Israel Sebenzo: Music, leadership and his vision for Africa

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

Australia based musician, Israel Sebenzo started out in acclaimed Zimbabwean gospel ensemble, Zim Praise before going solo and establishing himself as an A&R Executive.

Born in Gweru, a city in the Midlands in Zimbabwe, Israel said that being raised as the son of a Bishop meant that there was a certain standard that he had to uphold throughout his childhood and as an adult, but credits that experience, saying it helped him see life from a different point of view and that his approach to life is also very intentional as a result.

He came from a very strong music family where almost everyone played an instrument.

“I started playing the piano at 8 and my dad taught me to play the accordion as well. I’ve recently bought one to rekindle my childhood memories.

Israel became a music director in his church before he joined ZimPraise and decided to pursue it at university.

“I feel privileged to have been exposed to different levels, stages and platforms growing up. It has allowed me to approach life in a more optimistic way.”

“ZimPraise also taught me that there is definitely a unique blessing in serving under another man’s vision. As an executive director, the stakes were high and often we think that leadership is management yet the two are different, so I had to learn effective management to be a good leader.

“It took a lot of heart to serve but it ultimately prepared me for service.”

On being a leader and motivator

On leadership, Israel said that he strongly believes that his vision keeps him ahead and is grateful for having his parents and mentors as his guides over the years.

“Authority is a big thing for me and I’m grateful to have my parents, my pastor and industry mentors that can sit me down at any point in my life because I value and respect their authority.”

“I also think my vision dictates what I do and focus on. I am dedicated to providing opportunities to other creatives. In essence, equipping them with opportunities to succeed in their personal and professional lives and helping them build their influence.”

On his musical influences and his latest single

Israel, who recently released single, Restoration, added that some of his musical influences include Bethel Music and Ayanda Ntanzi.

“I’ve literally lost count of the number of hours I have spent listening to music, but I find that I am always drawn to Bethel Music, especially their depth, simplicity and their remarkable understanding of worship.

“Similarly, Ayanda Ntanzi’s music reminds me of my mum - she has been the biggest influence in my music life. I also tend to learn a lot from upcoming artists, they exude so much creativity.”

Israel, who said that he is keen on reaching out to the Nigerian Market stated that he would also like to work with Nathaniel Bassey and CeCe Winans.

“They are at the top of my list now because they are my biggest musical inspirations and the definition of humility yet so anointed - I am curious to see what we would come up with together.”

Describing Restoration, Israel called it unique.

“I had to go through what I call the ‘releasing new music checklist’. Restoration is definitely more than a song; it tells a story of hope and renewed covenants.”

“When I wrote the song, I had a vision that it needed an extra voice. After which, searched for a vocalist who would best execute the song and in the end, worked closely with South African artist Mabongi Mabaso, who really brought the song to life.”

The pandemic and changing the mentalities and perceptions of African creatives

The initial impact of Covid-19 on the music industry was an unexpected one. With concert halls shuttered, there was also the closure of night clubs and bars that would normally be playing recorded music.

The collapse of the live industry affected not only artists, but the thousands of people who work alongside them, from road crew and sound engineers to security guards.

“I had to learn things outside of the norm last year,” said Israel. “Learning something outside of your expertise during this time will go a long way in helping you diversify your skills. In trying new things, there are higher chances of discovering and getting to know ourselves better.”

He added that trying new things stimulates creativity.

“I believe the key to success is being committed to trying new things. The desire to try new things should be centred on you and your life goals. Ultimately, a commitment to forging new life experiences makes you more marketable to the world.”

On his observation of African artists, Israel said that the power of how African artists are perceived should be acknowledged.

“The biggest problem with how the world views African creatives, is that we are people that heavily rely on talent without the realisation that there is so much more to the industry than just being talented.”

He said that more creative training and development is needed for artists and their management, to support with shifting negative perceptions from the outside world.

“I am passionate about helping other creatives reach their full potential. Supporting them with moving from the route to the routine and encouraging them to explore their creativity. I think the biggest skill for any A&R executive is the passion to help others. If that passion is not there then everything starts on the wrong foot.”

Advice for African artists

Israel said that artists need to stay true to themselves as authenticity goes a long way in the industry.

“I think a number of artists need to understand that talent alone is never enough. They need to know that music is a business, and it should be treated as such. They also need to invest in their craft.”

On investment and his vision for Africa

Israel said that he hoped to see more African creatives stand out in their respective fields. He also hopes to see many of them leave their mark and have a seat at the table on a global scale.

Next on the cards

Israel is hoping to record a live concert in South Africa soon.

“My team and I were meant to record a live DVD concert in South Africa titled, Israel & Friends - The Love Project. However, due to the pandemic, we have had to put it on hold. For now, I will be releasing EPs and singles while I’m still building up my collection of songs for the album and working on establishing international collaborations."

Meanwhile, Restoration is now out on all digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon Music and Spotify. Radio programmers, music executives, curators and bloggers who has access to Play MPE can access his music for free.

For more information and to connect with Israel, visit the website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.