SOUNDTRACK: Phillip Chidavaenzi
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ‘Second Republic’ dream seems to have collapsed in spectacular fashion, with ordinary citizens’ lives increasingly getting harder under his reign since the ouster of the late former President Robert Mugabe on the strength of a military coup in 2017.
With the promise of a “Canaan” having collapsed like a deck of cards, some of the country’s young musicians have taken to song to question the trajectory the nation has taken, expressing the pains and frustrations of their generation in the face of increased joblessness, shrinking economic opportunities, hunger and currency crisis.
The state of the nation has been aptly captured in the music that has been released since the end of last year.
Since the liberation war, music has always played a crucial role in expressing people’s emotions, with musicians including Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo, Zexie Manatsa and the late Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi and Tinei Chikupo, singing about the war and rallying the liberation war fighters in their own different ways.
Musicians such as Winky D, Sanii Makhalima, Celscius, Tocky Vibes and Guspy Warrior, all belong to a generation that was born after the protracted 1970s liberation war. They also constitute a coterie of young artistes that have suffered at the hands of the very political players rallied by the likes of Mukanya in the past.
Zimdancehall chanter, Celscius, released the song Nyika Yedu, a reflection of the pain he felt as he watched his country of birth being reduced to a wasteland in which nothing works. He sings of unrewarding labour as workers slave for a pittance while salaries are no more than chicken feed against skyrocketing prices of basic commodities.
“Kana kumabasa kwedu, tenzi haakwane macents…” (the money we are getting at our workplaces is not enough), he sings. In many ways, the song is an appeal for divine intervention to save Zimbabwe, which is sliding down a steep slope.
Celscius echoes the sentiments of many nationals as the frustrated persona in the song questions how long it is going to take to set Zimbabwe right again. Having seen Mugabe’s back in November 2017, many Zimbabweans believed they were probably just one step away from “Canaan”, only to realise that the change of guard was not accompanied by the change of system. Thus the overbearing shadow of Egypt has continued to loom over Canaan.
In his latest album — Njema (Handcuffs) — Winky D, who launched the new offering on New Year’s eve while donning a jersey similar to the ones worn in Zimbabwe’s prisons, sings about the pains of Egypt in the song, Ijipita.
This particular song went viral after it was leaked on social media before the album launch, leading to reports that government had banned the album launch — reports that were later refuted.
Winky D is known for politically-charged songs in which he takes no prisoners, and that seems to have made him a thorn in the government’s side. In December 2018, he was forced to cancel yet another New Year’s eve gig at The Odyssey in Kadoma after violence had broken out earlier during a December 25 show at Golden Mile in Kwekwe as machete-wielding hit squads invaded the venue in protest over the politically-charged track, Kasong Kecheja.
On the latest album, the songs Njema, Ijipita and Murombo belong to the same discourse, themed around poverty, oppression and bondage. In Ijipita, Winky D uses biblical allusions in a comparative analysis of the Israelites’ sojourn from Egypt to the land of milk and honey. Many Zimbabweans continue to leave the country in search of better fortunes because of the economic tailspin that has continued under Mnangagwa’s watch.
In Murombo, the dancehall chanter calls out the rich and powerful — many of whom belong to the ruling elite in Zimbabwe — for presiding over the impoverishment of a promising nation, which Celscius says has been blessed with abundant mineral wealth in wisdom song, Nyika Yedu.
Another young musician, Makhalima, late last year dropped the song Vatiregerera, in which he tore into the country’s leadership for failing his generation, many of whom just loaf around the neighbourhood or end up in criminal activity because the formal employment base has shrunk.
The hard-hitting song unveils a persona despairing over the economic hardships, police brutality and high unemployment levels while the country’s leaders share the national cake among themselves.
The offering — whose visuals show police bludgeoning protesters, empty public hospital corridors and endless fuel queues — was inspired by the situation obtaining in the country.
In the song, Makhalima questions the rationale of beating up hustlers trying to earn an honest living, and longs for past glory years when young people could afford to dream of a bright future.
But the future has since been stolen from them.
In June last year, Ricky Fire released the song Zvichanaka Here?, which offers a glimpse into contemporary Zimbabwe, where ordinary people have been forced to contend with the continually skyrocketing prices of basic commodities.
He shows some yearning for the United States dollar, which somewhat stabilised the economy at the height of the Government of National Unity (GNU) birthed in September 2009 when former South African President Thabo Mbeki brokered a deal that brought Mugabe, the late MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara together.
The reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar under Mnangagwa has seen its value eroded significantly, leading to a spike in commodity prices, forcing Ricky Fire to sing, “Oui oui oui pachorus ndashaya mashoko ini… Maprice ezvinhu ari kungoshooter, payslip haichakwana one week…” (I don’t even know what to say. Prices continue to go up. My salary is no longer sufficient).
Things are now tough as workers have seen the value of their salaries eroded, with many having been forced to scale down on their lifestyles. Just like Celscius, Ricky Fire is forced to look up to heaven for divine rescue: “Nhai Mwari nyika yedu ichanaka rinhi? Isu vemughetto hatichazore margarine. Tii ine mukaka toinzwira Mabelreign…” (Oh, Lord, when will things get better in our nation? Those of us in poor neighbourhoods can no longer afford decent breakfast).
He sings of the power cuts and the high cost of alternative energy sources that the majority of citizens can no longer afford.
Guspy Warrior and Tocky Vibes teamed up last year again for the duet, Nhamo, a song that speaks to a broken generation that feels trapped but with no way out.
They describe their hardships as a curse — or a spell cast by a person who later died thus can no longer be reversed. It is a strong Shona metaphor: “Kufirwa neakandiroya… Amai ndavhunika. Uyu ndiwo munyama chaiwo…”
Artistes have a role to mirror society in their music, and where politics harden, economics fail and people are oppressed, they will continue to use music as an irrepressible form of expression.
Phillip Chidavaenzi is a journalist and arts critic. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org