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Is slackness the way to go?

In the groove with Fred Zindi

The reason why the late Oliver Mtukudzi’s music is appreciated by a large section of Zimbabwe’s population is due to the way the lyrics in his songs impacted on individuals in our society. People could identify with what he sang and could draw meaning from his words. As a result, he gave meaning to our lives.

Sometimes, we often forget to thank the people who make our lives happy in their simple and profound ways. Many times we fail to tell them how much we appreciate them for being part of our lives. Although I never had the chance to tell him how much I appreciated him, when Tuku died, I felt that a part of me was gone with him. I appreciate him for his big contribution to Zimbabwe’s musical culture and for giving wise guidance and counsell to young and upcoming musical artistes.

However, there are several young and less mature artistes who feel that when making musical compositions, the promotion of sex and drugs is the way to go if one has to make an impact on society. I am not aware of any Mtukudzi song, which promotes sex or drugs.

To give an example, Jah Signal, a rising Zimdancehall artiste, is said to have bedded 15 women over a six-month period. This story has been covered by both social and print media. If the artiste is bragging about it, it proves that Zimdancehall is still full of what the Jamaicans call ‘’slackness’’. In his own lyrics, Jah Signal sings about “stonyeni”, which has been interpreted by the public to have sexual connotations.

Slackness refers to vulgarity in Jamaican culture. It also refers to a sub-genre of dancehall music with straightforward sexual lyrics performed live or recorded.

Sometime back, I remember the Jamaican albino musician, Yellowman, when he was asked about slackness in his lyrics. He came out in defence of slackness and proclaimed: “I never know why they call it slackness. I talk about sex, but it’s just what happens behind closed doors. What I talk is reality.”

In the early 1980s after the death of Bob Marley and with the decline of conscious roots reggae music, sound systems in Jamaica regained popularity. DJs in dancehalls would freely chant sexual lyrics over the microphone and that seemed to gain popularity with the revellers. They performed over extended grooves produced by a new mixing style of selecting called “juggling.” One would hear the DJs calling out, “Pull up selector man!” At first they did not record the sexual lyrics which they chanted in the dance halls.
With the popularity of DJ music, they felt it was time to record these crude words which they chanted over the mike. The energy in the dance halls became very sexual, with increasingly revealing clothing, scandalous dance styles, and cruder lyrics from the DJs.

Previously, sexual lyrics had been merely suggestive, but the new “slack” lyrics, part of the rebellion against the fading Rastafari movement’s ideals, left nothing to the imagination. Ironically, the term reflects the derisive attitude typified by the Rastafari Nyabingi towards a type of reggae music which lacked a deeper message.

According to Caution Katundu, a reggae fanatic and follower since the 1980s: “There is still very good conscious music coming out of Jamaica with good lyrics, which make us stronger as a people. Why do our youngsters ignore this kind of music and choose to associate with the Jamaican rude boys of dancehall where their so-called music only talks about ganja, ganja, ganja, then sex, sex and sex?”

Perhaps as we grow older, we become more conservative in our choice of music. This genre and its crude lyrics such as Zunza Mazakwatira or 50 Magate, where women are being asked to shake their bums in provocative ways, has a lot of support from young people. We must be missing something here!

Richard Mvududu, a colleague at the Zimbabwe College of Music, had this to say about this new trend in Zimdancehall: “No, man, these youths must be guided. They need to be talked to. We must organise a seminar where we will teach them to appreciate real conscious music. We must give them the opportunity to listen to real lyrics especially now after the demise of Oliver Mtukudzi, who came out with deep lyrics in his songs. They are busy listening to the wrong music from Jamaica and adapting it to suit the ghetto youths of Zimbabwe. The kind of stuff they write, busy dissing each other, is not on. How can we build unity in Zimbabwe when we write lyrics that are only good in dividing us?”

Indeed, there is a lot of good music by roots conscious artistes and groups still in existence in Jamaica such as Chronixx, Abyssinians, Ijahman Levi, Barrington Levi, Black Uhuru, Culture, Don Carlos, Ken Boothe, Jimmy Cliff, Eric Donaldson, Toots and the Maytals, Frankie Paul, Cocoa Tea, The Gladiators, Luciano, Tony Rebel, Max Romeo, Richie Spice, Morgan Heritage, Busy Signal, Christopher Martin, Alton Ellis, Bunny Wailer, Jacob Miller, The Mighty Diamonds, Denis Brown, Bob Marley, Beres Hammond, Jah Cure and Freddie McGregor.

Like him or not, Winky D has some positive lyrics with deep meaning. He avoids slackness wherever he can. Even in his song, MuGarden, which is meant to be romantic, released for Valentine’s Day, there are no vulgar lyrics. This is the direction which Zimdancehall should follow.

In Jamaica, the rise of dancehall music in the late 1980s coincided with important shifts in Jamaican society. Politically, the Jamaican people had rejected the originally revolutionary democratic socialist regime of Michael Manley and the People’s National Party, placing their hopes instead on Edward Seaga and the Jamaican Labour Party. Since Bob Marley’s death, there has been little mainstream media representation of disadvantaged Jamaicans and Rastafari in popular culture. Political and cultural changes along with shifting public tastes led to a new dancehall culture which became an increasingly important institution for Jamaicans in the same way it has become for unemployed youths in Zimbabwe through ZimDancehall.

According to one Jamaican Rastafarian scholar, Dr Niaah, who visited Zimbabwe in 2015: “Dancehall music can be viewed as a portrayal of cultural decay amongst youths in the way it glorifies violence, promiscuity and drug abuse in poor societies.”

The prevalence of foul language in the genre is viewed as a type of “noise pollution” and the proliferation of sexual and physical abuse in ghettos and high- density areas can be directly attributed to the rise of dancehall over original roots reggae music.”

Dr Niaah pointed out that the rise of Rastafari culture in Jamaica was due to a need to de-colonise the people of the notion that Blacks were inferior to White people and did not have a heritage of their own.

The need for a cultural foundation led to the belief that Africa was the cradle of Black people and thus was born the religion of Rastafari, which places Emperor Haile Selassie as the spiritual head of the movement.

The prevalence of fatherless families in the Caribbean led to the people embracing Rastafarianism as a surrogate father for most people who viewed the Emperor of Ethiopia as their father figure and Dr Niaah pointed out that one in three Jamaicans do not know their own fathers. Could this be the case in Zimbabwe’s ghettos? We are yet to receive this information from Zimstat.

Reggae music was born in poor marginalised spaces of the urban centres in order to provide hope to the downtrodden masses, with the theme Love, Peace and Harmony dominating the genre.

Although Zimdancehall is still coming from the ghettos of Zimbabwe, the understanding and interpretation of this genre has drastically shifted from its original roots of conscious reggae. This is where artistes such as Jah Signal of Stonyeni fame and Enzo Ishall, the 50 Magate hitmaker, come in.

Just like in Jamaica, dancehall with all its slackness which was preferred by the ghetto youths, became very profitable as promoters and record producers gave preference to the genre over original reggae music, leading to polarisation of societies such as the current rivalry in Jamaica between rival factions Gazza and Gully movements.

Now which way do we go in Zimbabwe? Is slackness the way to go?


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