About two weeks ago Rockford Josphats – popularly known as Roki — made headlines for being the first Zimbabwean musician to surpass a million YouTube views in a record four days with the love song Uchandifunga.
Uchandifunga and another romantic track Zviriko were released last month by Roki courtesy of controversial Pastor Passion Java’s record stable, Passion Java Records.
Music lovers welcomed the development with some giving credit to Pastor Java for bringing back the Chidzoka hit maker to the limelight while others have queried the union, which they view as not sincere.
Without much doubt, Roki is one of the most revered vocalists in the country and his name has been thrown in whenever music followers discuss the best in the era after the year 2000, but his recent comeback into the scene has gotten people talking.
Roki is among the pioneers of urban grooves music, a genre he has tried to protect over the years with or without benefactors.
Urban grooves became popular around the year 2000, when the government made a deliberate policy of promoting local arts by enforcing a 75% threshold for broadcasting local content on national media.
Last Wednesday, Congolese Soukus superstar Koffi Olomide jetted into the country for a collaboration with Roki.
Java is said to have arranged the collaboration, another move that has raised eyebrows among music fans.
After Java’s appointment as vice-president of the Zanu PF-connected Affirmative Action Group (AAG) and his recent endorsement of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s 2023 presidential re-election bid, music enthusiasts believe Roki could be sacrificing talent at the altar of political expediency.
“The recent development involving Roki and Passion points to a ‘deal’ that is not sincere. It’s good for Roki since he had been quiet, but to me I believe someone is pushing for his political agenda,” said an arts critic, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, renowned arts critic Plot Mhako said the union was likely to benefit both sides.
“I think the association may bring some positive results. Passion Java appreciates the amazing talent Roki has,” Mhako said.
“He has for a while been talking about him and what he sees in him. Roki will have his career revived as long as he gets serious and puts in the work. this could be transformative in a major way to the Zimbabwean music industry as a whole.
“On sincerity, I think time will tell, it will be unfair to dismiss the efforts and be pessimistic judging by the work that has been done so far.
“Passion Java, like any citizen, has his right to political association and that may not directly impact Roki who is greatly loved and appreciated by the masses in similar fashion to the late great Soul Jah Love.”
Interestingly, on one hand, some believe Java comes with honest intentions, while others think he is out to strengthen his brand through Roki’s influence as he has ostensibly done with other musicians.
His relations with artistes, including Enzo Ishall, South Africa-based Buffalo Soulja, Uncle Epatan and Chillspot Records, among many others, have helped spur his name to greater heights more than empower the artistes, making it hard to imagine that Roki’s fate will not be any different.
Meanwhile, surpassing the million YouTube views by the video Uchandifunga has divided opinion among music lovers with a significant number questioning the legitimacy of the milestone.
There is wide belief that the views were boosted through YouTube view bots that run in the background to automatically increase the view count of videos.
“We celebrate @roki_zw and we don’t need the bogus numbers. I’m offended,” award-winning music video director Blaqs commented on Instagram.
Mhako described the feat as a needless “act of fiction”.
“I am convinced the views were an act of fiction. The number of views and engagement has a huge unexplainable discrepancy,” Mhako said.
“The content owners [Passion Java Records Studios] struggled to explain the jump of over 800 000 in one day. They had to celebrate with explanations and that says a lot.”
True to these sentiments, the stable has failed to convincingly explain the views in what has sparked debate over the owner’s, Passion Java, genuineness in Roki’s renewed path to stardom.
At the top of what fuels such kind of conversations has been how music promoter and self-proclaimed prophet Java is feeding off Roki’s loyal fan base by making him somewhat a poster boy for Passion Java Records studios.
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As if to confirm the idea, the musician’s great return is being largely attributed to Java more than his own talent and that raises a stink.
It is hard to ascertain what the controversial cleric’s intentions are, but he is on record saying that he loves the spotlight and heavily invests in building his brand.
Although Roki’s music journey has been riddled with uncertainties largely owing to controversy, his talent is one thing that has not been doubted.
He is one person with ears waiting to listen and Java, a businessman, knows and sees opportunity in that.
Ultimately, only time will tell if Java will definitely give more for Roki than he is set to benefit, but tactics like buying views, if true, could be detrimental to the authenticity of Roki’s brand
“The practice (buying YouTube views) is frowned upon as it is unethical and affects one’s social media ratings.
“Artistes use social media numbers and following as a symbol of status and also as a currency to transact, so any false or altered reality has a bearing on the future,” says Mhako.