It is easy to get lost in the wind of sonic performances when you hear a voice so enthralling that it captivates you wholesomely.
When you think of vocalists on a global scale, names such as Whitney Houston, Celine Dione and Mariah Carey quickly come to mind. But Tanzania also boasts of its own talented female artistes who fit the scale. In this space, Lady Jay Dee is second to none.
Born Judith Wambura in 1979, Lady JayDee is one of (if not the most) accomplished female Bongo Flava artistes in history. At the age of 41, the singer is this year celebrating 20 years in the music industry – a journey which officially started in 2000.
Two decades ago Tanzania welcomed a new gem in the music industry. Even though Lady JayDee has built a firm legacy as a singer with an angelic voice, she started off as a rapper. “I didn’t see myself as a singer, I didn’t see a future in singing. I used to sing in the church choir when I was young, but as I grew older rapping seemed more appealing, that was in 1993,” Lady JayDee said during an interview with Clouds Media.
Her rapping prowess was top notch that she won a rapping contest on radio, where the winner was awarded a chance to record a song at MJ records – the recording studio owned by music maestro Master J.
JayDee recorded her first song, which involved her rapping and singing. She was then approached by a duo – a defunct boyband ‘Afro Reign’ formed by Sebastian Maganga and Boni Harmony. “They wanted to form a group like The Fugees’ so they approached me to join them, they needed a female voice,” narrates JayDee. This saw the talented rapper-turned-singer embark on a new path in her quest to making it in the music industry. it was during the recording of the group’s first song titled ‘Tunachoma’ in 1996 that JayDee’s unique singing ability was put in the spotlight.
“Master J requested that she [Jay Dee] sing the song’s chorus and leave the rapping verses to me and Boni Harmony,” Sebastian Maganga revealed in a recent interview. This unearthed a talent which was hidden from the world, and JayDee hasn’t looked back ever since.
As a crowd-pleaser, during the prime of her career, doing album launches was the trend. It was an act which showed that one was a true artiste. “I remember doing my first album launch at Billcanas,” JayDee recalls, adding, “back then there was a lot of buzz surrounding album launches and people would always want to attend the event.”
Being a top female artiste, Lady Jay Dee always staged sold-out shows. Her performances would attract the crowd that the venues were hardly enough to accommodate all the people who’d flocked to see her in grandeur.
From her first album, today JayDee boasts of 7 in total, with an eighth album titled ‘20’ to be released this year. “I’ve named my album ‘20’ because I’m celebrating 20 years in the music industry, and it also happens that I’m marking this milestone in the year 2020, so the album name befits it all,” she said.
During her entire career in music the artiste has only had one management – Smooth Vibes under the late Ruge Mutahaba – which oversaw the production of her first two albums – ‘Machozi’ and ‘Binti’. “After gaining insight on how the industry worked I found it prudent not to work under any management, but instead work closely with associates. So after my contract with Smooth Vibes, I decided to be independent,” JayDee explained.
Her 20 year’s making strides in music also entailed a few entanglements and scuffles with other players in the game. Prominent of all is the long-standing bad blood between JayDee and Clouds Media, a heated state of relations which was only recently put to rest.
On Machozi Band
While her career was taking off, it reached a point where Lady JayDee figured it was time for her to employ herself. I needed to generate more income, but wanted to use my singing skills as a resource,” she said.
Her band, which she named ‘Machozi’ gained a lot of fame and would perform at big events. “The band became so popular that we went from performing twice a week to getting gigs five days of the week (Wednesday to Sunday). Monday and Tuesday were my rest days,” JayDee speaks.
The success of the band was so admirable that it attracted copy-cats. This isn’t an anomaly in the music industry; whenever a trend catches on, there abound other people who decide to try out the same act. “After a while the business of band music became saturated. We stopped getting the same amount of gigs we enjoyed in earlier times. After a while I decided to fold the regular performances,” explains Jay Dee.
The singer, who was also the band’s lead, says that her band is now only available for special occasions.
On Nyumbani Lounge
One of the fruits of JayDee’s labour in the music business was the establishment of a lounge in Dar es Salaam. Called ‘Nyumbani Lounge,’ the spot was famous for its vibrancy and also providing great entertainment and food to boot. However, the business had to close after a while of being in operation.
Explaining the reasons for the downfall of the business, JayDee says; “In every business, the proprietor’s presence is crucial to its success. With Nyumbani Lounge there was a time I travelled out of the country for over a year. My absence took a toll on the business, which contributed to its failure,” Jay Dee explains.
The singer says when her restaurant business was on the verge of collapsing, she had a choice to either divert her full attention to the business in order to save it, or let it die a natural death. She chose the latter.
On relationship and a failed marriage...
JayDee is divorced. She was married to Gardner Habbash for 9 years but the pair ended relations a few years back. Theirs was a marriage riddled with ups and downs which often made it to the public domain. Asked if she’d marry again, Jay Dee didn’t have a definite answer, but said that she’s now letting nature take its course.
She does, however, say that she and Gardner maintain a very cordial relationship and the two even go out drinking together at times with a few friends.
Giving her two cents on the budding talents in today’s Bongo Flava industry, Jay Dee lauded the new acts but also criticized the lack of creativity in today’s music where artistes do not put in a lot of effort to make great music.
Over the course of the two decades that she’s been doing music, Jay Dee has recorded over 170 songs – which include solo hits and collabos. Her featurings tally currently stands at 100 songs, that’s an impressive number by any standard. Put in perspective, she has been doing at least five collabos a year since she started her music career.
JayDee has also managed to bag a whopping 35 awards over the years. This includes local and foreign music awards.