6 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Jive Zimbabwe a Laudable Initiative

On October 24, The Kebab Centre in Harare was alive with urban grooves activities. Ex-Q, Cindy Munyawi, Diana Samkange, Stunner, Extra Large, Leonard Mapfumo and many more took to the stage to present their acts to a new enterprise calling itself Jive Zimbabwe. Jive Zimbabwe headed by Benjamin Nyandoro hopes to conduct an online music distribution service to curb piracy in Zimbabwe.

Their first port of call is to market Zimbabwean urban grooves music.

Several other Zimbabwe artistes will follow this. A number of artistes showcased their acts at the Kebab Centre during the week beginning on October 19-25 which coincided with International Arts Day and the launch of Jive Zimbabwe's online distribution where the Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Honourable Nelson Chamisa was guest of honour.

The urban grooves fans who attended the event were treated to unique entertainment with old and new music.

This is the music Jive Zimbabwe hopes to distribute around the world as soon as contracts are in place with the urban groovers.

The question to be asked, however, is whether or not urban grooves music has a market outside Zimbabwe.

Ben Nyandoro might have a clear vision of what is likely to take place. The rest of us will just have to wait and see if this development will come to fruition.

The genre of music known as urban grooves is a recent phenomenon in Zimbabwe which came about around 2002.

The urban grooves movement which started in 2002, encouraged Zimbabwean artistes to develop their own music which would replace the British and American music which was being played by the then Radio 3. Thus young artistes began to showcase their talents at limited venues plus Government-organised musical galas throughout the country.

The youths saw this as an opportunity to develop this new genre of music. The names Rocqui, Mafrik, Extra Large, Stunner, Sniper, Ex-Q, 2BG, Nasty Trix, Decibel, David Chifunyise, Leonard Mapfumo, Plaxedes Wenyika, Betty Makaya, Roy and Royce, Sanii Makalima and Maskiri became associated with urban grooves.

When the movement started, people questioned if they provided authentic African music or they were merely an imitation of Black American musicians.

Some of them simply took rhythms from American or British hip-hop and put Shona lyrics to the music without changing anything.

As Voltaire says, "Originality is nothing but judicious imitation", most of these urban groovers claim that their music is original when at times it is evidently not so.

Take for instance "Amai Va Leopoldo, Vakatora Poto" a song which was directly ripped off from Wyclef Jean's 'Stripper Song'.

However, there are others like Extra Large who took the challenge to compose their own music more seriously and came out with original works as evidenced in songs like "Mai Linda", "Uri Roja Chete", "Ndinoda Kushamura Newe", "Small House", "House Girl" and "Aiwa Mukoma".

Air-play for their music has been guaranteed throughout all radio stations as their music is refreshing.

It is songs such as these, which have greater chances of international distribution.

Not all urban grooves music is boring. There have been some brilliant songs coming from the likes of Cindy Munyawi, Leonard Mapfumo, Betty Makaya which are incredible and they should make international hits but some songs still sound like demos.

During the peak of the urban grooves movement, around 2004, a Government policy to play at least 75 percent local music had been put in place.

Everyone in the country was forced to listen to music, which was being churned from the local radio stations.

It was only a few people with CD players that listened to music of their choice. As a result of the local music policy, DJs on all radio stations completely stopped playing foreign music through fear of losing their jobs. As one DJ at Power FM which was located in Gweru at the time, announcing the death of South African singer, Brenda Fassie, put it: "She was a true legend. One of her early songs which brought her to fame was "Weekend Special".

"I am actually looking at the CD right now. It is right here in the studio, but I dare not play it because I am afraid I will lose my job if I do. I guess I just have to play one by our own urban groovers if I am to keep my job". This DJ eventually resigned from the station out of boredom. However, after 2005, although the policy had not changed, the coming in of a new minister of information saw things taking a different turn. The DJ's were free to play whatever they wanted without Government directives. Urban grooves music no longer dominated Zimbabwe's radio stations. It is rumoured that the new Minister of Information, directed ZBC to remove from airplay some of the offensive urban grooves songs.

As a result the urban grooves movement almost died a natural death as airplay was no longer guaranteed. The move by Nyandoro is a good one because the music will now be judged by international consumers and will no longer be confined to local fans.

In Zimbabwe, it is reported that all the songs which were abusive, degrading and demeaning to women or which described women as mere sex objects were taken off the air.

In particular songs such as Dino Mudondo's "Jatropha"; Extra Large's "Small House" and "House Girl"; Maskiri's "Madam Mombeshora", "Miscarriage" and "Zimhamba"; Decibel's "Madhara" and Nasty Trix's "Chimoko Chidanger" were targeted.

It will be interesting to see how international music consumers will react to these songs.

However, the future of urban grooves in Zimbabwe will depend on the attitude of the artistes themselves. There is a need for a more professional approach to this kind of music; originality, good sound recording, better marketing strategies and adequate financial support.

Fred Zindi is a Professor at the University of Zimbabwe. He is also a musician, a music producer and an author of several books on music. He can be contacted via e-mail on f_zindi@hotmail.com

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