On March 20 2009, the cream of musicians from South Africa will gather in the nation’s capital for a day of prayer and performances ahead of Human Rights Day the day after, and the national elections in April. Amongst them will be revered Hip-hop lyricist Zubz. Helen Herimbi had a chat with him in between takes on the set of his new music video.

To know Ndabaningi Mabuye (Zubz’ real name) is to recognize two sides to his art: his compulsion to narrate African stories be they good or bad, and his love for American Hip-hop artists that drew him to the game in his teens – Rakim, Black Thought and Nas, for instance. This you can hear on his third and most recent album, Cochlea – One Last Letta.

“I have a…” Zubz starts then pauses, searching the sky for the right word, “a burden for this continent.

“I don’t mean that Africa is weighing me down, I just mean that I have a strong passion and affinity for it. I carry Africa with me wherever I go.” But wouldn’t this render his constant continent references redundant?

He laughs as he considers the question. “Not every artist needs to be about Africa. It is but one of seven continents. And other times, I figure, Africa needs an advocate.”

It’s just as well Zubz isn’t occupied with just the one country. The Zambian-born MC who grew up in Zimbabwe and now lives in South Africa gets serious for a moment: “I’ve come to relate to myself more as being an African than a Zambian, Zimbabwean or South African.”

Apparently most times he’s not considered sufficiently native to either of those countries but “no one can take away me being fully African.”

Zubz has roped in various artists to make Cochlea his most complete album yet.

Pedro da Silva Pinto of Mozambique-South African dub band, 340ml features on this album’s first single, A Time To Heal. The video being shot at Outrageous Records studios (the independent record label Zubz is signed to) today is for this melodic tune.

“The time for this song is now because there are so many confrontational things happening now that you need a voice of calm. Elections are coming up in South Africa and so everything is so adversarial,” shares Zubz. Along with several prominent South African musicians like Busi Mhlongo, Neo Myanga, Tumi and Simphiwe Dana, he lends his own voice to jazz virtuoso Sibongile Khumalo’s Forgive and Be Forgiven campaign. This initiative has seen the stars record a song called Healing In The Land Of Forgiving encouraging unity and reconciliation amongst.

Elsewhere, Zubz’ Heartless, a rendition of Kanye West’s song addresses the suffering of Zimbabwe’s people and the glaring lack of international intervention: “Heartless is about Zim’s current condition and is directed to South Africa in particular and the rest of the world in general. You have to understand that Zimbabweans are real people, people who are at the lowest of lows. That’s factual. The inflation rate is sad. That’s a fact. You cannot debate that this a low point in Zimbabwe. But I can’t see anyone clamouring to help out.”

“That seems heartless to me. Years from now we’ll tell the story of Zimbabwe the same way we tell the Rwanda genocide story.”

His stance on concerts for aid is point blank: “We can’t use humans as bargaining chips. We can’t only provide help if we’re getting something in return. How about we leave the politicking to the politicians?”

So how do we begin to change the world that we live in then, I ask him? Zubz gets up; the video’s director is now motioning to us to wrap it up. “People aren’t even convinced that they can help. There is a lot of skepticism around. But I think in our spheres of friendships we can make a difference.

“At some point in our lives we need to realize that our cultures aren’t confined to borders. We carry Africa with us all the time. If we don’t allow others to be repositories of who we are and what our culture is then there’s no way we can be offended when they don’t tell our African stories.”

This article appeared on AfriPOP! Mag on 20 March 2009.