Remembering Daddy Zemus – The King of Zam-Dancehall


    TODAY marks exactly 18 years since the death of Anthony Mbinga Kafunya known to many as Daddy Zemus.

    Generally considered as the King and Father of Zam-dancehall, Daddy Zemus was one of the first artists to fuse vernacular with ragga, hip-hop and R&B, and is widely regarded as one of the principle initiators of this form of Zambian music.

    Daddy Zemus was born in Lusaka and had a comfortable upbringing in the Northmead residential area as his father owned a security company and other businesses. He went to Kabulonga Boys Secondary School where he took part in drama together with future stage actor and stand-up comedian, Augustine Lungu, and musician Maiko Zulu.

    After secondary school, Zemus pursued further studies in accounts and I. T. and also got involved in the budding black consciousness movement through weekly gathering of the Rasta community at the University of Zambia grounds.

    These weekend gatherings had Rastafarians from different walks of life including musicians from the reggae band, Zion Dub Squad, a group which Zemus was to join as well as other other reggae artists such as, Brian “Shakarongo” Chengela, Ras Anada Ris I and “Doctor Rasta” Tammuz in its ranks.

    Zemus was an avid reader. He read widely, on the works of activists such as Marcus Garvey, Frantz Fanon, Malcom X and Walter Rodney.

    When Shakarongo started organizing the annual reggae festivals at Munda Wanga gardens, it provided exposure for up-and-coming reggae musicians, among them Daddy Zemus.

    Zemus first started out as a reggae vocalist and learned how to play guitar and keyboards along the way.

    Apart from being conversant with a wide range of music forms, ideologies, and the political struggle on the African continent and beyond, his other interests included male hair styling, fine arts and poetry. Daddy Zemus actually owned and ran a barbershop in Northmead.

    Under the suggestion of Reggae pioneer and promoter , Brian “Shakarongo” Chengala, it was decided that Daddy Zemus and Ernest Yikona a.k.a Papai Zai (who previously had performed as the ragga duo Zem & Zai) and Patrick Chisembele (who was known as Zambia’s Michael Jackson) team up to form a music group. This group came to be known as the Shakarongo Combination.

    With the rising popularity of Dancehall reggae also known as ragga, toasters such as Shabba Ranks and Chaka Demus were influential in Zemus’ evolution as a ragga artist.

    But being a pioneer and ahead of your time is not easy, Zemus recalled in a newspaper interview in the early 90s that he faced a less than welcome reaction from Zambian audiences when he initially started performing his style of music at shows. “I used to be booed” he said.

    Zambian ‘Zam-rock’ legend, Paul Ngozi, who had managed to acquire a wide fan base through his social commentary and blending rock music with local sounds was a major influence in Zemus’ transition to fusing Zambian vernacular into raggae dancehall, as he was motivated to explore various sounds and create his own style by bringing in other performers to flavour it with particular crossover elements.

    This direction was first witnessed in Zemus’ first album, “Salaula” , which was released in 1995 and was produced by Papa Zai with backing from the Zion Dub Squad.

    “Salaula” is the first EVER dancehall album recorded by a Zambian artist.

    Salaula set the tone for the new wave of Zambian music.

    It featured social commentary on popular tracks like the title track,”Salaula”, as well as”Chez Ntemba”, “Zambian Girls” and “Kokoliko.” Similar to the dancehall duo of Chaka Demus and Pliers, the album featured mainly collaborations with singer, Ras Mumbuna aka Steve Lox(RIP) .

    For his next album, Zemus was looking to collaborate with musicians from other genres and this led him to a young R&B singer and keyboard player called Mainza Chipenzi who caught his attention. The two began collaborating and the first song they produced was “Juju Lover” in 1998.

    Work on Zemus’ second album of the same name commenced but due to lack of resources, they were compelled to record in Zemus’ living room and despite the low quality of the production, the title track received a lot of air play on local radio stations.

    Due to the overwhelming response from the public, businessman Rodgers Sombe realized that the duo were onto something and sponsored their trip to South Africa to work on the album using better recording facilities.

    Unfortunately, their relationship with their benefactor soured as Sombe later decided to concentrate on his business and they returned to Zambia after eight months with a few copies of the album that could not satisfy the demand.

    Although they managed to find another sponsor in King Fred of CR Carriers, they never managed to fully produce and market the album, though a video for “Juju Lover” was shot and regularly aired on ZNBC TV.

    In 1999, Chisha Folotiya set up the Mondo Music label and signed Zemus as one of his first acts. Mainza was also signed as in-house producer for the label.

    After signing with Mondo, Zemus released the chart topping album, CHIBABA, on 24th December, 1999 to critical acclaim and commercial success.

    Chibaba turned out to be one of the most influential albums in the Zambian music history, as it heralded the new wave of Zambian sound and inspired several other Up-and-coming Zambian musicians.

    Chibaba topped the local music charts from the time of its release in December 1999 to April 2000. The album featured Mainza’s vocals on all the tracks had hits such as “Anyamataa,” “Chibaba,” “Fatness” and “Nkhala Olimba.”

    Despite the impressive sales of the album, Zemus confided in friends that the royalties that came his way were far less than he had expected.

    In 2000, Zemus was working on “Lucy”, the follow-up album to Chibaba when he began suffering poor health and after being ill for some time, died on 3 January 2001 in Lusaka. He was survived by a wife Carol and two sons.

    Daddy Zemus was the first to toast in the local Zambian language. He not only inspired a lot of Zambian musicians to rap and sing in vernacular, but he also had an influence on songwriting.

    Mainza acknowledged Zemus’ contribution to his own music career and dedicated his debut album Mainza to him, saying “Everything I am now, I owe to him because he changed the way I looked at Zambian songwriting.”

    In the words of entertainment news reporter, Kelvin Kachingwe,” If there were to be a Hall of Fame in Zambia, I would wish to see the memory of Daddy Zemus be associated with such great game changers like Alick Nkhata, Paul Ngozi, and Chris Chali/Amayenge. Very few deserve a monument as much as Daddy Zemus does.”

    Salaula (1997)
    Juju Lover (1998)
    Chibaba (1999)


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