By Fred Zindi
Since independence in 1980, several Zimbabwean musicians have shown that they are disillusioned by the direction in which the country has been going. However, because they are not politicians, they take the music route to engage with the people. They write protest songs which make them become the voice of the voiceless.
There have been many of such a kind over the years. These include the likes of Thomas Mapfumo, Hosiah Chipanga, Leonard Zhakata and of late, Hopewell Chin’óno
A protest song is a song that is associated with a movement for social change and hence part of the broader category of topical songs.
It may be sungura, Zimdancehall, reggae, folk, classical or commercial in genre. Whatever beat it follows, the lyrics to the songs play a crucial part and it is these lyrics that resonate with the people.
Let’s look at, for instance, some of Mapfumo’s 1990 lyrics on the song Corruption which became a subject for cabinet discussion and was eventually banned from airplay:
Sex for a job
In the streets, there is corruption
In private companies, there is corruption
Everywhere, there is corruption
Some of us are corrupt
Everywhere, there is corruption
Something for something
Nothing for nothing
You can’t get away
Watch out my friend
They gonna get you
The younger schoolgirls get corrupted
The big fish don’t care about it
Some women, strip for a job
What is the solution to this problem?
Corruption in the society
That is the slogan of today
Meaning corruption in the society
After this, another tune by Zhakata, Mugove, which was released in 1996, was also banned from airplay because the government did not like its lyrics which went something like this:
Vakuruwe ndipeiwoka mukana wangu
Ndinyevere vaye vaye
Vaye vaye vamunodzvinyirira
Vaye vaye vamunotsikirira
Kuchema kwavo munamato mukuru kumatenga
Ende hakuna anoziva mhinduro nyangwe nemusi waichauya
Deno ndaive ini ndigere paye
Deno ndaive ini ndiripo paye
Ndairidza huwi ndodaidzira vamwe vangu
Kuno kwabikwa dopiro vakoma
Huyai mose huyai munombore
Chawawana idya nehama
Kana paine pamakandichengetera Baba
Ndinokumbirawo mugove wangu ndichiri kurarama Tenzi
Tarirai ndosakadzwa sechipfeko nevanemari ndisina changuwo
In 2020, Chipanga came out with the album he titled Mushonga ne Huwori which was also talking about corruption within the country.
Mushonga ne huwori
Zvinoshanda pamwe chete
Mushonga unoshanda kuvhiringidza chokwadi
Huwori hunoshanda kuvhiringidza chokwadi
Then this year, came another hard-hitting protest tune by Chin’ono titled Dem Loot.
Although Nick Mangawana, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, who was recently interviewed about the song, thinks it’s a boring tune, the song has gone viral despite lack of airplay on Zimbabwe’s television and radio stations. Last week, it had received over 20 184 views on YouTube.
Chino’no has been incarcerated by the Zimbabwean authorities on three occasions within six months. It was after the third time he had been to jail that he conjured up ways of engaging with the youth so that they can also identify with his cause.
He chose to write a song which he claims to have been inspired earlier in his life by Bob Marley. He wrote the song Dem Loot with the lyrics:
Dem loot Dem loot Dem loot
Hospitals have no medication
No water to drink in the townships
Dem loot Dem loot Dem loot
The roads are full of potholes
Mari dzeCovid vanoba, etc
As Chin’ono puts it: “We are in a worse situation than we were in 1980. I decided to use music to talk about these issues.
I have been scorned and insulted by Zanu PF supporters for raising these issues, but I am happy to go to court because I have the evidence of dem looting.
We only need $50 million to put our hospitals back in order. We have gold worth a $100 million, being looted every month. The plunder of the nation’s natural resources continues.
The youth are on the receiving end of this looting. So there is a need to use music to fight this corruption in Zimbabwe.”
When Bob Marley came to Zimbabwe at independence 41 years ago, he and every Zimbabwean had hoped for a new beginning when he sang:
Every man has got a right to decide his own destiny
And in this judgement there is no partiality
So arm in arms, with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle
‘Cause that’s the only way we can, overcome our little trouble
No more internal, power struggle
We come together, to overcome the little trouble
Soon we’ll find out who is, the real revolutionaries
‘Cause I don’t want my, people to be, contrary.
Forty one years on, Marley’s visit to Zimbabwe and his music still have an impact on the majority of Zimbabweans who have followed his music since 1980.
His music is still effective up to now yet he and his Wailers played one of the shortest sets the band had ever played. They had come to Zimbabwe to express their potent solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe and they chose their songs very carefully.
Their set included Get Up Stand For Your Rights, War: No More Trouble, Chant Down Babylon, Equal Rights And Justice and Blackman Redemption.
It is well documented that a great three-minute protest song can be more effective than a 500-page textbook: immediate and replicable, portable and efficient, wrapped in music, easy to understand by ordinary people. It’s distributed word-of-mouth by artistes, as opposed to news stories marketed by the fellas who may own the town, the company store and the mines.
Everyone thought Zimbabwe’s troubles were finally over and there was no need for ordinary people to struggle anymore. Marley’s philosophy was simple. He said that the greatness of man is not how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.
The interpretation is simple. According to Chin’ono who says he was inspired by this philosophy, if we put a stop to the plundering of the country’s resources by those who loot them, ordinary people would also benefit; there would be enough medication in the hospitals; the people would have fresh water to drink and there would be no more potholes on our roads.
Indeed, this may not be the dream country today’s youths had hoped for. With the economic downturn and high unemployment figures in Zimbabwe, Chin’óno has found a way of expressing his outrage.
This has been done through his political writings in his capacity as a journalist as well as his tune, Dem Loot. Although it is not getting airplay in Zimbabwe, the song is getting massive airplay in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. Not only is it getting massive airplay elsewhere, but the youths in Zimbabwe have also proposed a Dem Loot challenge.
The song is now coming out in different versions especially among the Zimdancehall artistes and the ghetto youths. In South Africa,Vusa Mkhaya has come up with a brilliant ballad out of the Dem Loot song and I am reliably informed that it is selling like hot cakes.
It is in this regard that protest songs show us the powerful role music can play in the society.
On a different note, we were all saddened to hear the news of the death of Saul Musaka, aka Soul Jah Love, last Tuesday. The Kana Ndafa, Ndini Uya Uya, Pazai, Chibaba Baba, Mwana WaStembeni and Pamamonya Ipapo hit maker, who was declared a provincial hero and was buried yesterday at Warren Hills Cemetery with full military honours, will be sadly missed. We thank him for sharing his unique talent with the rest of the world. May his soul rest in peace.