JoyRukanza isn’t afraid of change

Like most artists, singer-songwriter JoyRukanza embraces the ebbs and flows of artistry, flourishing in a space where transformation is the only real constant.

Raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, she’d spend her high school years as a choir captain before making her first forays as a featured artist by 2014; working with artists and producers like Skaiva, Chymamusique, and Tanto Wavie. While her music sonically pulls inspiration from pop and R&B in much of its production, Joy’s vivid storytelling through songwriting was borne in part from early years spent hearing sungura; a traditional guitar-driven genre popular across East and Central Africa, on Zimbabwean radio. “Sungura songs are very good at telling a story, where you can really picture the artist as this protagonist,” she explained, adding some tracks are more than 10 minutes long. “That’s the stuff that I grew up listening to.”

JoyRukanza isn’t afraid of change

On songs like “Queendom,” Joy bounces between a punchy rap flow and her melodic vocals; a braggadocious standout on her debut project MatterMoreForSis. Across its 11 tracks, Joy eschews genre; pulling elements of soul, hip-hop, indie, and even new wave into the mix—a testament to her diverse influences.

Sharing a border with neighbouring South Africa, the cultural impact of popular genres like amapiano and gqom coupled with its more established industry can make it tricky for Zimbabwean artists to cultivate a local scene; something Joy hopes to remedy in more ways than one. Pointing to previous collaborations with South African artists like Kid X and Azana as pathways to fostering community across the continent, Joy also established The Forêt Tropicale music festival in 2021; a showcase of artists from Zimbabwe. “It’s very important to share my experiences with the rest of the world. It’s very much a situation where we haven’t really had any mainstream artists breaking out from a country like Zimbabwe,” she explained.

JoyRukanza isn’t afraid of change

After moving to the U.S. for school, her focus shifted away from music and towards her studies. But despite not actively creating, the pull of making music was something she couldn’t ignore. “I always knew that at one point in time I’ll go back to my passion, which is music, but I just needed the right time.” That time came post-graduation, where a move from her full-time job in New York to the company’s U.K. offices gave her the change to work on what would become her debut album, MatterMoreForSis. “While I was in that transition, I had a large gap of time where I was at home. And I was able to reconnect with some of my friends, other music producers in Zimbabwe,” she explained. “So that was like this one-month intensive where I was in the studio every day, living in a rented house with the producer. That was the creative process.”

A play on the word metamorphosis, it tracks a transformative journey through heartbreak, self-reflection, and healing. “It was related to work, some personal relationships…there were so many things that were going in a way that I didn’t expect, so it was reassurance for myself that this painful process will have a beautiful purpose afterwards,” she explained, detailing the story that unfolds through the project’s tracklist.

On “Survive The Night,”, Joy’s smooth vocals soar over New Wave-inspired production as she laments the end of a rocky relationship, while “Go” finds the singer struggling to accept and move on from the realities of betrayal. “As the album progresses, at some point when you get to ‘Queendom’, she says to herself, ‘you can’t dim my light,’” she explains. By the song’s closing tracks “New Day” and the bouncy “Somebody,” she’s ready to embark on a hopeful new journey.

With a strong throughline of empowerment in her music, it makes perfect sense for an artist like Joy to use her platform for social advocacy and mentorship. In 2016, she started an initiative focused on facilitating access to education for girls in rural Zimbabwe. “The main idea behind that was to provide menstrual that young girls don’t have access to if they’re from those communities,” she explained, as many girls in these communities miss out on weeks of school and activities over the course of a year. “So, I partnered with a number of organizations to provide reusable sanitary pads that these girls would have access to so they don’t miss school because of a natural process they go through.”

As a global artist in a burgeoning market, digital platforms like ReverbNation and BandLab have been integral to Joy’s career; arming her with important resources and connections along the way. “Those platforms are extremely crucial as an independent artist,” she explained. “I get the opportunity to connect with promoters, to connect with music festivals…resources that I otherwise would not have access to. They don’t come easy, especially if you don’t have such backing and you’re doing everything yourself.”