zambuko Music For A Global Audience, and 'Who Would I Choose' is the Genesis


"If you're an artist and you're not focused on the world then, for me, you're limiting yourself." 

These are the words of ishė (pronounced Ishe), a 23 year old artist currently based in Harare, Zimbabwe. 

To most, ishė just got onto the scene, delivering some outer worldly visuals for his latest distribution (not a release) titled Who Would I Choose. Yet, he has been making music since 2020, distributing To Be Honest and Control. He followed that up with When I Come Through and Looking For You Now in 2021. 

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

Call it a return, call it the beginning of a new era, call it brilliance, the four-minute video was confirmation of ishė's global focus. But do not be misled to believe he is building castles in the air, Zimbabwe forms the core of his being, his artistry, and his vision. 

Who Would I Choose: A Powerful Beginning

In an exclusive sit-down with ZimSphere Music, ishė is coming off the heels of a blazing hot distribution (again, not a release), the Who Would I Choose Experience—a groundbreaking video coupled with a surreal listening event at Jasen Mphepho Little Theatre. For ishė, it has taken a while to get to this point. 

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

"This is coming from three years of thinking, learning, studying, writing such that I can get to this point. Not just in looking for answers, but actively doing the work," the artist says. 

This approach forms the core of his creative process, kind of like when Kanye West released evolving versions of The Life of Pablo. If you attend any one of ishė's listening events, you might stumble upon some yet to be distributed songs. He explains; 

“Usually, distribution usually takes long because I like to let a song live a little bit. I want it to literally exist, to experience the world outside of me, such that it then pulls inspiration from different things.

“I choose to produce my art and from a place of listening rather than thinking or doing. Because when you listen, that's when you hear the messages. How I interpret them, that comes from my experiences, people in my life, things that are happening in the world.”

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

Who Would I Choose takes listeners on a transformative journey of self-discovery as ishė confronts his emotions and searches for meaning. His powerful vocals and impeccable songwriting skills shine through, resonating deeply with his audience. 

One might wonder what was happening in ishė's life when he made Who Would I Choose. To that, he answers;

“Looking back on the creation process, it was during a time when I was letting go of a lot of people, people that were very important to me. Letting go of them was difficult. I wrote the song after they were gone. Before they were gone I was trying to find ways to keep them and rationalize around that.

“I was then able to take my life experiences and put them into the music. But before I could do that, I had to listen in. When I look at it now what I heard was 'if all of those relationships never happened, would you still choose them?’" 

He approaches music with authenticity, and in doing so, finds a rare balance between originality and appeal.

“I find it difficult to write songs that aren't authentic to me or that are about something I haven't experienced. If it works for the market that's great, but if it's not coming from me then it doesn't work. I've chosen to create from that place,” the artist boldly proclaims.

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

Whether it be by design or by coincidence, ishė has already set himself apart from the rest with just the Who Would I Choose video.

The video, directed and co-produced by Rowan of Domane Studios, was made to leave a lasting impression and perfectly complements the emotional depth of the song itself; further enhancing the listener's experience. 

Rowan essentially conceptualized the video, providing writing and direction, while also collaborating with a team of tested creatives that delivered a world class production. 

Director of Photography was TWENTY, working with head photographer Andile Sithole alongside Flickr. SUHN, Denimwoods and ishe’s close personal friend Sean Francis also provided creative input that helped bring the first part of the video to life. Sifiso Mahlangu was the Styling Consultant for the video.

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

Rowan's creative genius shined through on What Would I Choose, and ishė reveals how the super-creative allowed him to fully explore the depths of his creativity. 

“Rowan is someone that I have deep respect and admiration for because he's constantly looking to elevate the artists, and push them challenge them and make them better.

"Rowan feeds into my ideas and encourages me to have them. That is everything to me as an artist,” he beams.

By default, ishė has become a part of the community of artists that exist within Domane. 

