Soulful Reggae Singer, Zoro, is an independent recording artiste who has his origins firmly based in Gugulethu, Cape Town, South Africa. He is the founding member of the historic Chronic Clan which helped to shape and nature many young talent in Cape Town. Now based in Spain, he continues to be involved in youth development as a music teacher, while making and recording his music that is an amalgamation of his life experiences and various music genres to form what he calls SOUL REGGAE under his label Spliff Records. In an exclusive interview with MzansiReggae Zoro talks about his musical journey from Gugs to Barcelona.
Where did it all start?
I grew up in Guguletu in South Africa born as Zolile; where I come from Zoro is a common nick name for Zolile, so you can find others called Zoro as well in my area. But when I started out in the raggamuffin scene back in the 90s they used to call me MAD ZORO, my favorite artist at that time was Mad Cobra. My uncle and his friends liked to watch Zoro (the masked hero fighting for the poor) in the movies and it was natural to call me ZORO. Now the name is even more fitting, as I find my self using music as a voice for the unheard and under privileged. As you may know the movie Zoro, is a story of liberation, equality and justice. Zoro is a revolutionary figure. Which I hope I can be too, be a part of a Love Revolution, where we can change the world for the better for InI!
At what point did you decide that you would like to pursue a career in music?
Music started from an early age, I was born in to it. I used to go to sleep listening to my father and his cousins singing doo wop. So I was exposed to harmony and riddim from an early age. Around late 70’s reggae music came and from jazz and soul my uncle moved on to reggae. My uncle and his friends started to hold sessions in my grandparents yard, and Rastafarian’s from around came to the dance. That was my proper introduction to roots and sound system. From the early 80’s the dance used to go from rasta to rasta houses and my uncle would take me with him, and there I got to see the equipment being set up , the tent built and got to experience the whole feeling around the session. It used to cost 50 cent to get in to the dance, and you got fruit by the door.
I grew up like any other ghetto kid, not necessarily so righteous minded and I wanted to hang in the streets; but after I got shot, I went back home from the hospital, all my uncles were rastas and I started spending more time with them, especially my uncle Jerry. I listened and got inspired. It was then that I really started to listen to roots music and righteous music that uplifted me. He never really talked about Rastafari, he lived it, so one day I started dreading too. I stopped eating meet, no cigarettes and two of my friends joined me. With the help of my neighbour I started a fruit and veg store, to kind of separate myself from my old self and old friends.
I played music in my fruit and veg store singing along to the tunes, when a good friend of mine Teba Shumba – who used to come by and hang sometimes, he was involved in theater at the time – told me that I sounded good and that I should enter this competition. He got me the forms to enter. This caught me by surprise, I had never written a song before, I had been singing in choirs when I was young, but that was about it. I remember when I got the forms I was running around trying to get people to help me to write a song. I asked my uncles, friends and people who listen to reggae music, maybe they knew something about writing lyrics; but no one knew. I was forced to write my first song. I picked a riddim from a dub “Man in the hill” by Burning Spear and I wrote a song on it. I entered the competition, was super nervous and shaking like a leaf, I went on stage… ..and the response was amazing, people loved it!! from there I never stopped writing and singing! This was around 1992 -93 and I am still going strong.
A lot of people who are not from Cape Town do not know about the remarkable Chronic Clan. Can you take us back to those days, when the clan was formed. Tell us about the backdrop/environment in which it all started.
Chronic clan started from HIM soldiers to Fabulous crew. It was myself Zoro, Cat, Red Shabba and Screw. We all met at the dance that used to be hosted by Sagittarius Sound with DJ Malusi and Humphrey. What brought us together in HIM soldiers is that I had found a way to record through an old Japanese tape recorder that was a twin deck and I had discovered how to record in layers so we could add backing etc. We had to record on our knees, as the recorder had to stay on the floor since I didn’t have a table where I lived, after a while I branched out from HIM soldiers and from that Fabulous Crew was born! It was me trying to build my own community within my community and uplift youth by coaching them and letting them get to the mike. We were a big crew of DJ’s, MC’s and dancers. We started experimenting with all genres, from kwaito to RnB and soul with reggae as a base.
Years passed and the movement came to a point where it needed fresh energy. So me and one of the youngest members of fabulous crew Jesse Dan, decided to reconstruct; then my young cousin, Crosby came from the Eastern Cape, he was in to Rap at the time. We wanted to set a new group or change name. We became a clan since it was 11 of us but Crosby, Jesse Dan and myself carried the name Chronic Clan further as we became the prominent act.
We used to use back tracks at the time, so we used to buy a lot of singles. During all this time I could run the thing due to weed money as I used to sell weed to sustain the movement and to survive. That money also helped us to buy new equipment to learn. We bought this 305 Yamaha drum machine, we had no experience at all, we barley knew how to turn it on. This was around 1995-96, but we had a friend who went to piano school who helped us to figure it out, so we started to experiment with different beats and sound. That knowledge of knowing how to make beats and be able to record made Chronic clan a base for other artist around the neighbourhood. It became a ghetto youth movement where we focused on developing youth musically. So young Nkululeko joined the crew too, who l later gave the name Black Dillinger and many more joined. As time passed Chronic clan became one of the first free recording facility in the area. Lots of artists heard themselves for the first time in Chronic clan studio
What eventually happened to it? Did it disband?
