Albert Nyathi – a poet first and foremost

By John Masuku

“Breathing life into dead words…” Albert Nyathi is a poet first and foremost and being a musician comes second. His skill to identify and team up with good musicians has contributed to his popularity in Zimbabwe and over twenty countries in three different continents, where he has performed.

“Poetry is an outpouring of emotions. I started it when I was very young, often reciting popular writers, although Greek literature and mythology really influenced my love for writing and recital of creative works. As a small boy in my rural village in Gwanda in Matabeleland , my mother would praise me poetically when I did good things and as a herd boy, I also praised my dog whenever it outclassed others in hunting and bush races” he recounts.

Formative years of performing at national level were almost a flop when Albert discovered that he was generally dealing with an audience which had a very low interest in poetry. Without an injection of creativity, he realized that he would go nowhere.

Inspired by Marechera, Ngwenya and Hove

Recalls Albert, whose Zimbabwean motivators were popular writers like Dambudzo Marechera, Mthandazo Ndema Ngwenya and Chenjerai Hove:

“I discovered that poetry was meant to be performed in order to generate interest. The idea is to breathe life into dead words in order to tickle the audience.  I think I have managed to do that here and abroad”

It was Robert McLaren, his drama lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe who moulded Albert into a confident poet, articulating society’s ills such as bad governance and rampant corruption. With the release of  “I will not speak”, a perfect mixture of song, poetry and dance, he became a household name overnight. Accompanied by young talented musicians, who are now successful in their own right, namely jazz vocalist Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana, Mateo Kaunda and Naomi Makwenda, Albert was able to blend his dub poetry perfectly. Other internationally acclaimed artists who were groomed by Albert through his Imbongi Arts include Sandra Ndebele, IYASA and film actress Marian Kunonga.

Piracy highly detestable

A fierce fighter against music piracy, which has impoverished many accomplished and promising musicians in Zimbabwe and the region, Albert, who was in 2010 elected as chairperson of the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association, an organization that protects the intellectual property of musicians says:

“Privacy is driven by greed. It is a detestable act of dishonesty which has seriously harmed our music industry – it’s a serious crime against humanity, since it reduces artistic talent to a valueless commodity”

The public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), believes Albert, can do much better in promoting music from all corners of the country equitably. He passionately advises young Zimbabwean musicians to stick to their home-grown compositions:

“Besides very few international greats like Akon and Jay- Z who are long time diasporans, technically, I am yet to see someone from Africa making it by performing foreign music. I know urban grooves are very popular nowadays and I advise their performers to make hay while the sun shines because I don’t see it as a type that can last longer and make it internationally”.

Multiple award winner

Crossing into Botswana and Zambia during the liberation war motivated young Albert to pursue further education after encouragement from nationalists like Joshua Nkomo. He came back with greater determination to go back to school even as an overgrown student, leading to completion of bachelors and honours degrees at the University of Zimbabwe, followed by brief employment at the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. An accomplished music business person in his own right, Albert plans to embark on post graduate studies focusing on the development of the music industry in Zimbabwe.

Climate change envoy

A two- time music personality of the year and poet of the year award winner in the National Arts and Media Awards(NAMA) ceremony, Albert was appointed a climate change icon by the British Council in Harare. His job is to create poetry with climate change and global warming themes collectively with the pupils. Albert, a married father of three, who writes and performs in English and Ndebele was surprised to discover that his poetry, including “My Daughter” was so popular in UK schools which he visited on coaching clinics, thus got encouraged to compile his own anthology, “Echoes of Zimbabwe” inclusive of his boyhood and latest poems

“I’m no propagandist”

Although Albert openly celebrates the lives of local political and liberation heroes, he strongly detests being used by political parties for propaganda campaigns and hate messages against fellow citizens.

“No. I will never agree to be abused by politicians through my talent and popularity!

This profile of Albert Nyathi was first published in 2011 in the column “Talking to VIPs” on the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide(RNW) Africa website.