Carrying Lusaka On His Back
Jackson Ng’ambi Banda, popularly known as Jay Rox, has just released LUSAKA, which is possibly one of the highest anticipated albums of the year after he released only one video off the album, One and Only, and surprised fans with Danger Preview:
which was previewed on radio on the 29th of December. This is his third album since he started his solo work outside Zone Fam. 2016 was an exceptional year for Jay Rox after he scooped the Best Dancehall/R&B Album at the Zambian Music Awards and received a nomination for Listener’s Choice Award at the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA).
In this piece, we speak to Jay & find out more about LUSAKA, what keeps him going in his career and his plans for 2017.
M: Did you start out as a singer or a rapper at the beginning of your career?
Jay Rox: I used to sing in the choir, when I was very tiny, my mom used to force me to go to church. It’s through the singing at the Sunday school choir that I gained interest and then afterwards me and my cousin formed a group, like a rap group called Righteous Rappers and my cousin used to be my ghost writer so that’s where everything started.
M: How old were you at the time?
Jay Rox: I don’t remember, but I was tiny, I think I was in primary. Yeah, should be like maybe grade 7.
I used to sing in the choir… my mom used to force me to go to church
M: So, currently, are you a full-time musician?
Jay Rox: Yeah, yeah, I’m a full-time musician. I’ve been at it for… this is my third year now; and it’s dope.
M: So for your LUSAKA album, what was your inspiration for it?
Jay Rox: You see, I’ve had so many memories in Lusaka, so much that has happened in my life: bringing awards from outside, I grew up here, I went to school, I lost my mum in Lusaka, my kids are here…so it’s like my life in a way revolves around this city.
For the longest time I’ve been thinking of doing a project that will talk about my experience and other people’s experiences. I do the music for the people so I try by all means not to make it super personal cause in the end you need to be able to talk to different people. So I decided to do this project and call it LUSAKA.
I know some people will be like “Why Lusaka? People in Livingstone won’t be able to buy the album”, but it doesn’t really matter, cause at the end of the day we’re in Zambia and we experience the same things. The economy is the same in Lusaka and Ndola so if I talk about the economy, I’m talking about the economy in Zambia and other countries that are affected on that same front.
M: Why did you choose to release it on New Year’s Day?
Jay Rox: You know how the industry is set up, right , everything that you work on from the first of January to the last day of the year, it is kind of invalid the moment you get into the next year, in a way.
The first day of the year is like a reset type of day, it’s like the industry hits a reset button and boom! Everything that was done last year remains last year. And everything that happens this year will fall into this bracket. For me I felt like it’s better that it’s a new start, fresh day, new album and allows me to plan and roll it out the way that I want to.
Also, the festive period is very noisy; so many club songs and so much going on. You know, people are trying to do hit songs so that they can have a lot of shows in December and everything but for me I feel like the perfect time to put out music that people will listen to is to drop the music in Jan, because in January, February, March, there isn’t much noise going on so people listen to radio cause they have that time and are very chilled cause they blew all the money in December so now they just want to listen to calm things as they start planning for the year. So I feel it’s the perfect time to put out the album.
M: So then, what are your targets and goals for the year?
Jay Rox: You see, 2017 has to be, it will be the biggest year of my music career cause I see so many things. I don’t want to sound like a prophet, but I see so many things. I have visions, you know, the impact of this music is going to bring to 2017, and to the young people and to everyone. And I know this is going to be big: I’m doing a very big launch for it, there’s a book that’s coming out called LUSAKA, it’s coming out in May the day I launch the [deluxe] album, there’s also a TV series that’s going to be coming out soon. It’s all about big things. I’m looking at pushing myself to a point I’ve never reached before, cause for me, if I’ve done it before, it’s not as interesting. It’s always about trying new things.
2017 will be the biggest year of my music career… I’m doing a very big launch for the deluxe version of the album in May… There’s a book that’s coming out… also a TV series…
M: Whose idea was the album art cover?