He adds praise for the Domane team, saying; 

“They have become peers of mine that I have deep respect for because they have encouraged me and indirectly forced me to level up.

“Working with Domane has been lifechanging. It has not only challenged me, but it has given me the space to challenge them and to challenge the boundaries not only for Zimbabwe but global.”

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

With Who Would I Choose, ishė makes a powerful statement of intent. The artist and his peers are tearing up the formula that has been long used in Zimbabwean entertainment and blazing a new path, one that runs adjacent to global superstardom. 

Zambuko Music: Bridging ishė And The World  

Who Would I Choose showcases ishė's mature and emerging signature style, which transcends genres to give a unique sound that appeals to any ear. 

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

Some may be quick to call Who Would I Choose an RnB banger, but ishė would be quicker to correct them. 

"I don't make RnB music. I make Zambuko Music. Which is a style of pop music which originates from Zimbabwe, which originates from me," he quips.

Why Zambuko?

"Because ishė is a bridge—a bridge between worlds, people, sounds. And that's what the music is. It's finding where do they meet, where they find similarities, where do they collaborate.

“Zambuko is pop music. It's popular. It sets popular culture. It's not pop because it's catchy, it's pop because it's for the popular masses, it's for everyone, and there's different parts of genres in it,” ishe continues.

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

A new sound seeking to appeal to the masses needs a propagator. To that effect, ishė has teamed up with longtime friends Darryl Mutyambizi and Tizee Kasete to create Gairezi Sound. 

“Gairezi Sound is the vehicle which we will use to take Zambuko Music to the world,” he explains. 

The inspiration for the name comes from the Gairezi River, which  starts on the slopes of Zimbabwe’s highest mountain, the 2593 meter Mount Nyangani, and flows through tributaries along the Mozambique border, where it finally joins with the Luenya, Mazoe and Zambezi rivers 160km northwards. 

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

"Much like our music, it comes from the highest source, and then it is distributed to the rest of the world," articulates ishė.

It seems like just the beginning, but ishė looks like he can actually do it. Much like Amapiano in South Africa, ishe holds the potential to take Zambuko Music to the world, being driven by Gairezi Sound, whilst still firmly rooted in his homeland.

Global Citizen, Global Artist, Firmly Rooted in Zimbabwe

Quizzed on whether the Zimbabwean music industry should be on the lookout for ishė, he responds, "ishė is not trying to take over Zimbabwe, ishė is a global artist." 

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

Instead of the cliché Zimbabwean global artist who breaks out onto the global stage, immediately migrates to the Global North and comes back home once a decade for a ‘Homecoming Concert’; ishe is aiming for a different kind of global, think of South Africa and Amapiano. He enunciates;

"Zimbabwe is at the core of our mission, but it's not the focus. Our role is to take Zimbabwe to the world.

“Most people want to export their music so they can be a part of that world. We want to export our music so that we don’t have to leave here and go there to do music. We want them to come here.

“More so, we want to be a part of the global narrative. It’s not right that everything about us is coming from somewhere else. It’s not about countering the perspective, it’s about giving our own perspective.”

As someone who has spent time in the Global North, where he attended university in Upstate New York, ishė understands the importance of perspective, and how it shapes reality. His biggest takeaway from the diaspora experience; 

“In order to break chains, you have to be willing to take risks. In order to break into a new world, you have to break standards; and that takes time.”

One might argue that if ishė has been privileged to amass a perspective of the developed world, the best way to give back to his homeland is to use his experience and talent to make a difference for the average Zimbabwean.

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

He intercepts, “First of all, let’s not say ‘the average Zimbabwean’, because no Zimbabwean is average. Let’s say ‘the youth’”

Yes, the youth. But what can ishe do for them? 

“To answer your question, what I can do for the youth is to expand their mind. My music doesn’t help them to escape their reality, it helps them to confront their reality. Because (sic) the questions and issues I speak about in the music are very introspective and inquisitive,” he answers. 

