JOHANNESBURG - The man South Africans know as J-Z is dropping an album. But instead of fans, he’s hearing haters who are questioning why public dollars are being used to fund the project.
That’s because the talent in question is not the Jay-Z - the multi-millionaire platinum-selling producer and rapper (and, no less famously, husband of Beyonce) who is known for his inventive beats and cutting social commentary delivered in his signature, versatile flow - but South Africa’s disgraced former president, Jacob Zuma.
Officials in the municipality of eThekwini, which is near Zuma’s rural home, announced this week the 76-year-old would provide his vocal talents on a new album of apartheid-era “struggle songs,” due to drop in April. Municipal officials told VOA this would come out of the city’s $1.7 million (25,000,000 South African rand) culture budget, but stressed that Zuma, who is deeply in debt after a number of bruising court defeats, is singing for free.
“It’s going to be a very beautiful one, I mean, the man is very talented,” the municipality’s parks, recreation and culture chief Thembinkosi Ngcobo, who is helping produce the album, told VOA. “He can command a group of people as backers. He himself can navigate any song, and it can give a very beautiful tune. So we are looking forward, then, for him to participate in our project, which is about research on our liberation history, and also preservation of that information, and eventually disseminate it (CQ) to current and future generations.”
During his nine-year presidency, which was tainted by multiple corruption charges and long-simmering corruption scandals, Zuma was known for often bursting into song. His performance of classics like Inde Lendlela Esiyihambayo - This Road We’ve Embarked on is Long - often moved crowds to join in.
Zuma, who says he did nothing wrong, resigned in February under pressure from his party. A court ruled in December that he must pay the government back for the legal fees he incurred fighting the corruption charges.
Members of the Democratic Alliance opposition party say they’ll do everything they can to stop the album from being made. Local DA representative Zwakele Mncwango says the party doesn’t have a problem with the game, but with the player.
“We do support preservation of our culture and our heritage, and it must be promoted,” he said. “However, we don’t believe that public funds should be abused in supporting J-Z doing this album. We have a lot of young, up-and-coming artists in eThekwini and in South Africa, who always try to knock on different doors within government institutions and are not able to get help. Now the big question is: why Jacob Zuma is a priority?”
Ngcobo provided a snappy reply: he says the department invited talented young singers to perform the songs three years ago. They struggled to capture the songs’ gritty essence, he said. Only Zuma, who was among the original gang of anti-apartheid stalwarts along with former President Nelson Mandela, had lived the hard knock life, in exile and in prison, that gives these songs the grit they need.
“Jacob Zuma is a former exile where he risked so many things, including his life,” he said. “He also was in Robben Island for 10 years and he came back to become one of the leaders, including being the state president in government. So all of these things he was doing out of sacrifice.
He knew that he could die because of conditions they were facing. Now at this point, when we ask him to participate in this project. He agreed, he’s not going to be getting a cent out of it, because he understood it to be, again, his contribution to the heritage of the people of South Africa.”
The album, if it happens, is likely to include one of Zuma’s favorite songs, Awuleth’ Umshini Wami, or, Bring Me My Machine Gun.