IT was in November 2018 when almost from nowhere, Niza Simukonda released a song titled Tata Wandi. Even without any introductions, the connection was apparent – the song was a reply to Ackim Simukonda’s Bana Bandi, released two decades earlier.
And because of his surname, it was easy to conclude that Niza must be a relation somehow of the late legendary musician.
But there was no need for all these speculations, the team behind Niza, who included South Africa-based media personality Chilu Lemba, knew something about the music business – they were building a brand here. But they also knew that he was likely to suffer from the burden of comparison.
Introducing him, they said although he had the burden of carrying on the legacy of his late father, he considered it a beautiful burden. Fortunately for him, he had the passion for playing the guitar, just like his father. Even more, vocally, he was smooth.
On Tata Wandi, he responded to his father, saying and his siblings have heard what he told them to do in the song – and that is to love one another.
“What I talk about is more like I’m responding on behalf of me and my siblings,” he explained. “Dad left us a song and in his last song, he tells us that we have to love each other and stay united, so in my version, I simply say we heard what you said and that’s what we are doing.
“I’ve always wanted to sing the song because over time people recognise me and they want me to play the song on guitar or want me to sing it for them, so I ended up saying I’ll do the song one day but then James Sakala is the one who produced the song and his idea was to respond to the song instead of doing it exactly word for word and it sounded better.”
The song was produced by James Sakala and co-produced by T-Sean and Ben Banda. Ben Blazer did the mixing while the mastering was done in the United States of America by Dave Collins, who has worked on the music of D’Angelo, Linkin Park and the late Luther Vandross among others.
The song was just a single, but Niza said he was going to work on an album. Niza certainly knew what he was about.
“I don’t want to be in a box, I’m a lover of all kinds of music,” he shared. “I have a message in my music and my main message is bringing hope because growing up in an environment where you’re always far from your siblings, I had gone through a lot of things especially that dad passed on when I was very young, so music is what kept me going.
“I feel there’s a kid somewhere going through what I went through and if I tell them in song that there’s hope and you’ll make it, they’ll keep strong. So that’s the main thing I want to do, I can put it in a reggae, R’n’B, hip-hop song and still say there’s hope.”
Niza’s debut single and video for Tata Wandi, which to all intents and purposes is a tribute to his late father but with a new take on his late dad’s swansong Bana Bandi, was released to much fanfare.
Born on December 20, 1991 in Livingstone, where he was bred although he briefly lived in Lusaka’s Kabwata, his dream was to pursue music. Niza lost both his mother and father early on in life and was raised by his late mother’s family.
His past musical exploits included being a voice coach and a music director at a church. However, his journey saw him gainfully employed in other fields including a stint once as a chef, for which he received training.
But in 2018, with the help of a collective calling itself Team Niza, which includes mentors such as businessman Muunda Palale Jr, songwriter and recording artiste James Sakala and Chilu Lemba, Niza’s inroads into the Zambian music scene steadily saw him become a significant feature.
Niza was counting on the support of his family, whom he kept updated with his strides in the industry.
Musically, he found inspiration from artistes such as R Kelly and Frank Ocean. He credited music for seeing him through some of the toughest moments of his life and hoped his music could have a similar impact on others.
Locally he was inspired musically by the likes of James Sakala and Pompi. In his short time as a recording artiste, he worked with among others Magg44 and T-Sean.
After Tata Wandi, he followed it up with a love song titled Eco Nkwete, released in December 2018.
But all this came crashing down on Monday following his death at the age of 28 in the University Teaching Hospitals (UTH) where he was being treated for malaria.
Niza was buried on Wednesday at the Old Leopards Hill Cemetery in Lusaka.
Chilu Lemba, who had been coaching him since 2017, told Weekend Mail that he first encountered Niza when he was around four years old. At that time, he used to visit the late Ackim Simukonda in Kabwata.
“I used to visit Ackim together with my friend Allan Mvula, who is currently at 5FM radio. We worked briefly with Ackim,” he said. “Later, after he passed on and many years later while I was writing my book, I wondered what became of Niza. I then searched Facebook and found his profile. I reached out to him. I did not know he sang at the time.
“Then in chatting, he [Niza] shared a song later via my WhatsApp of him singing. I asked whether he had been in studio and he said not yet.”
Chilu said at that point, he reached out to James Sakala who was willing to produce and write songs for Niza.
“He was still on a journey of finding his own sound,” Chilu Lemba said. “His last desire was to make a big impact. Last year he decided to be more hands-on with his career.
“He released a song on his own accord and would still reach out for advice. His last message to me was two weeks ago. He was sharing that he had acquired some equipment, he did not tell me he was ill, I was not aware sadly.”
James Sakala told Weekend Mail that he met Niza in 2018 after an introduction by Chilu Lemba and right away he became his songwriter and producer for some time.
“What I know is he really wanted to carry on his father’s legacy and he did it from his heart,” James said. “He was a young talented guy and very humble, focused and hardworking.”