Limerick hip-hop icon God Knows talks to Stuart Clark about his Uncle Dick Chinx Chingaira, a hero of the Zimbabwean revolution who gigged with Bob Marley and inspired his new summer banger, ‘Twelve 61’.
Talk about keeping it in the family. The new God Knows track, ‘Twelve 61’, samples his late maternal uncle, Dick Chinx Chingaira, who was a hero of the Zimbabwean revolution; features a guest appearance by present day Zimbabwean dancehall star Jah Master who’s his cousin on his father’s side; and is produced by his younger brother, Godwin Jonas.
“I come from a rich line of fighters,” God Knows says with a smile. “My uncle’s grandfather, Chief Makoni, was the first Shona-speaking Zimbabwean chief to stand up to the colonisers in the late 1800s. Of course, they retaliated with guns and mass killings. They took his skull back to England to examine because he was the only one to resist in that way. Despite being asked for its return, it’s still in the National History Museum in London.”
Which is not your average Irish hip-hop back story. When the Second Chimurenga, AKA the Zimbabwean War of Liberation, started in 1964, Dick Chinx Chingaira joined the Army Youth Choir where, as Comrade Chinx, he was responsible for such clarion calls as ‘Africa’, ‘Hondo Yeminda’ and ‘Mabhunu’.
“The song he made super-famous, which I sample, ‘Twelve 61’, was chanted when they went into battle. By the time the war was won and he left the army he was a national hero himself.”
Dick Chinx Chingaira’s revolutionary stance struck a chord with another roots rebel rocker.
“To celebrate Independence Day in 1980, Bob Marley headlined a massive concert in Harare where he played a specially commissioned song, ‘Zimbabwe’, which was later sampled by Akon on ‘Don’t Matter’,” God Knows reveals. “That day, Bob Marley made a point of going to see my uncle and told him, ‘I know all about you and your grandfather. Will you come and open for me?’ Of course, he said ‘Yes!’”
As with all of God Knows’ music, ‘Twelve 61’ is impossible to pigeonhole.
“I grew up in a house where reggae, dub, dancehall and jazz – albeit done the African way with bits added and subtracted – was played,” he recalls. “I didn’t think in terms of genres, it was all just music that seeped into my head. My music now is a continuation of that.”
It’s been a busy summer for God Knows and his Narolane pals Denise Chaila and MuRli who operate as both an Odd Future-style collective and as separate artist entities. First there were stadium shows with Ed Sheeran followed by an Ed remix; Denise playing a Glastonbury set that was cherry-picked by the BBC for its festival coverage; and a turn at the party thrown for the All Ireland-winning Limerick hurlers. MuRli’s already told us about their close encounters of the Sheeran kind, so let’s focus on Glasto.
“It felt like the culmination of several things we’ve been working on for the past two years,” G notes. “I’d like to acknowledge, if I may, our wonderful booking agent, Sophie Roberts, who’s gone above and beyond in getting us gigs like this. She’d know a lot of the key BBC DJs like Jack Saunders who’s been gushing about Denise on his Future Artists show. His producer moved over to BBC Introducing, the curators of the stage we were on at Glastonbury, so it was one thing leading to another.
“Then, on the TV side, we’ve had Pippa Evers who also looks after Take That and Pharell Williams trying to get us on Later With Jools Holland, which is inevitably where Denise is going. The gigs that the Jools team had wanted to come and see her at were for various reasons cancelled, so they booked Denise for the televised Treehouse Sessions at Glastonbury, which they also look after.”
Let us not forget that Denise’s 2020 banger, ‘Holy Grail’, prophetically included the line “See you from the stage Glastonbury.”
“That’s Narolane – dream it and it’ll happen,” God Knows beams. “So, they finally got to see Denise and they loved it, which was a really cool moment. As a totally independent artist and label you sometimes wonder about the money you’re spending on things like plugging, but there was the payback. Immediately afterwards Jamz Supernova recorded ‘061’ for her BBC 6Music show and by 6pm that night Laura from The Guardian, who’s another big fan, had written a glowing review of Denise’s set. It was a massive spread with Kendrick on the left and Chaila on the right. That’s the company you want to be keeping!”