Zimbabwe Journal: Music inspires troubled Zimbabwean culture

Relentless winds of political change continue to blow off, ripping Robert Mugabe's reputation to shreds and tearing up his rural support base, but now people are finding a silver lining in the gale forces - inspiring Chimurenga music.

Prior to independence, formal means of representation such as parliament and media were never conduits for the black Zimbabweans to voice their discontent with the political system. There emerged a new genre preoccupied with articulating the ordinary person's experiences.

"These injustices, and the conflict they created, mothered a new genre of political protest music which crystallized in the mid-1960s after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)," said Alice Kwaramba, in her book, "The Battle of the Mind: International New Media Elements of the New Religious Political Right in Zimbabwe."

This marked the advent of music, which became known as Chimurenga music, after the indigenous people's uprisings of 1893 and 1896. Chimurenga music was therefore a music that emerged from the tensions and conflict between the black people and the white colonial system. Finding themselves in a typical "Animal Farm" situation, Zimbabwean musicians, who yesterday fawned praise and gushed tributes to Mugabe, have incurred his dislike.

Before the 2000 parliamentary elections, Thomas Mapfumo, one-time government supporter, released sizzling hot songs condemning government activities. "Mamvemve," one of his hits, Mugabe's government had reduced the country to tatters. Another one, "Disaster," had an identical theme, saying all the government touches becomes disaster. These songs went off the air, as some disc jockeys feared playing them in the weeks running to elections.

Zimbabwean musicians are experiencing intimidation and implicit censorship. Leonard Zhakata released a song entitled "Fair Share" which was embraced by the Labor Movement, from whose ranks MDC, the popular opposition party was born.

Other musicians like Mapfumo and Mtukudzi have been harnessing people's opinions on social and political issues and composing inspiring songs for Zimbabweans to regain equanimity in face of political and economic hardships.

"There is no rule of anymore. People are just killed and the government does not care," Mapfumo said. Craving an escape from the pressure at home, Mapfumo has now made America the refuge of his choice. He recently went back to Zimbabwe in December 2001 and he said he is not affected by the ban on his political songs. He feels he has reclaimed his voice in public life because the politicians have understood his message.

Because music quickly permeates society, government has grown paranoid in the run up to presidential elections. Mtukudzi's hit song "Wasakara," which refers to politicians who cling to power in old age, has taken the authorities by surprise. When the song is played in public gatherings, Zimbabweans chant opposition slogans, waving red cards as if they are soccer referees, indicating it is time for Mugabe to leave office.

Living like gypsies, Zimbabwean musicians find themselves with one shoe at one house and its mate at another's house fearing state agents' reprisals. Agents are notorious for abducting people they regard as state enemies under the cover of darkness. Zimbabweans continue to nurture admiration for their musicians. They expect them to amplify the decibel criticism of Mugabe's despotic rule.

Write to Tafadzwa at wmudambanuki@bsu.edu


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