THE late iconic reggae artist Bob Marley sowed the seed on April 17 1980 the eve of our country’s independence when he staged a massive celebration concert at Rufaro Stadium.
Many years down the line, musical ghetto youths begin to reap a bountiful harvest. Youngsters from Mbare, Dzivaresekwa, Kambuzuma and Glen Norah suburbs are beginning to tour the world and living out the dreams of their forerunners such as Pied Pipers and Transit Crew.
In the wake of these new dancehall chanters, Zimbabwean music genrés such as sungura and jit, have fallen by the wayside. The fans seem not to get enough of Jamaican-inspired dancehall (reggae’s grandchild) and it is now a decided thing that sungura music is in the intensive care unit. I never liked the kanindo/rhumba music mutant anyway.
So big is dancehall right now that most high-profile capital city showbiz events are not complete without a dancehall act on the bill. Take the upcoming Miss University of Zimbabwe (UZ) pageant to be held at the UZ Great Hall tomorrow for instance.
Kelvin Kusikwenyu, aka Killa T, and Souljah Love will entertain fans. Dancehall chanters Shinsoman, Seh Calaz, Guspy Warrior, Freeman, Soul Jah Love — alongside waning urban groovers Trevor Dongo and South Africa-based Enoch “Nox” Guni, head to the United Kingdom for a gig dubbed the “Summer Fiesta” set to stage shows in the UK from May 2 to 4.
But what is behind the potency of dancehall music? Firstly, dancehall — the Zimbo version — is highly competitive with several protagonists vying to be king and that tends to fuel the production of superlative work. The music is also being rendered in a local language laden with rich metaphors and contemporary ghetto slang that urban Zimbo youths resonate with. Moreso, the Zimbos in the Diaspora perhaps are intrigued by the canny depictions of life in the depressed townships that they escaped.
So maybe it could simply be nostalgia feeding the frenzy or maybe it’s down to the creativity of the artistes. Maybe it’s both.
Additionally, radio stations are close by. Commuter kombis in Harare continue to push the genré. The music itself, or riddims as the beats are known in the industry, are mainly sequenced syncopated beats. In other terms, the music is computer generated or made from software such as Fruity Loops and Reason.
Bands are not really necessary in such a scenario and that makes touring these acts overseas easy for promoters eyeing a quick dollar or pound. All you need is a disc jockey or selector at the turntables.
The prince&king of sungura music abdicating thrones?
A local tabloid carried a story about Alick Macheso and Sulu Chimbetu reportedly sampling a dancehall track at their joint shows!
“This is just to show our fans that we are capable of anything,” the two were quoted as saying via Sulu’s manager Joe “Local” Nyamungoma. The new track is entitled Dai upenyu hwairewindwa (if life could be rewinded).
I wonder if they are pining over slipping glory in this song. Still, followers of the Zimbo showbiz industry will find it amusing to learn that Macheso will assume the name “Dancehall Smiley” while Sulumani will call himself “Sudza T” in their maiden foray into dancehall music. Chuckle chuckle.
Ghetto youth rising
Thus rises the likes of Killa T who is a former owindi. So imagine this: owindi in London! That’s how dizzying the fantasy is. It seems like one hell of a ride.
I saw the kid in a picture on a recent London tour with liqueur bottles in front of him looking terribly gleeful at his meteoric rise in the showbiz arena.
I thought to myself that this is the kind of tricky stuff that dancehall dreams are made of: Wine, women and song.
But Killa T is not alone. Just recently, another one called Freeman just stepped off the plane from an Australian tour. Need I mention Winky D self-styled Ninja President and indeed the genré’s poster boy who won several accolades in the inaugural dancehall awards earlier this year and continues to dominate the chats of two out of three urban radio stations namely Power FM and Star FM?
The Bulawayo urban music scene
A look at the local scenario in Bulawayo reveals a totally different scenario. South African music tends to dominate. As regards the bands, however, we have a more eclectic selection of genrés.
The local youthful acts such as Outfit and Pronix (Afro-jazz), Family Voices (gospel), Djembe Monks (tribal house), Nobuntu (imbube), House Rebels (house music), POY (hip-hop), Mcheznana, Khuxxman, PoZee (kwaito) represent a wider spectrum of sound than that found in Harare.
But national radio is not aiding and abetting the proliferation of the music thereof. This is an obvious travesty being wittingly or unwittingly perpetrated on the economic well-being of our local artistes.
A few hard questions
But some followers of this column have tackled me on my slant and “lobbying” for more equitable fair play for Bulawayo and Mutare-based artistes. I have been asked a couple of questions: Do local artistes produce quality and do they submit their works to radio stations in the first place?
Firstly, local artistes produce quality music and I can testify to that fact. As to the second question, I cannot say with certainty for others besides Djembe Monks and PoZee.
But my ignorance here does not preclude the possibility.
To be fair, I passed by the Zi FM stand at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and met up with Gibson Ncube the host of Link Up To Bulawayo (a radio show showcasing Bulawayo acts) who was super friendly. Will our artists, CDs in hand, visit the Power FM and ZiFM stands currently exhibiting there? Over the last couple of months that show has revealed what I already knew: Bulawayo acts are very competitive and the musical pedigree is without doubt.
Some of our artistes have, however, lambasted the ZiFM platform as mere tokenism. But others see it as an important step toward “liberating” the airwaves for the other regions.
Perhaps our artistes need to snap out of the funk of endless griping. What must be done? Are local artists guilty of self sabotage and lethargy?
Has the time come for some of the artists to make regular trips to the capital city like all other job or fortune seekers? Could this be the solution therefore? Indeed in the US, those that wish to make it in film have to go to Los Angeles not New York, US, for example.
Let all the children eat!
Notwithstanding the aforementioned, the case for more radio stations has never been stronger. I would add that some kind of affirmative action needs to be introduced with regards the regions and to this end a quota system must be introduced for airplay on all radio stations with national signal.
Why not? Wasn’t that the spirit behind the 75% local content stipulation? The current situation cannot be allowed to obtain wherein one region continues to benefit. Local musicians need to eat as well and radio is the market stall for their musical wares.
Parting shot: A few home truths
Beyond the blame game, I have questions aimed at Mthwakazi: why does the community not support its own artistes by attending the shows or buying the music?
What is behind the psyche? Can the community not appreciate that lack of support for local cultural productions is tantamount to self sabotage?
The quality myth has long been exploded. What is the excuse?
Twitter @amkudita or email: firstname.lastname@example.org