Forget catchy nursery rhymes or hard-hitting social messages, sex lyrics have become a musician’s new shortcut to fame among Zimbabwe’s urban youth and last year’s biggest hits present solid evidence of that.
Music is constantly on an evolving trajectory from the days of recording with a full instrument band in the studio to a less taxing one person on either side of the studio booth mixing lyrics with an electronically produced beat.
However, what keeps many ears hooked to a song is the lyrical content, which is why in the Zimdancehall genre even if scores of lyricists chant on a similar beat, only a few stand out.
A look into 2018’s biggest songs including Enzo Ishall’s Kanjiva, Sweetie (Stonyeni) by Jah Signal and Baba Harare’s The Reason Why, among others, exposes the growing penchant for aphrodisiac language across the music sphere.
Expectedly, on official platforms the musicians have given sober explanations to the meanings of their music with the Kanjiva hitmaker saying his song is merely about a dance while Jah Signal claimed “stonyeni” means love with Baba Harare seemingly getting away with his “…nzimbe inobvira kumusoro ichinaka…” line.
For their effort the artistes have achieved greatly, dominating the annual chart lists both on TV as well as radio and will possibly receive awards for their work.
Their effort to present parallel meaning of the songs is, however, a far cry from how the message has been decrypted in the streets, where it matters the most.
“It [singing vulgar] has always been there, but in Zimbabwe it has been low and secretive for long. However, I think maybe the recent trends are a sign that local values and norms are fading,” said veteran musician and producer Clive “Mono” Mukundu.
Mukundu insists that art has become “too westernised and it is not only in our music, but all other sectors” and that is because artistes’ creative control is unrestrained.
“Before digitalisation, artistes didn’t have creative control as they were under record labels which then had power to control the content before it is released, but now without that process, artistes are doing what they want and in the end these are the products we are getting,” he said.
True to his sentiments, it is not entirely new that musicians play around with words to relay sexually connotative lyrics, in fact, artistes have been doing it as long back as the late “Doctor Love” Paul Matavire’s era although they had to be witty to avoid popularising vulgarity.
Musicians like Jacob Moyana of Munotidako fame can attest that the music sphere was an unforgivingly conservative world where anything considered to have a perverted influence suffers a short shelf life, like his career.
With a strict censorship authority, an equally stern process to make it to the airwaves and creative control at recording labels, it was virtually impossible for musicians to release explicitly uncouth material before the turn of the millenium.
“During our time, nothing like that would come out on radio because it would be censored before it even got to radio or any mainstream platform,” explains social commentator Rebecca Chisamba.
Until recently, even the lyrically liberal Zimdancehall chanters would release a cleaner version for every dirty song just to get airplay, but all that has changed as mainstream platforms, like radio stations, are now also playing this music.
“We are all to blame and we all need to go back to the drawing board. Songs should target to teach something because we [parents] are busy checking the dollar, but we have lost our children and I am pleading that let us do something,” said Chisamba, who now avoids “putting the radio on when around respectable people” because of the despicable content.
It is uncertain whether musicians structure their lyrics to appease a perceived appetite for sexual content locally or they are setting the pace for what they want society to follow.
“Our society now has dirty minds because sometimes musicians sing certain lyrics with a clear meaning, but there are people who twist the meaning and put words into their mouth,” Chisamba said.
In the midst of chaos, the country supposedly has a board of censors appointed in terms of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act Chapter 10: 4.
The Censorship Board, which faces an immense duty of regulating public entertainment in the digital age, has the mandate to censor:
“Any matter which is indecent or obscene or is offensive or harmful to public morals or any indecent or obscene medical, surgical or physiological details the disclosure of which is likely to be offensive or harmful to public morals; or for the dissolution or a declaration of nullity of a marriage or for judicial separation or for restitution of conjugal lights, any particulars…..,” according to the Act.
But, it has ostensibly become a white elephant leaving a glaring void threatening to erode the nation’s moral fabric, according to revered music critic Fred Zindi.
“I suggested a long time ago that all music should go through some authority to deem if it is fit for the public’s ears although it is also virtually impossible now because you have recording studios that record in the morning and by noon the music is in the streets,” said Zindi, who also advocates for enactment of legislative measures to bring defaulters to book.
“Without such a mechanism [statutory law], it is impossible to rein in on this disturbing new trend.”
According to Zindi, playing of dirty lyrics in public spaces like commuter omnibuses is fuelling moral decadence and should be stopped.
“Culturally, it is bad for the influence it’s giving. Yes, a song might be a hit because this is basically what they are listening to and it has appeal to young people, but this should not be mistaken for being right,” added Zindi.
Zindi called upon feminists to take a role in denouncing some of the music which explores a subtle agenda of sexually objectifying women.
“Feminists should also come out strong against lyrics that pull women down, because any society that functions well should stand up against such lyrics because music has a powerful influence, so people should start minding and do something about it,” he said.
There is no doubt that sex sells in any art genre including music but when it overtakes constructive lyricism, as it has of late, there is need for some punitive action from the authorities.