Jay Rox: That was my idea actually. You know, for the longest time, as an artist the first thing you want to do is take pictures, you know, put your picture as the cover and just have all of Lusaka at the back. For me I feel like that’s played out. It’s not about my face anymore, it’s about the music. The music is more important to me, so I don’t have to put my face on the cover for people to know that’s Jay Rox, you know, people have to be able to listen to the music and to know who Jay Rox is.
I sat down and spent like two, three days just going through creative album art work online. So I started going through, started going through, and trust me there’s like crazy people out there that come up with crazy ideas. So I went through quite a number of pictures and while I was going through these pictures I had a notepad [jotting down ideas from the pictures].
So I sat down and I figured that if I’m going to do something different then it has to be something that’s never been done before, like it has to be something very different. On the third day I was playing Scrabble with my madam, and I just looked at the words on the board and I was like “Yo…Yo!” and it came to me that I could actually create a puzzle and have all these areas of Lusaka on the cover and that’s how I went to N.X.T. and I sat down with Lawdak and I was like “Dude, let’s create this…”. So we started creating the puzzle and that’s how we came up with the cover.
M: What sets this album apart from the last two?
Jay Rox: I think this album is the one. This is very different ‘cause the sound is very mature, like it’s just a different type of sound. It’s not the sound that was in the last album and it’s not the sound that’s out here. You can’t compare any song on the new album to my last albums. You can’t say this song sounds like this song, no. It’s like very different and even the way it was written is not the way the last album was written. It’s like a special child. It’s very, very special.
M: How long have you been working on it?
Jay Rox: I’ve been working on this album since I released my last album. Immediately after I put out ‘Outside the Rox’; I think it was two months afterwards, I started recording. So I’ve been working on it for a year and some months.
Arts and Zambia cannot be phrased in the same sentence. One more album and I can call it the end.
— #LusakaAlbumOut (@JayRox05) December 9, 2016
M: You mentioned that you have some projects coming up in the year, like the book, but a few weeks ago on Twitter, you said something to the effect that after this album you would be ‘done’. What did you mean by that?
Jay Rox: This place [Zambia] is the most frustrating place to be when you’re in the Arts ‘cause you kind of create the music, create the sound that you know is good, can export and can actually do wonders for our country. And I’m not trying to take away from the fans cause the fans are very supportive but you also need support financially.
Radio people would rather pay attention to people who don’t make sense cause some radio DJs are managing certain artists so they’d rather put their artists as priority for airplay than play the actual music that’s going to develop the industry. And also there’s the aspect of standards, we need to have standards to how we do things, you know, I’m tired of performing in night clubs, I’m just tired of so many things and I feel the Jay Rox brand is growing so much but it’s like every time you build it’s your people who take down the building.
There are quite number of things here [in the industry] that are frustrating and you know they kind of make you feel like “Why are you doing this?”.
For me I’m not doing this to have so much money. I believe when you give, you’re going to receive and on the receiving side, I’m not worried. I know God knows why I’m doing this and I know God knows what my stance is and where I want to go so I’m not worried about him taking care of me ‘cause he’s been taking care of me for the longest time.
What’s worrying me is that people aren’t able to see how much you’re doing for them. It’s not about me, it’s about…I look at my son every day and say “This is my seed” and he’s creative. I know for sure he’s creative. He’ll wake up tomorrow and want to do music but then if things are going to be like this how am I going to allow him to do it? ‘Cause I wouldn’t like him to go through the struggles that I’ve gone through, and things are worsening by the day. So it’s frustrating. It makes you feel like you wanna say ‘No’, but then my mother didn’t raise no quitter so I’m caught up in that bipolar space, cause you know one day you might say you’re done…and you’re done.
I look at my son every day… he’s creative. He’ll wake up tomorrow and want to do music but then if things are going to be like this, how am I going to allow him to do it?
M: So will you be done after the album, does that mean you won’t drop another album?
