Matthias Julius aka Matty: Zimbabwe’s Musical, Dance Enigma

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @Chief K.Masimba | December 4, 2010

Born 1975 in the sprawling high-density surburb of Tafara, Harare, Matthias Julius aka Matty began dancing quite late in life at age 18 but he had always been a singer doing small time ghetto and school gigs with acclaimed musicians such as Willom Tight.

In 1995, he joined Tumbuka, Zimbabwe’s premier modern dance company. With Tumbuka, Julius toured countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Reunion Island, UK, South America, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and France.

But in 2006, he turned to his first love: singing. After rehearsing for hours on end, he went on to record a debut album, Here I Come, in 2009. However, the dance itch did not go away, as he continued choreographing for national and international dance companies.

In early 2010, Julius’ dance exploits were recognised nationally when he won the Zimbabwe National Arts Merit Outstanding Male Dancer Award.

With his mellifluous voice and polished lyrics, accompanied by a traditional reggae sound that is all his own, Julius is certainly set to turn heads in the music world.

I spent some time with Mathias Julius (MJ) and spoke about dance, music and Tumbuka. Here are excerpts from the discussion:

MB: Which instruments do you play?

MJ: Voice of course. And djembe drum.

MB: How did you make the transition to music?

MJ: I’ve always been doing the music in the background from the same time I started dancing in the early 90s after finishing high school. But I got into dance first and only later, from 2006, was I lucky enough to be able to set up a recording studio and start making my own music properly.

MB: Does performance in any way influence your work?

MJ: Well, I’m an artist and singing and dancing are just different ways of performing, different ways of expressing myself.

MB: Why did Tumbuka break up?

MJ: Tumbuka are still alive. They haven’t broken up. A lot of the older guys have left the country and are scattered around the world doing their own projects. Some of them are doing really well, running their own dance companies in the (United) States, the UK and elsewhere in Europe, for example. But now there’s a new, younger Tumbuka generation coming up, which is really exciting. I’m still involved as a consultant, which is cool and you’ll see lots of them in the future, I know.

MB: Did Tumbuka teach you anything?

MJ: Discipline, commitment and hard work, above all. People think dancing is just a hobby for fun or something but it takes all of those things to be a professional dancer. I’m also grateful for the inspiration I got from my teachers, the founder dancers and artistic director of the company.

ND: Do you seek to convey any message in your music?

MJ: I sing about everyday life. I don’t have an agenda but I hope that people out there can identify with my music. I take inspiration from my own life and what’s going on around me. We’ve been through some hard times in Zimbabwe but we still fall in and out of love and want to celebrate the good times.

MB: What inspires you?

MJ: Other Zimbabwean musicians, especially those who have stayed and struggled through a really tough time in Zimbabwe’s music industry. I hope that things are getting better now and there are more opportunities, but it’s been really hard to make living from music over the past eight years or so. I have so much respect for all those guys who have done it.

MB: Where do you want to take your music?

MJ: To the people. I’m from Tafara and I love going back there and playing for them, especially. But I want to reach all townships around Zimbabwe. Not everyone is able to come into town to listen to music or go to a gig so it’s important that we musicians take the music to them.

MB: Have you ever considered working with anyone else?

MJ: I’ve already been lucky enough to work with Cindy, Dadza D, Thanda, Killa Flow . . . and others. I’ve also done some exciting collaborations with international artists from Denmark and there’ll be more of that in the future.

MB: Who are you?

MJ: Just a regular guy from the ghetto who had a lucky break along the way.

MB: Do you have any particular musical taste?

MJ: I love reggae, of course. My inspiration is from Sanchez D, Buju Banton and Beenie Man. I also listen to other music genres and love our own Zimbabwean stars like Oliver Mtukudzi, Victor Kunonga, Willom Tight and many more.

MB: How do you describe yourself?

MJ: I like perfection and I always want to do more and do better and to look for new inspiration. And I’m happy when I can share some of that with others around me.

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