BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
The dawn of the new dispensation brought along a glimpse of hope to many, including artistes, with the leaders ensuring the upholding of fundamental human rights.
This was reinforced by the return of self-exiled Chimurenga guru Thomas Mapfumo, who after so many years staged a successful gig at the Glamis Arena last year in April.
Mapfumo fled the country as the then Robert Mugabe-led government was against his songs that blasted the government and exposed corruption that was hurting the general populace.
However, it seems as if the arts industry is still under the yoke of political polarisation with award-winning dancehall artiste Wallace Chirumiko, affectionately known as Winky D, reportedly going into hiding few weeks ago.
The artiste is being persecuted following the release of the hit track Kudira Jecha, which tells the story of the economic meltdown that is being experienced in the country.
Speaking during a ZBC-aired live programme Zimbabwe Today last week, war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa described the song Kudira Jecha as being inflammatory and anti-government.
The artiste later appeared in public at Oliver Mtukudzi’s funeral where he was barred from entering the National Sports Stadium where a memorial service was held.
German-based arts critic and journalist Plot Mhako said the crackdown on artistes was not only detrimental to the arts industry, but tainting all efforts by the Second Republic to promote freedom of expression as well as failure to recognise the role of artistes in society.
“Artistes are the mirrors and voices of society. Musicians have a role to play in inspiring the citizens, informing, educating and entertaining them.
Pre-independence we had musicians who played a critical role in the fight for liberty from the colonial rule, a lot of them were persecuted and fled the country or were incarcerated. Fast-forward to an independent Zimbabwe we saw the same happening to artistes whose messages were deemed incorrect by the previous administration,” he said.
In December, Winky D failed to perform in Midlands after rogue youths besieged the venue and ordered revellers out. The Rokesheni hitmaker escaped from the attack, which many have described as a way meant to silence the artist whose latest track was well received mainly by the youths.
“Now we are in the Second Republic and slowly we start seeing political victimisation of artists who dare sing about the daily struggles or the political and economic situation. This is very unfortunate and detrimental to the growth of the arts industry and infringes on artistic freedoms. The lack of tolerance casts a cloud of fear and self-censorship on artistes at a time when the developing world is embracing more creative liberties,” he said.
“I believe freedom of expression should be promoted as long as those freedoms do not infringe on the rights of others or cause harm to other citizens. Our progress as a people should be measured on how much freedoms we have.”
A number of local artistes have fallen victim to thwarting by politicians over their pieces of work especially in the Mugabe era.
Popular singer Mukudzei Mukombe, popularly known as Jah Prayzah, had to evade stones pelted at him at a cemetery following the release of the track Mudhara Vachauya, which the now vanquished G40 cabal interpreted as anti-Mugabe. The song was described to have been referring to the then vice-president Mnangagwa, who was tipped to be the new leader, something the G40 never wanted to hear.
However, Jah Prayzah’s other track Kutonga Kwaro became popular with Zanu PF supporters hi-jacking it and claimed that it was meant for Mnangagwa’s ascendancy to power. The track is now the introduction song at every Zanu PF gathering.
This did not go well with the opposition party supporters accusing the lanky musician of being aligned to the ruling party.
Beitbridge-based lawyer and poet Jabulani Mzinyathi said smart politicians embrace freedom of expression and accept that an artiste is the eye of the nation.
“The artiste is the conscience of the nation. Politicians who do not have the aspirations of people at heart do not want to be told that their faces are askew, so they blame the mirror. This has been so in Zimbabwe. (Dambudzo) Marechera bore the brunt, so did the likes of George Mujajati, there should never be any attack on artistes who in any event live in this society and daily see the wrongs in the society and sing or write about that.
“An artiste is a participant observer, smart politicians would do well to embrace freedom of expression as enshrined specifically in section 61 of the constitution. Where artistes are persecuted by the state and other like-minded people that is a serious affront to the tenets of a very progressive constitution we now have. Repressive regimes do not see eye to eye with scrutiny. There is nothing new here, Thomas Mapfumo has not known peace in Rhodesia as well as post-independent Zimbabwe. The issue is about his socio -politically conscious lyrics that incisively lay bare the rottenness when he sang the song Corruption that cancer was just starting, look where we are now — how prophetic,” he said.
Following the recent violent protests, scores of people, mainly in the high-density suburbs, were victims of brutality by state security apparatus who used unimaginable force to thwart down demonstrators.
This resulted in Zimdancehall musicians Tocky Vibes and Guspy Warrior singing about the brutality and blasting the crackdown of “innocent ghetto youths”.
In a number of countries, poems and music have been a tool of socio-economic change and promotion of peace.
“No artiste can retire from the arts. It is the height of naivety to suggest that a musician, poet, author, sculptor of whatever genre retires. Art is a vocation, it is not a profession. Freedom of speech and freedom after speech must be guaranteed. Artistes secure their immortality through works like Kudira Jecha. Long after the attack the song lives on — it may even outlive its creator. Such is the power of great art — check out the impact of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley long after their deaths,” added Mzinyathi.
Renowned arts critic and guitarist Fred Zindi weighed in and said art was more powerful than politics.
“Music has got the power to bring together people from all walks of life without much effort. It is more powerful than politics and this is why politicians in Zimbabwe hold musical galas every year or use music in their political campaigns. Musicians in other countries have been known to change regimes,” Zindi said.
“We all know how Bob Marley changed the face of Jamaica and influenced the rest of the world by simply singing political songs such as Redemption Song, Zimbabwe, Chant Down Babylon, Buffalo Soldier, Get Up Stand Up, Stand Up for Your Rights, Blackman Redemption and War, to mention only a few. We also know how Bob Marley brought together two rival politicians, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, during his peace concert in Jamaica. That is the power of music. It can move governments,” he said.
He added that, during Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence, song and dance played an essential role of unifying the freedom fighters and the masses at the same time raising their morale through messages that defined the purpose of the armed struggle.
“In a bid to preserve the morale of freedom fighters in camps and the morale of the masses at home, song and dance was used to educate, inform and entertain. For instance, Comrade Chinx inspired the guerillas with songs like Maruza Imi and Vapambi vePfumi. Freedom fighters used music and dance at all-night gatherings called ‘mapungwe’ to educate the masses (povo) about the objectives of the armed struggle.
“Within Zimbabwe, Thomas Mapfumo’s Pfumvu Paruzevha, Gwindingwi Rine Shumba, Zimbabwe YeVatema, Pamuromo Chete, Chauya Chauya, Mamvemve and Hokoyo are examples of political songs that inspired the masses. Politicians are aware that such political songs can influence public thinking,” added Zindi.
Popular Zora musician Leonard Zhakata’s hit songs Mugove and Hondo were perceived to be anti-government and “a recipe for mass protests”.
Meanwhile, after Guspy Warrior and Tocky Vibes latest releases dissing the soldiers over brutality, it could be a matter of time before they meet their own fate going by history. For now, politics has shattered the society’s mirror.