This article has been inspired by singer/songwriter of the Mari Yangu fame, Eve Kawadza. Although I have known Kawadza for close to 12 years, I had over the years been unable to establish where she lived until only last week when I read the article in which she proudly said, “I am a true ghetto girl, born and bred in Mbare.”
in the groove with Fred Zindi
The article went on to say that although she is a jazz sensation, she loves Zimdancehall. It looks like we have all been made aware of what goes on in the ghettos of Harare through Zimdancehall.
I have been to Mbare, Mufakose, Mabvuku, Kambuzuma, Highfield and many other high-density suburbs of Harare on brief visits but I had never really spent a lot of time there. However, on Monday January 2, with nothing to do, I decided to drive around and spend more time in Mbare, Kambuzuma and Highfield. I wanted to observe and discover for myself how this powerful music arising from the ghetto and named Zimdancehall has made the ghetto tick.
I started off by interviewing a few Zimdancehall enthusiasts who were hanging out at the Mbare Netball Complex and Stodart Hall. A man called Jacob told me “Killet T ari kuvawachisa vese vana Tocky Vybes, vana Ricky Fire, vana Sniper Storm, Shinsoman nedzimwe mboko dzose gore rino.” [Killer T will upstage the likes of Tocky Vybes, Ricky Fire, Sniper Storm, Shinsoman and other useless artistes this year].
Several other music fans at the same venues also endorsed Killer T, with a few suggesting that Mbare’s champions included Soul Jah Love, Kinnah and Seh Calaz. “It is these guys who make us proud. I live next door to Kelvin Kusikwenyu, [Killer T],” echoed Bra Collin Maenzanise who runs a hardware shop at Magaba Complex.
Just like the film Slum Dog Millionaire, Mbare is a hive of constant human activity. All day long, people are coming and going, gangsters hustling, guys on the corner doing nothing, kids running around. There is no place for all that energy to go, no mechanism for it to dissipate, so it erupts periodically in crazy parties and even epic acts of violence. One minute it is a placid afternoon, with people hanging, doing their thing, and the next thing you know there’s a police car chasing gangsters, flying through Daniel Street near Stodart Hall. Then, 10 minutes later, it’s like it never happened — everyone’s back to hanging out, back to the hustle, coming and going, running around. As you drive towards Mbare Musika, there’s every smell you can imagine.
People are cooking and eating takeaway food in the streets. Some family has a shack that’s tucked onto the back of someone else’s shack, and they don’t have any running water, so they bath in a bucket from the outdoor tap and then dump the dirty water in the street, where it runs into the river of sewage that’s already there.
There’s a guy fixing cars who thinks he knows what he is doing, but he doesn’t. He is dumping old engine oil into the street, and now the oil is combining with the dirty bathwater to make a river of filth running down the street. There’s music playing constantly from the streets, from the hostels and from cars. There are some schools such as George Stark Secondary School, Mbare Secondary School, Harare High School and Gwinyai Primary School. There are also a few soccer fields and run-down hostels. There’s little in the way of basic sanitation. Trash is everywhere, and there is a garbage fire going down in some side street. There’s always something burning in the ghetto.
As you go towards the National section of Mbare near Beatrice Cottages, you find men and women drinking beer at the Blue Bar and a few crackheads asking you for a dollar to get their fix from “Bra Dhiva”.
The reality of unemployment is evident in Mbare, and Zimdancehall makes it cool to be from the ghetto. Before, living in a township was something to be ashamed of. It was the bottom of the bottom. This is probably the reason why some of Zimbabwe’s dignitaries who grew up in Mbare such as Herbert Murerwa, Hope Sadza and Webster Shamu left the suburb.
Despite all the challenges they are facing, today’s ghetto youths are proud to be associated with their environment as they feel that Zimdancehall has come to change things.
Then there is the Marengenya, Matapi and Mapitikoti hostels. I was advised not to go there because, I was told, that’s where the serious gangsters hang out. “You only go there if you need to buy weed [marijuana]”, I was told. I went there out of pure ignorance about where not to go. However, I was lucky to bump into an ex-Transit Crew drummer who is now in the business of selling Zimdancehall CDs on the street. “The only way I know how to make money is selling pirated CDs, and one of the best places to sell CDs is in Mbare because that’s where the buses and Kombi ranks are.
Kombi drivers have money and are always looking for new songs because having good music is something they use to attract customers. I know that selling pirated CDs is a crime, and today, after talking to you, I feel like I owe all these artists money for stealing their music, but by ghetto standards, it does not even qualify as illegal. It has never really occurred to me that I am doing anything wrong because if copying CDs is wrong, why would they make CD writers?” he said.
This ghetto pride came with the establishment of recording studios like Chillspot and Bodyslam Records, as they made “riddims” which made the ghetto sound cool. Kids in the townships started going to these studios to record their own versions of dancehall, wearing their identity as a badge of honour. They were no longer from the township, but from Daniel Street or Zata Street in the ghetto. Being from Mufakose or Mbare gave them more street credentials than living in Borrowdale, Highlands or other northern suburbs.
After Mbare, the next stop was Kambuzuma where I met a dreadlocked youth who I asked questions on Zimdancehall. “We created Zimdancehall in Kambuzuma and we remain at the top. Look at the Gafa president, Winky D. He started it all and he is still king. All those pretenders come and go but the Ninja President continues to give us pure niceness. Mangoma ndeedu kuno kuMufombi [we make the beats here in Mufakose],” said Ras Fungai. Indeed he showed a sense of pride as he made this statement.
After this I went to Highfield. Unfortunately, Bodyslam Records, which I had targeted, was closed. I struggled to find out who I could speak to. Mai Tino, a Zimdancehall fan, told me that I had missed a Zimdancehall bash which recently took place at Takashinga Cricket Club. It featured Tipsy, Maggikal and Missile. She also told me that Highfield has produced the most peaceful and decent artistes as they do not believe in violence, drug abuse or dissing one another. I will go back to Highfield next month and see this for myself.