Zimbabwe’s Hillzy: A Musical Balancing Act

Hilary Ngaakudzwe Chipunza, better known as Hillzy, is an R&B and hip hop artist from Zimbabwe with a silky smooth voice.

He has a very international sound to his music. So much so that it took him a while to be recognised as a Zimbabwean artist despite the fact that he sings in both English and Shona.

“When I actually started out, the comments I would get were like: ‘Wow, yeah you don’t sound like you are based in Zim.'”

He puts this down to his musical influences which include the Grammy-award winning US singer-songwriter Chris Brown, and other Western music.

“So because of that I always try and add my African flavour to it. As time went on I decided to mix the two and just make sure it sounds nice. So now the recognition is coming all because I’m adding more Shona elements into the music, and it has definitely done wonders for me.”

While Hillzy studied computer science and computer engineering at the University of Cape Town, in South Africa, he was also honing his skills as a beats maker and started recording his own material.

He says social media has been key to building his career. But being in Cape Town, he found it difficult to connect with Zimbabweans initially.

“So that’s how social media built up for me because it was a way to connect with Zim. But then I learnt so much about it and I was like, ‘hey why not target people in Cape Town, Johannesberg, Nigeria, to the rest of the world’?”

Hillzy released his latest EP last October, entitled In The Building. It’s a mixture of R&B, hip hop and some songs with an Afrobeats vibe. But he insists he wants to stick with his first loves, R&B and hip hop.

“I recently did an Afrobeats song, Chargie, which did very well, and I do see the potential in it, but I just feel like I’ve already started this R&B and hip hop journey. I would love to collaborate with other artists. I just genuinely think I’d be a better ‘feature’ than an Afrobeats artist.”

Hillzy says that wanting to be known internationally, and at the same time wanting the respect within Zimbabwe, presents him with a difficult musical balance to strike.

One of his most successful songs is Ndiwe Wega Uripo which means You Are The Only One Here. On it, he samples Zimbabwean legend Oliver Mtukudzi who wrote the song for his wife Daisy.

“People are kind of saying, ‘OK I hear a little bit of some Mtukudzi here, who is this kid?’ So I have a lot of elderly fans all because of just that song. I think I’m also on that kind of mission where I’m trying to bring back that old school of Zimbabwean music, so you can expect something like that in the near future.”

Hillzy says his focus this year is to become part of the African roster.

“Say you’re in London – when people ask you about African music you’re probably going to say ‘there’s your WizKid, there’s Tems, Nasty C’. I want people to also say there’s Hillzy.”

He also wants to enter into some collaborations.

“If Mr Eazi wants to do a song I want to fly to Nigeria and do a song with him. I want to be more on the road and less online. That’s the next thing for me. The African roster.”

To hear the full interview with Hillzy, listen to This is Africa on BBC World Service radio and partner stations across Africa, and online here: bbcworldservice.com/thisisafrica. BBC

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