12 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Let's Recognise Our Own Talent

As Zimbabweans we can proudly say that the enormous amount of musical talent displayed by today's musicians such as Hope Masike, Mokoomba, Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa and Hebron Mashengwe is something the rest of the world should talk about.

These artistes, although they exhibit completely different genres of music, have given Zimbabwe the distinct cultural identity it needs. Yet, for some reason, a lot of Zimbabweans do not seem to appreciate this talent.

Since the beginning of time, music has been used as an expression of cultural identity. Ancient societies used music as a foundation for gatherings and to express their history, ethnicity, and cultural beliefs. Music has changed throughout the ages.

During my time as a youth, there was no dancehall or hip-hop. We listened to traditional songs from Zimbabwe, soul music from America, as well as heavy rock and pop music from the likes of Deep Purple, Uriah Heap, Jethro Tull, Led Zepelin and The Beatles, then Jamaican reggae from the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Nash, Desmond Decker and Bob Marley. However, despite these changes, the use of music as an essential part of cultural and individual expression has changed very little.

During Zimbabwe's liberation struggle songs which boosted the morale of the freedom fighters such as "Maruza Imi" inspired the people, gave them a national identity, source of pride and cause for liberating themselves. This is why liberation war soldiers like Comrade Chinx are still recognised today, 33 years after the war ended.

Although music may not be as blatantly descriptive as the songs of decades past, music speaks to the individual in the same way that the individual speaks through music.

In the 1950s a nation of parents sat perplexed as their children became entranced by the sounds of rock and roll, and now there are as many types of music to identify with as there are generational cliques to adapt the musical message. Parents are still perplexed by youth who spot dreadlocks like Bob Marley or dress like Britney Spears and Eminem and who use language expressed in song.

The addition of music videos has also added a note to self-expression through music that wasn't present until the last few years. Unlike past generations, today's youth can see how the music is being expressed and can identify visually with their chosen genre. Television and the internet have also allowed international peoples to share their cultures through music.

Whether music is viewed as being an influence on youth or as being influenced by youth, is still secondary to the fact that it has always been present as a socialising factor. Whether that socialisation takes place as a part of a group membership or as a way to express individuality, there is no way to ignore the fact that the influence and expression of music expands as the world community shares more of its musical styles.

People may find that music speaks to them in a certain way, moves them in a certain way, or that they identify with its message. People may also find that they can use music to express themselves as individuals as well as to conform to a group.

Doubtless, music and its connection to individual and group identity will take on new forms as people continue to be exposed to varying forms of music and culture.

The distinction among the four artistes I have mentioned above is obviously a result of the musical influences that have been part of their lives. Thus they compose what they deem to be their own original songs, but as I said before, originality is just judicious imitation of what you have heard before.

Since independence in 1980, we have had many forms of music cultures such as jikinya, tsava-tsava, museve, sungura, Tuku Music, Barbed Wire Music, Afro-beat, jiti, Ma Ninja Music, and dendera. Some movements have stuck and others have fallen by the wayside. These names have come about because of the youth trying to form a music culture.

One Zimbabwean youth, Hebron Mashengwe also known as Hebron Mash, has recently started a music culture which he calls Chigiyo music and he hopes this will soon catch on. He has come up with a reggae-oriented well polished 11-track album with solid tracks such as "Africa Unite", "Blessed Be Zimbabwe", "Wicked Slave Master", "Oh Jah", "Chaminuka" and "Zimbabwe".

I have listened to the CD and I must confess, it gave pleasure to my ears. It is a brilliantly arranged gem and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know what Chigiyo music is all about.

Where do I start? In my opinion, Hebron has proved to be one of the greatest Zimbabwean artistes of all time, master of rhythm who has a smooth melodic voice, with a great vocal range for somebody who could be considered a baritone and an amazing screamer at the same time.

In the whole album, he has shown breathtaking skills as he puts the right emotional touch in his vocals that perfectly fit with his superb songwriting and melody composition. Best of all, his harmonies are second to none and consistent with the quality of the whole album.

As for Hope Masike, who recently released "Mbira, Love and Chocolate", she is slowly gaining momentum. Her huge talent has already been recognised outside Zimbabwe as evidenced by her recent tour with Norwegian-based Monoswezi (I guess this stands for Mozambique, Norway, South West and Zimbabwe as the musicians are from those parts of the world).

This week, on February 14, Hope is involved in the Valentine's show at Alliance Francaise with other talented musicians, Steve Makoni and Philbert Marova before she embarks on a trip to Bulawayo where she has been nominated for a Nama award. At least Zimbabwe is beginning to recognise its own talent.

Hope has done very well compared to Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa who has been trying her luck in the gospel arena. On December 31, 2012, Tanyaradzwa launched her album at the Book Cafe in Harare where she churned out breathtaking songs such as "Time and Time", "Every Prayer" and "Ndinoshamiswa Kwazvo". It is a matter of time before she becomes a household name.

Another group, Mokoomba, is still yet to make an impact locally. In Europe and Russia they are already being hailed as Zimbabwe's top band.

Why are we slow in recognising this talent? Their album "Rising Tide" has already topped the charts in Europe and their live shows have been claimed to be the best performances coming out of Africa yet in Zimbabwe the band is still treated like an ordinary group. Mokoomba is quite simply the most impressive band Zimbabwe has produced in recent years.

Surprisingly, its members do not hail from Harare, Mutare or Bulawayo, cities which traditionally have produced the finest artistes in Zimbabwe. Rather, these six musicians come from the northern parts of Zimbabwe near the border with Zambia. Mokoomba, formed in 2001, trumpet the energy and dynamism of their region's best known geographic feature, the august Victoria Falls. Despite this phenomenon, the boys are still yet to impress the average Zimbabwean.

The same fate befell the Bhundu Boys in the late 1980s. It is time Zimbabwe recognised its own talent.

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