The legendary Ras Sheehama
There are names in Namibian music that carry the weight of a Leviathan. Jackson Kaujeua, Tate Kwela, Stanley Mubiana and the most impactful in many respects, Ras Sheehama.
13 March 2020 | Art and Entertainment
Carrying the legacy of his fellow liberation musicians, Sheehama has become a leader of his generation because of his extraordinary drive to be the best musician and man he can be. The music bug bit him while he was in Nyango, Zambia, during his pre-teen years. At 15, he was sent to Lagos, Nigeria, to further his studies and there he started recording music.
“Musically, if you have never been to Nigeria, then you have never been to Africa. It is a society that celebrates both traditional and contemporary music. Being there refined my music writing skills,” recalled Sheehama.
His introduction to a wider audience was when he returned from exile and released his first album, Music Kings, that spawned the hit song Cassinga.
This album was just a taste of this enigmatic singer and songwriter.
He narrated that when he came back to Namibia, the music industry was almost non-existent.
“Coming from Nigeria, with my music experience, what I was exposed to and the music engineers that I worked with, Namibia wasn't on that level.
“Yes, you could record but it wasn't something that you wanted to let the world hear. For this reason, we were forced to record in Johannesburg, South Africa. I recorded my first cassette in Johannesburg. In fact, my first four albums were all recorded there,” he shared.
He recalled taking part in the Music Makers Competition in 1990, where he came second to Jackson Kaujeua. “It was a few of us in the early 90s who were making music and with time, the Namibian music industry evolved and became big.”
Having travelled around the world, tjil asked whether Namibians have maintained our authentic sound. He shared that Namibia definitely has its own sound, however, it has to be refined. “What we have now is a melting pot. We take sounds, either reggae, R&B or whatever it is, and just make it a melting pot of music.
“I think it is because the older artists are fading out and they are the ones who could tap into the roots. The modern ones are going with the flow and making music that is trendy,” Sheehama said.
One of his strongest points as a musician is performing live. With this element of music, he said the reason why not many Namibian acts perform live is because performing with a band is more expensive than just one artist or an artist with dancers miming to the microphone. “Most Namibian musicians don't perform live and that is where the problem is. It is a pity that we have a small industry but I believe we can do better by being more original, and then the outside world could take us seriously.
Sheehama has perfomed in Germany, England, Cuba, Portugal and France. In 2001, he was the opening act for the legendary reggae artist Don Carlos in Johannesburg. He also was the support act for Manu di Bango when he performed in Windhoek.
On rewards and accolades, the reggae musician said the Namibian music industry has done the best they could to reward him. He has been awarded with a Lifetime Achiever's Award twice. “The only issue is that the financial rewards of that award don't correspond with the title.”
He reiterated that he isn't desperate for accolades, stating that he has done his part and appreciates the Namibian music industry and the public at large because they made him. “I have never worked in my life; everything I have comes from music and I did it from the bottom of my heart for the love of music and my country.
“I am not waiting for millions of dollars because music makes me rich. I love to perform, it's my therapy. If I wasn't a musician, I would probably be one bad little old man,” he joked.
He said the phrase 'one Namibia, one nation' is his independence message this year. He also warned against letting politicians divide the nation. “When they are in their houses, they do not think of you. They only think of you when it comes to some events,” he said.
Sheehama believes that Namibian people shouldn't be divided by some individuals, emphasising that if we spoil the freedom we have, we are spoiling the platform we've created for our children. “What legacy are we leaving for our children?” he asked.
“Namibia is a very rich country; the economy is not being divided equally. If I could be a president or a leader of an opposition party, I would concentrate on the well-being of my people, not money,” Sheehama said.
Summing up our conversation, the legend said he loves Namibia and if he was president, he would not let his people live in corrugated iron. “I will not do that, otherwise I wouldn't have the audacity to go and preach to them to vote for me because I would be taking them for a ride.
“This is not directed to anybody; this is generally speaking for any leader who uses common sense. We have to start using our common sense, that is why Namibia is in this state,” he said.