Who is J Cole?
J Cole is a fun guy, loves experiencing life and good challenges. I am a father, husband and a philanthropist. I love to do poetry, acting, presenting and being an MC. Other than that I am just an ordinary guy with a gift from God to give to the people and raise the country’s flag high as a Zimbabwean.
Being creative and young, how was the family support?
The family support was not as strong when I started, to be honest. It was merely segmented. They didn’tunderstand what the art was and they would just see stuff. In the long run, it did pay off and they just let me be. The full support for my artistry and career all came from my wife who had my back throughout the toughest times.
You’ve worked under Roki as one of his dancers. How was the urban grooves era?
This was never an easy era. People right now have iteasy because of mainstream media or social media and we didn’t have that. If Stunner was hot, it was because of ZBC and if Roki was hot, it was because of ZBC. In our era we had to walk from home all the way to Sports Diner to perform. We had a group called Chocolate City and we had a lit of dances with Roki and it was part of his dance crew. During this period, we would sleep inside Sports Diner until 6am and we would wake up and walk home, buy bread and walk home. It was really minimum pay and working under Roki was ‘okay-ish’. I don’t know how to put it but it gave me the urge to be who I am today. But the era was not easy, we suffered a lot but we made it work. Relevance and consistency have made the Urban Grooves what it is today.
Mentorship in creative space is lacking. Have you been mentored by anyone?
I like your question because it’s loaded but if you feel like you want to be mentored, you will become a mentee with a great strife. Zimbabwe Creative, some don’t want to be advised or taught. I have been doing a lit of mentoring not just with the dancing but with a lot of musicians too. Actually a lot of musicians have benefited from my mentorship. If you ask them, they will tell you that J Cole is one person who tell the truth. I drop the truth bomb, I don’t lie. This is because no one lied to me when I was coming up. They would tell me where I messed up and I would listen and it made me who I am today. Mentorship is out there, it’s either you want to do it or not or either you want to listen or not. I was mentored, the dance side by Edric Gonzonderi and also other business people in the industry mentored me.
What makes you stand out as Choreographer?
I work hard, I put in the time, effort, have sleepless nights, do the sacrifices, I self invest and I make things work. I am up for every challenge. I am always hunting for the next best thing. I am always in beast mode. I am constantly trying to get something, to become something better, legendary. Everything you see me do is not for me but for my kids, my legacy; the Cole Dynasty. I do things because I want to change the world, I was born to change it. Creatives change the world. We may not change the whole world but as long ad you can change someone’s world that’s a world you have done. I have a business acumen. I am not just a brand of note. I am a brand that works within its spectrums. I understand both the corporate and individual world and this is why I have been able to sustain myself in the creative space.
How did you move from being a hip hop dancer to becoming a multidimensional act?
Hip hop dancing was the most passionate time of my life. I enjoyed dancing and learning but to be honest it was not sustaining my family and I was a family man by then. So I had to make decisions, hard ones and when I decided to be a choreographer, I had to go through the process. Eventually I took myself and learnt every other genre that was there to learn and I went to other people to learn these things. Some I learnt from the TV, others from the internet so that I would have the knowledge and know how it is done. Being a creative, you cannot sustain yourself with one income. So I took my confidence, who I am, what I am and converted it to being a MC, a poet. I converted what I do as a dancer to become a recording artist, converted what I saw to become a video director. It’s not just about being a multidimensional, it’s about how you are multidimensional.
Branding has set you apart from most dancers in the industry. Was it intentional?
Everything I do is intentional. Some things are just guess work too. I understand business acumen and branding because I have worked with a lot of business people, marketers, accountants. I am in a group with very intellectually awesome people. We discuss different ideas and topics and everyone has a different opinion or input. So we come up with a way to be able encounter and counter if something comes your way. However the best thing you can do for yourself as an artist is to learn. Learning never ends.
The brand John Cole is not only local, it’s regional and international and that was something I had to work on. Zimbabwean people are the most valuable players when it comes to my brand. They supportwhat I do as John Cole which is amazing because when you are doing something and you don’t know how much impact you have so branding is key.
Leveraged your brand to step up and get endorsements, how have you gone about it?
Branding visibility, brand ability, scalability is my formula. Well part of it but point is you have to be amazing at what you do. You have to be a friendly character. Also remain in your roots. I grew up in the ghetto that is Mbare, Highfields, Glen Norah, Sunningdale. I know where I am from. I am not going to say just because I am John Cole and I have these kind of followers, I have to be stepping up to someone, I don’t do that. I know where came from, I am still in my roots, I am still humble and I am still doing what I have to do to feed my family. When it comes to endorsements, you just need to be in a certain space, how you look to the people. I love my fans and it’s one of those things you have to do. Most of the brand endorsement come from the weddings I do and I meet up with other people there and we get into contact and do what needs to be done.
You had a surprise song with Lee Mchoney aka Mai Noku and won awards of it. Tell us about that.
I feel like Lee Mchoney and John Cole were destined to meet. We were both not doing great at that time and there is a delicate balance on people doing great and not great. So when we came together to create ‘Skoro skoro‘, it was a confusing time for me even when I was approaching artist and I would ask them to collaborate and they refused. So I had to make one call to Mai Noku and she said let’s do it. So we did the song, little did we know it was going to do wonders for us. Some things happening today are because of that song and people got to know Lee andthey got to say, John really does make music. And it was just dope. So after that we that we got nominated for some awards, won some and it was just great times.
How do you locate money in the creative sector?
It’s simple, you have to be able to be able to be branded, you have to have leverage and with leverage you can charge what you want. When you charge what you want, the client won’t argue because you are who you are which is a brand and it’s visible. So locating money is not hard when you know where to look. Even during the pandemic I was not complaining about funds. I was prepared and ready, I adapted and made money.
What is lacking in our industry right now?
I feel like if we had a proper system, investment and people keen to see the industry grow we can do a lot. With money, we can do a whole lot more. We need the money to do videos travel, marketing and PR.
To reach new heights what can the Zimbabwe creative economy start to look at?
To reach new heights, we need money. Money gets us great collaborations. We can do proper videos, exquisite marketing and PR. So we need money.