Music is, without a doubt, the most popular art form, and, within the Zimbabwean context, it is not only an emotional/creative outlet, but a powerful tool for the expression of social consciousness. My own musical tastes were shaped primarily by my cousins, the Musavayas, in my formative years. I spent a lot of time with them over school holidays, listening to the Wailers, Thomas Mapfumo, or whoever they happened to be interested in at the time.
The lyrics of the song, what the artist had to say, was of primary importance to my cousins, and that is how I was trained to enjoy music; the beat or the instrumental was of secondary importance. While my peers enjoyed hip-hop and rap into our adolescence, I leaned towards old school reggae and Sungura.
Our taste in music may be more nurture than nature, though we have the flexibility to change and adopt new sounds throughout life. By this I mean, our tastes are not fixed, they influenced by our own exploration and the different social networks in which we find ourselves. Lately, I’ve become interested in an anti-romance sub-genre of Zim Dancehall that focuses on male-female relationships, which I believe opens up a psychological window to male fears and anxieties in a changing world.
Sungura and appropriated female voices
I’ve written elsewhere about the rise of Zim Dancehall, with a particular focus on the literary experimentation and lyrical prowess of artists working in the genre. The self-referential riffs, comical interludes and Sunguraesque, narrative lyrics are a source of endless fascination for me. It is interesting to note, however, that Sungura music from 20 to 30 years ago has a very different power dynamic and reveals a more self-assured patriarchy.
Sungura of that era was supremely interested in familial relationships, and the artists were so confident that they appropriated women’s voices in their songs and sang of their woes. ‘Womens’ issues’ in this form could only be expressed via the authoritative voice of the patriarch as seen in the Marxist Brothers’ Murume Wangu, Simon Chimbetu’s Samanyika Murume Wangu, John Chibadura’s Murume Wangu, and, in the Chimurenga sub-genre, Thomas Mapfumo’s Murume Wangu. In all these songs, the power dynamic is clear: the man sings on behalf of the woman begging for relief from the man, all within the traditional structure of heterosexual marriage.
Zim Dancehall and a reorientation to new realities
No artist within the Zim Dancehall genre would even attempt this sort of voice appropriation which Sungura took for granted. The social (re)structures in a radically different world of high unemployment and mass migration simply would not support that level of confidence. The Zimbabwean male vocalist without the levers of economic power, buttressed by traditional authority, has had to reorient to a changed reality. Control of women, in particular their sexuality, can no longer be taken for granted and this is a space that must be renegotiated.
New technologies, too, are a source of angst, and there lurks a primal fear of cuckolding and betrayal in – for example – Trevor Dongo’s tune Phone, as he attempts to peer over his lover’s shoulder and check up on who she’s Whatsapping.
Is she being unfaithful?
Dongo’s usually sultry RnB voice is reduced to a whine, almost begging, in a way that his Sungura predecessors could never have envisioned. But if Dongo’s problem is unsubstantiated and his neurosis limited merely to seeking control of his girlfriend’s phone, then spare a thought for Trevor Tee on the Diffusion Riddim who’s caught up in a classic Kutizira situation.
In the narrative of that song, the pregnant girl and her tete show up at his doorstep, and though he would rather give them the boot, he can’t. Trevor Tee moans, “Unogona kungobiridziwa musarudzo, gaya ukapihwa nhumbu isiriyako, wochengeteswa mwana asiri wako,” the lingering stress on the word nhumbu is all too revealing, the horror self-evident. His witty refrain, which offers the solution, goes, “Hande kumaternity, kanatazodzoka ikoko tobvatazoenda kupaternity.” Here is a man in angst, caught up in uncertainty.
Women are not to be trusted
Women are not to be trusted as we learn from the crooner Quonfuzed’s Guramatunhu, whose exploits are usually more romantically expressed. The song is directed to fellow Dancehall artists and Quonfuzed warns against passing the woman round like “bhora reFIFA” (elsewhere in the song this is equated to passing a cigarette around), and if you aren’t convinced, he appeals to male solidarity, cautioning, “Takaita zvemafunny tichidanana nemafani shuwa tinopera, inga vamwe vakafawani?”
Women are a potential source of HIV and in Guramatunhu, we (the Zimbabwean male listener) are well advised to be ever vigilant about their cheating. And AIDS is a huge fear for obvious reasons. Nowhere else in the genre is this more vehemently expressed as in Preacherman’s Nhingirikini on the Chinhoyi Riddim, which goes even further. For Preacherman, women are a temptation to be avoided because he has no “nhingirikini” and they might give him “nhingirikini”.
There are many other songs in this anti-romance sub-genre with near similar thematic content. I should note that most of these songs have strong comic potential; a wit and humour, which works to disguise the fears expressed, a necessary shield for the macho men singing them. The thread running through them all is that of unfaithful women, potentially HIV carriers who men must be wary of. They speak to the time we live in and also reveal our latent patriarchal impulses and masochism, which are formed through our cultural upbringing and are, perhaps, intensified by feelings of emasculation brought about by the current economic conditions. After all, elsewhere in the genre, male sexual exploits are to be celebrated.
It is up to the listener at the end of the day to decide the significance of this music and what it says about male-female relationships, sexuality and power dynamics within a changing society. We are all free to interpret them as we choose, but I believe they open up, at least in part, the modern anxieties of the Zimbabwean man and reveal something meaningful about how we view the world we live in today.
Zim Dancehall as a genre also has strong female artists, and if we listen to Ninja Lipsy, Sweetness, Juwela and Empress Shelley in Boys DzeHarare, then the ladies’ opinions of the men aren’t that high either. And so, as Dee Faya would argue, we are collectively – and quite firmly so – in Muchato WeChindururani territory.
Main image taken from Tocky Vibes Facebook page.