Jay Rox: I don’t know, ‘cause the thing is that you can’t put an end to creativity because as I’m speaking right now I already have the title for my next album, I already know how it’s going to sound. So I can’t really say that I’m not going to do it; but I want to give this one everything. Give it all the energy, all the strategies, to give it everything that I have to try and make sure that it’s a success. Then from there I’ll be able to see the next chapter to see if this is how we’re going to go.
I don’t care if I don’t win an award or I don’t get nominated but I care if I win someone. Like, get a new person, a new fan, a person that will say “I want to follow this guy and see where he’s going with his creativity”
M: If you were not a musician, what do you think you would have been by now?
Jay Rox: I think if I was not a musician I was going to be a manager of a musician, because I love music and if I wasn’t able to do it I feel like I was going to be a part of music as a whole through managing someone, you know, helping them understand and helping them strategise to get them to become bigger artists. By me doing that it means I’m also contributing to developing the industry here, ‘cause we do not have one at all. So all these people saying there’s an industry they need to wake up ‘cause it’s the reason why people are not working hard to create one.
M: Who do you think you’d manage?
Jay Rox: I don’t think it would be like one artist though, but I think I’d love to manage Willz, because I think the boy has got potential to do amazing things. I’m not trying to say that the people managing him now are not doing a good job, but you know he needs to expand.
M: What was the most influential event to have shaped your music career?
Jay Rox: The day we [Zone Fam] won the Channel O award. For me that was like “Dude…run”. You know, that was like “Get up and run”. For me that was like the beginning, that was the first step to doing amazing things and from then on it’s been blessings on blessings on blessings.
M: Are there any artists on the continent that are at the level that you would like your music to be at?
Jay Rox: You know, I think that if I say that there are some artists that are on the level, then it means I’m saying this artist is as creative as me or has my vision. Which I feel will not be the right thing to say in a way, ‘cause we’re gifted in different ways. But there are some artists that have the audience that I’d love to have. They have bigger teams, their marketing teams do amazing things which gets them all these big endorsements, big audiences, fan-base. I’d like to say that they have things that I’d like to have but on the music front …they do an amazing job, they perform and do amazing things, but you know what, for me, music is not about let’s dance, it’s not about shake, let’s do a blunt, let’s relax and do all these things.
For me music is a way of building each other. I want when people come to my concerts to think about life, you know, to see life from a different point of view, to be able to understand that there’s a God that loves them, there’s responsibilities that they need to take up, that we need to wake up and do this. Change the world. It’s so many things. And when I watch these concerts of these other artists the entertainment side is on point but they don’t send that message. They don’t send the message that I’d like to send.
So given that type of platform, I’d make sure that people understand who God is because that is the most important thing and everything else will fall into place.
M: What’s the most important return to you? Awards? Critical acclaim? Your fans’ appreciation? The money?
Jay Rox: I have kids that I need to take care of. When I started out full-time , I used to have pressure: I needed to pay bills, I need to pay for this, kids’ schools and everything. And I had so much pressure that I wasn’t able to do anything. So what I did was I just told God that “You know what, you know why you gave me this so I’m not going to worry about this. You know when I need to pay” and from then, the time I made that prayer, I just say “You know what to do” and he’s been taking care of us, so I’m not in this to make money.
I don’t care if I don’t win an award or I don’t get nominated but I care if I win someone. Like, get a new person, a new fan, a person that will say “I want to follow this guy and see where he’s going with his creativity.” For me that’s important, because I’m reaching out to all people. I don’t to be the person who has like forty awards but is still taking to the same people. It’s almost the same as doing ministry. You can’t be a pastor talking to the same people, same church, same numbers. The church needs to grow, you need to reach out to new people, that’s why you’re doing ministry ‘cause they’re supposed to go out there to win new souls and bring them into the church.
So to me it’s about winning people’s souls. If I can get a new fan-base, new people, even ten people in a year and those ten people tell a hundred people “You need to listen to this guy’s music” then it’ll grow.