For a long time I have been meaning to write this piece. I was stuck in an ambivalence of whether it would come out as a good piece of writing or simply a vent of my own anger to something I hold dearly in my life. I was (and still am) not sure how my thoughts on the matter below would be treated by the many music lovers in my home.
Well, I decided, since I have my own blog, I might as well. I mean, thats why I created it in the first place. Besides the hunger in my ears to hear something musically uplifting and great, it is the cold outside keeping me inside the house. And with time on my hands, why not share with you my thoughts on the dying industry in my country and my opinion on how we can wake it from the slumber it has taken.
In a few years from now, Zimbabwe’s music industry will be dead.
There will be no ‘worth-the-listen’ musician in this land but remnants of times gone by when it was ‘promising’. I put that in inverted commas because it was such like building a rocket that looked beatiful in all appearances but failed to launch because the engine and turbines could not fire. Such is what befell upon us.
And in a few years from now, there will be no internationally recognised artist that will command great listernership and produce great works of art such as that we have experienced, seasonally, in the past. At present, we pride ourselves with one relic from the past, Oliver Mtukudzi who has had more than 50 albums to his repetoire. With him gone (this is not a jinx on his life in anway whatsoever) there will be nothing to write home about.
He still remains, as if he is the last surviving pillar in a heavily dilaptidated house, that connects us to a greater music heights. Inevitably, his removal from the scene, will see a total destruction of a music scene that once was, on the brink of thriving.
Today it is just a shadow of what it was, a pure waste of time and effort.
I grew up with music, our house had much of it. My dad’s collection, Led Zeppellin, Billy Segal, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Stimela, just to name a few, made up my foundation of knowing true quality music when its played.
Zimbabwean music wasn’t as far off always, we had our moments.
When ‘Bundu Boys opened for Madonna for three nights at Wembley Stadium in 1987 playing to a crowd of 240 000 at the personal request of the Material Girl herself’ According to a report from Allmusic.com, it seemed we were set as a music powerhouse. Sadly, it was short lived. The Guardian described the band as overnight start and a fall, ‘ equally dizzying’
It might be the fact that the lead singer for the greatest band ever to emerge from the country, hung himself? Is it too scary and weird when you make it to the top of world music? We can never know. The quick rise and fall, still haunt us to date.
The fact of the matter is this, all the artists we ever had before that showed promise, only did so as far as within the region and continent. Having shows in Europe and US sadly does not guarantee the music to be of top notch and if Tuku stops singing today with all his African recognition, the small ray of light he holds will be exstinguished.
Efforts from bands like Mokoomba can be felt, only time can tell. The rest however, need to either forget the whole trade or simply continue to forge an existance through their music by playing within the country and region for lousy earnings. Which does us no good at all.
The main problem is this. Upcoming Zimbabwean musicians want to be too sophisticated, but they fail. Their brand of urban hip hop and rap music is mediocre and cannot compare in anyway to the yardstick measurement of the true origins of these genres. They have created, in their own mind, the same music but blame other external factors for their failure to fly high. I beg to differ. The music is rubbish. There is nothing to it, embarassing to say the least.
I have had this conversation before with friends and colleagues, we all seem to agree upon one thing, creating our own brand like how South Africans created Kwaito. We are stuck on cheap immitations of genres we cant comprehend and it shows by the way none of these so called urban musicians within the country have hardly worked with no one other than themselves.
I have been trying hard not to mention names and stay on my argument as much as I can but allow me to mention a few names that have upheld a true form of mediocrity.
Listening to ExQ (Enoch Munhenga) rap ridicules the art form itself. He talks! And the shallowness of his work is amazing for an artist aiming for the top.
Sanii Makhalima, who has received numerous accolades within the country, could try sing a little softer, he lacks in voice dynamics (something well taught at music school) and if only he could try sing in English a few times more, he could attract a much wider audience. He too blew his own trumpet too quick and is well remembered within the urban setting with very few deliverables to tak about.
Roki (Rockford Josphat) had promise, which was sadly taken away by women, alcohol and the many kids he fathered. In the end it left him. Read about the man here. He tried to bring in a ‘swag’ of some sort but when it is mixed with controversy and a tainted public image, it all fell into oblivion.
I cannot even begin to talk about Nox, Maskiri, Leonard Mapfumo (just to mention a few) who I find surprisingly being mentioned to as artists. For they lack the study in the genre they pride themselves to be masters of.
Kumbie Shoniwa said in detail in the article
‘The rise and fall of Urban Grooves in Zimbabwe’ and you can read it here
And if you thought I have a thing against the ‘urban groovers'( oh, I have issues with this title, just so you know), other genres have simply fallen apart and seem to be doing nothing at reversing the fortunes of the country.
We can’t however pin our hopes on ‘sungura’ to put Zimbabwe on the map as it would be the same as pinning the hopes of South African Music on maskhandi, the two are trademarks but only as far as our borders.
We can however talk of Cassper Nyovest (SA), AKA (SA), Davido (Nigeria), Burna Boy (Nigeria), Youssou n’dour (Senegal), Salif Keita (Mali) – you get the drift here, who can really put a country on the map enough to command collaborations and performances such as those fateful night in Wembley Stadium. This is what we lack.
The flame dies daily as radio disc jockey’s and entertainment journos applaud crap and feed the masses with it. Be it through lack of material or by coercion (a few beers can do), the spirit is simply fading. Then again it might be the marketing of such a product that is lacking as the two co-exist and cannot do without the other.
Maybe its time we start looking at reggae as our way out, provided we can cultivate the same passion for the genre just like the Carribeans do. Other than that, we will just be doing what we have known best to do, celebrate our own failures.
We need artists of callibre, who have guts to explore new frontiers in world music. There seems to be a lack in effort in makingn marketable material in Zimbabwe and because music has largely been seen as a hobby rather than a business, many artists have put it to rest after a few critics.
I still hold dearly, the opinion that we can still bring back the glory of the Bundu Boys. One part of my mind is trying not compare the downfall of the economy with that of the arts but many great music has been forged out of hardships, maybe we just need to sing about ours and the world will listen.
‘Music is the ear of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul’ Martin Luther (1483- 1546)
What do you think of our situtation, do we have what it takes to carve a name in world music?