By Kennedy Nyavaya
An unsettling stench rises as soon as the generous summer rains meet mounds of uncollected garbage at Matapi flats in Mbare and within a few seconds, dark streams of water start flowing.
Adjacent to the debris and just across the narrow street, two middle-aged men mingle somehow wantonly with a couple of youthful-looking fellows.
Behind them is a fading mural with traces of purple and a couple of cartoonish details aside a bold inscription that reads, “ChillSpot Could Never Be a KillSpot”.
As one moves towards the entrance of the block, a few steps away, mixed voices can be heard chatting the day away. But a usual sound is missing in the background and it is that of music.
For once, in ages, Mangoma Depot (loosely translated to music factory) has spent more than two weeks without producing any new music.
The arrest and subsequent incarceration of the ChillSpot Records duo of Arnold “DJ Fantan” Kamudyariwa and Tafadzwa Kadzimwe, aka DJ Levels, for violating Covid-19 restrictions by hosting a mega gig that attracted hundreds in Mbare on New Year’s eve, explained the deafening silence at the studio by midday last Thursday.
“Go downstairs and you will see an elderly lady, that is Fantan’s mother. You can ask her whatever you want to know,” says one of the young-looking girls that emerges from one of the doors opposite the studio entrance.
When questioned about the whereabouts of DJ Ribhe, the last piece of the famed ChillSpot trio who somehow survived conviction, the girl says:
“Ribhe is not around, but he was here yesterday. He is not always available nowadays.”
The conviction of the two Zimdancehall music influential figures along with promoter Simbarashe “Dhama” Chanachimwe may have come as a stern warning to the nation that flouting Covid-19 regulations could bear ruthless consequences, but that was not all.
It also laid bare a couple of things that have gone wrong in ChillSpot’s insatiable quest for success over the years.
Initially, the music studio, which started as a “chilling place” for artistes in what was once Fantan’s bedroom, was, by their own admission, founded on the philosophies of solidarity in making a way out of the ghetto’s shackles of poverty through music.
“We strive to be reachable. Anyone can come and record as long as they feel they have the talent and that is what makes us big, I think,” Fantan told NewsDay, our sister paper, in 2017.
As noble an idea as that was and not forgetting that they partly achieved this, the principles have changed over the years and of late business tends to supersede all other interests.
Had it not been for their arrogance, they would not have organised that gig at their own backyard in full knowledge of the potential health risks it posed for their fans.
But that self-serving attitude did not start there, a growing number of little known musicians have been alleging contractual breaches as well as outright sabotage initiated by the institution.
Names like Blot, Silent Killer and even Crocoman, who last week claimed to have received a poorly done song despite paying a recording fee, among others quickly come to mind.
Not saying that going commercial is an outright bad move because they also need to earn enough to attain the luxuries of life for their hard work anyways, but ChillSpot has, to some, ostensibly become a self-serving capitalistic institution ripping off the powerless talent in the ghetto.
Indeed this is typical of most recording labels across the world, but that is a trait ChillSpot was intended to correct in its infancy.
Perhaps, just a look around the location, the studio can help one paint a clearer depiction between what the institution stood for then and now.
Initially, they had endowed the backyard wall with matching paint with the staircase leading to their second floor base and all the way to the studio booth.
Now, the view outside is an eyesore characterised by fading graffiti and unpleasant smell, while the interior look is neatly renovated with bright colours as well air-conditioned.
It may seem inconsequential, but it is just bad optics symbolising a notion that in chasing the dream for a better life, the ChillSpot authors negated their efforts to pull their own up the same ladder.
They simply put on the blinkers and climbed up.
Needless to say is that they have gained great influence among the country’s creative community as well as young population in general and that can be used for greater good or inconsiderate personal gain.
It makes one cringe to see how they have courted controversies at almost the same rate as they have produced hit songs of late.
If it is not a greedily crafted contract, it is an artiste claiming to have been denied a chance at fame or merely using their studio equipment and creative prowess as an amplification of vulgarities and vice even among minors.
Certainly, this could not have been what these artistes in their younger ages imagined as they were “chilling” in a near — empty bedroom over a decade ago.
There is no doubt that the studio has been of great financial benefit to many artistes and their families as a host of artistes recently put it while reacting to their shock sentencing.
Big names including Killer T, Soul Jah Love and Seh Calaz owe their careers to ChillSpot’s influence.
However, the detrimental effects of some of their current operations threaten to turn what was once an oasis of hope for the country’s musically gifted but impoverished youths into a poisoned chalice fashioned to cut their very own existence shorter.
Their bid for freedom may have failed on Friday, but hopes are that when they finally meet the outside world eventually, they would have reflected on their initial purpose to serve the common good.
Admission of guilt that they exposed young people in the ghetto to dangers of contracting the deadly coronavirus under the guise of free entertainment at that pasa pasa is not enough, only reformed actions when they come out will exonerate them.
Some say they were not alone in the blunders that characterise Zimdancehall nowadays and it would be unfair to pinpoint them particularly, but only ChillSpot has sworn from the days of its formation that it stood for better life in the ghetto.
ChillSpot will never be a Killspot, they proclaimed, and by those words they ought to stand guided.