With artists like this in Zimbabwe, you’d think that the audience is clamouring for such content, art that awakens our critical consciousness. Right? Alas! 

The sad reality is that most Zimbabweans are bogged down by their material realities for them to consume art in that manner. Most would rather choose to listen to music that helps them escape.

"The music that we're creating is encouraging people to think and create, yet the people's main focus right now is survival—getting to the next day," admits ishė. 

That is the first major factor impeding the widespread, mainstream uptake of Zambuko music. 

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

The second factor is a common stereotype associated with ‘North Samora’ artists, a demographic ishė finds himself a part of, by association. 

North Samora artists have long been accused of being blinded (by their priviledge) to the realities of most of the audience they create for—Zimbabweans.

"I understand the sentiment towards the art we create because I get where the listeners are coming from, and I get why they'd be opposed to it because it doesn't resonate with them, with what's going on in their lives," ishė offers his two cents on the matter. 

Instead of counting on familiarity and delivering the same old tired trope, ishe and his peers have decided to break new ground and create a new blueprint for Zimbabwean music. 

"It's not that we're not paying attention, it's that we've seen that things have been the same for a long time. We feel the people need something new," shares ishė.

Nonetheless, ishė would like for Zambuko music to spread to all the corners of his homeland, and thus, as his career evolves, expect Zambuko music to resonate more with the masses.

He remarks, "We don't have the luxury to say 'why don't people like our music, why can't they accept us', we have to do the work. Not just to understand what's going on in Zimbabwe, but also take our experience and make it resonate with Zimbabwe, Africa, and the world."

Forget the stereotypes, Zambuko music is Zimbabwean music, no matter which side of Samora it originates from. That is because the role that ishe and his peers aspire to play in Zimbabwean music history is just too important. 

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

We need to be mentioned in the global conversation, for Zimbabwean art is indeed world class. The Bundu Boys performed with Madonna in Britain, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe conqured Germany with her mbira, Oliver Mtukudzi performed on stages around the world, and ishė will take Zambuko music to the world.

Some Thoughts

As we wrap up this long-ranging conversation with ishė, we pick his mind on his aspirations for the future, and the memory he is trying to invoke in that future.  

In the future, expect this from ishė;

"Musically, I see evolution. The music will be more focused on me, in terms of who I am.

“Right now, where Zambuko is, it sounds more international. The Africanness that's in the music at the moment is coming from my spirit, rather than the sound. The music that's coming, there's going to be more afro-centric and afro-influenced nuances of music”

Even more so, ishė plans to pay attention to the reality they have been so notoriously accused of not paying attention to, adding;

“The conversation right now is mainly about me and my life. Now it needs to be about the reality around us, and how I see it, and how it can grow.”

Today, ishė is the pioneering artist at Gairezi Sound, and tomorrow, he plans to work with Gairezi Sound to empower young aspiring artists. 

“What we really want to do is to give the youth a platform to do what they love such that in the future when they want to pursue a career in music, they don’t have to go overseas, they can do in here, in Zimbabwe. At Gairezi Sound,” ishė says.

ishė Who Would I Choose Zambuko Music Gairezi Sound

In answering how he would ultimately like to be remembered, ishė reveals his vision for his career, his people, and his continent. 

“I want to be remembered as a bridge—as someone who created a link between worlds, between yesterday and tomorrow, Africa and the world, the past and the future.

“Even more so, to be remembered as one of the key players in the creation of Africa as the center of entertainment industry. Because it will be," he concludes. 

And with these final words, it is clear that ishė is a man on a mission, for his nation. 

Music is more than just entertainment. It has the power to transcend real and imagined boundaries, shape perspectives, and define narratives. 

If Who Would I Choose is the beginning, then ishė can take it right to the finish—use his talent to shape perspectives around his homeland, and inspire the next generation of artists.

Stay up to date with ishė via his Instagram or X, where you can get information on listening exhibitions and distributions. 

Watch the Who Would I Choose video below and share your thoughts: 

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