Well , not officially, I’m still waiting for it to come back too, but I guess since I left South Africa it slowly died out. It would be nice to bring it back up again, for the youth. Now that we have been through so much and experienced the world which we can bring to the youth today. How things work outside and that it is possible to succeed with passion.
Back to Zoro: What type of music would you describe yourself doing and for who?
My music is broad, and I like to think it is for everybody black, white , Chinese, man, woman, young, old you name it. Even though I take up serious issues in the world I feel I speak for the people, most of us want to be loved or feel peace. And that is the theme in many of my songs. I sing about racism, war, equality, love and so on. I always experiment with sound, my peers know me for that, but the message stay the same Love, peace equality and justice. I also produce and make my own beats in most of my music and that is when I am most productive and creative, when I am free.
I love to teach, especially the children, as they are our future. Now i am discovering/experimenting with with soul, jazz blues and reggae, I like to call it SOUL Reggae, where I fuse all the elements which reggae is based on, Rhythm and Blues, soul and Jazz and fusing that with roots music. As you can hear in my new song “GOODBYE” is a different style than what I have done before. I feel as I had to heal my voice, I had to experiment again to find my voice and now I feel ready to take the stage again.
My lyrics are important to me, as I want to use my music as a tool to fulfill the dream that it is possible to live side by side, no matter the race, religion or creed. That is what South Africa is supposed to be based on and I would love to see that unity one day in action!
Tell us about the difference between where you are located/operating now and the scene back here at home.
Well, I grew up with music around me on a daily basis. My friends and family are musical and music is a big part of the whole society I grew up in. I worked a lot with new talent and community building. Sometimes we dragged the sound on the street and had sound system parties, no need for bureaucracy, and everyone is involved, kids and grown ups grabbing the mike. While making music in Europe for me is much more a lonely affair. Even though I have done a lot of collaborations and worked with people, life is happening more behind 4 walls in Europe. It is not like in my home town Gugs where things are happening on the streets and around music.
What would your advice be to aspiring musicians and the reggae community in general in Mzansi.
I would say, first of all understand the point of togetherness, unity. Organise and come together. Find people to fit in the different roles, making it in music is more than just music. Support of each other is important. As together we are stronger. Lyrics are important, remember that music was used as a tool to get news around, information and education. That is why it was used to be called Message when reggae first came to SA in the late 70’s. So be conscious and be clear. Also dare to sing in your language, be proud of it. I think if you gonna make it in places like Jamaica come with something new, that they have not heard before, make sure you have a couple of songs in your repertoire that are in your native language.
Tell us about your new album/project. Which artists/producers did you/are you working with?
It is quite early in the making, “GOODBYE” was just a taste of what could be. As I have several projects going on and a ton of songs and styles. It is hard to choose and we are still in the making, this is where my team comes in and we are developing something we think you all will enjoy and building a fan base. So stay tuned for more. We are hoping 2016 South Africa will make an impact that will motivate producers and promoters to recognise the vocal talents SA has and make an impact in music internationally.
How has the general response to your previous work been? What have you learnt from that experience?
Actually my first single in Sweden did very well underground as it was a Swedish underground release of White Label limited Vinyl, as an introduction to the Swedish scene. “Far Away from home” had over 80k hits on YouTube and “Azania” also did very well. All my tours and shows I did were packed! which was a great experience, and I learned a bit about the business as well, that it is possible to live of this. But just when I was about to release my second album I had an heart operation where they had some issues and I lost my voice for several years, just after my return from Cape Town Jazz Festival. Life gave me a rough teaching, but faith can move mountains. What I once thought was a curse I grew to understand was a blessing. My voice was based on power before, now it is more based on lyrics and melody. Like I got to hear myself better after the silence all these years.
How do you strike a balance between expressing yourself and the making music which your supporters will find appealing?
I always follow my heart, and I speak what I feel, and then I hope people like it as much as I do. Music I make is music I like. That is the freedom I enjoy producing music myself. That I can express myself exactly the way I want to, no filter. And that is the kind of producers I like to work with as well, where I get my creative freedom.
What activities are you involved in outside of your work as a musician?
I worked as a music teacher, I am always in to youth development. I just moved to a new country now and still settling in. But I am always producing and being creative. So any youth out there who wants riddims, encouragement and advice, do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
What are you currently working on?
Right now it is many projects that I am busy with. I hope to work with some of the best vocalists in South Africa for my coming projects. But I am not letting anything out of the box just yet. We are trying to build an audience and we will keep you updated on our social media pages.
Which musicians do you draw your inspiration from?
Everything from Fat Freddy’s Drop to Curtis Mayfield and Cronixx, and I am kinda digging in to the idea of Lady Smith and Black Mambazo and Paul Simon. Many inspire me, everything from Bob Marley to classical music I get my inspiration from. As long as it touches me. I’m trying not to follow genre, but feelings.
Which artist would you like to work/collaborate with and why?
Hmmm… I think internationally it would be Fat Freddy’s Drop. Locally would be Abdoulla Ibrahim. I already have a sample from Abdoulla Ibrahim in one of my songs and I love his piano style. With Fat Freddy’s Drop I Love their genius blending of Soul music and Dub, the vocals are just amazing.
Which do you prefer; live performances or studio work?
Both, but I consider myself a reserved person, I like to preform but I do not know how to deal with the compliments after, so many times I think I belong in the studio, and I love it there as well, as I can create and express myself.
How can promoters get in touch with you?
For now you can contact me and my crew via email and website: