Zimbabwe: 2,000 musicians unite in protest on Music Freedom Day



2,000 musicians unite in protest on Music Freedom Day

Close to 2,000 music composers in Zimbabwe have resolved to protest non-payment of royalties by ordering the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, ZBC, to stop playing music for six hours on this year’s Music Freedom Day

By Maxwell Sibanda – reporting for Freemuse from Harare in Zimbabwe

ZBC has since 2009 been failing to pay the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association, ZIMURA, composers’ fees for music songs it plays on its four radio stations and two television stations which are all controlled by government.

ZIMURA chairman Albert Nyathi said they gave the directive to the ZBC chief executive Happison Muchechetere in meetings held this month.

“The ZBC owes musicians more than 300,000 US dollars in unpaid royalties and this is unacceptable. We have tried in vain to have that money paid, but ZBC have not given us a firm commitment, only saying they could pay part of it in May,” said Nyathi.

The chairman said ZIMURA ordered ZBC not to play any music from 6am to 12pm on Music Freedom Day as protest against the non-payment of musician’s royalties.

“We would like the nation to know that ZBC is defrauding us, taking away our income and livelihoods. We hope ZBC will abide and not play music on Zimbabwean radio and TV for six hours. However, many musicians will be invited to give talks during that time,” said Nyathi.

The ZBC pays ZIMURA money for music songs played on radio and television. ZIMURA in turn disperses the funds annually to musicians.

Nyathi said ZBC was supposed to pay them royalties monthly but they have been inconsistent since 2008. “The last time we had a general meeting in 2009 we noted that ZBC owed us and were in arrears for eight months,” said Nyathi.

The ZBC is the only electronic station in the country because government has over the years refused to liberalise the airwaves.

As ZBC is controlled by the state, most of the music played on its stations is from musical acts that support President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.

Protests are blacklisted
Protest musicians are not played on ZBC; hence they receive little or no composers’ royalties from the broadcaster. Musicians like Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata, Raymond Majongwe, Chirikure Chirikure and Cde Fatso are rarely played on ZBC.

Nyathi, who himself is a blacklisted musician said it was normal that the Zanu PF bands would receive the chunk of the royalties by virtue of being continuously played.

“ZBC is censoring outspoken musicians by not playing them. It decreases the musicians’ popularity and their live shows suffer. They also do not receive composers’ royalties.

“ZBC is denying musicians their right to be heard,” Nyathi added.

Nyathi said it was for ZBC to practise fair play when it came to playing songs. But as for ZBC fair play will not be possible because it has blacklisted a number of prominent musicians.

Musician Leonard Zhakata said he wasn’t looking forward to any royalties from ZIMURA. “In the past yes, but come post 2000 I have not benefited from this scheme. I am not played. I am censored by ZBC, so I cannot receive composers’ royalties” said Zhakata whose music ZBC says is political incorrect.

New crop of Zanu PF musical acts
While post 2000 saw the formation of Zanu PF musical acts that elbowed out musicians singing songs critical to bad governance, the recent months have seen a new generation of new musicians jostling to record similar projects.

Promising Urban Grooves musician and producer Sanii Makhalima has joined the Zanu PF praise bandwagon following his recent release of the propaganda album Get Connected.

The album is currently enjoying monotonous airplay on ZBC as all four radio stations and the Zimbabwe television are forced to play the songs and videos from the album.

In an interview with local media Makhalima said: “I respect the President and if people are unhappy with that they are not my true fans. They have to accept me for who I am.”

Makhalima personally handed the new album CD to Mugabe at his offices while in the company of gospel musician Amos Mahendere.

Mahendere, one of the outstanding gospel musicians in Zimbabwe has openly showed his allegiance to Zanu PF through the production of the party’s jingles that have caused a stir in the current inclusive government.

Mahendere produced a new musical choir group called Mbare Chimurenga Choir which has released two albums that glorify Mugabe and his party.

Mahendere also participated in the production of the song Happy Birthday that was penned to celebrate Mugabe’s 80th birthday. His younger brothers, Misheck and Michael, were part of Pax Afro, a group that former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo formed during his heyday as government’s propaganda chief.

The Mbare Chimurenga Choir last year released a rendition of liberation war songs in their debut album ‘Nyatsoteera’ (Shona for ‘listen carefully’).

The album received saturated air play in local radio stations, raising the ire of the opposition MDC-T, who immediately ordered that they be pulled off air but ZBC ignored them.

Mbare Chimurenga Choir followed their debut with another album this year, Simukai Tiverengane (Shona for let us count each other) which centres on the theme that President Mugabe is a man of the people committed to making the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans better.

In all the aforementioned albums Mugabe appears in the video footage publicising the songs.

With these songs dominating the airwaves, which means more composers’ royalties, many young musicians are recording songs that are on similar lines.

Concert on Music Freedom Day with Zimbabwean musicians
Zimbabwean musicians will celebrate this year’s Music Freedom Day on 3 March with a concert at the Book Café in Harare.

The event which will be organized by leading arts organisations Magamba, the Cultural Activist Network and Pamberi Trust will feature a fantastic array of Zimbabwean artists who support the message of freedom of musical expression.

Magamba is a grassroots organization using arts for positive social change while Pamberi Trust runs two of Harare’s leading arts venues as well as various arts projects.

Artists on the line up include Comrade Fatso & Chabvondoka, Alexio & Shades of Black as well as Outspoken & the Essence.

One of Zimbabwe’s leading protest acts Comrade Fatso and Chabvondoka released their 2008-album ‘House of Hunger’ praised internationally but banned by the Zimbabwean authorities because of its outspoken criticism of the repressive regime. They have performed extensively, having been invited to perform at festivals all over the world.

Maxwell Sibanda is a Zimbabwean based arts journalist

Email: maxwell@journalist.com

Click to read more about music censorship in Zimbabwe

Related reading on the internet

Google News – continuously updated:
Search ‘Zimbabwe’ + ‘Music’

Video interview

Click to see interview with Chiwoniso Maraire, Chirikure Chirikure and Paul Brickhill
‘Music is an unstoppable force’

Go to top
Related reading on freemuse.org