Zimbabwe: Journalists and musicians discussed freedom of expression issues

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Zimbabwe:
Journalists and musicians discussed
freedom of expression issues

Zimbabwean arts journalists and musicians met on 10 March 2011 in Harare at the Book Café to explore and understand issues related to music freedom and its impact in Zimbabwe.

Text and photos by Maxwell Sibanda


The discussion forum was entitled ‘Music Freedom in Zimbabwe’, and the discussion was the climax of a series of events held in Zimbabwe marking the annual Music Freedom Day of 3 March.

The gathering agreed that while there are no limits to music freedom, governments all over the world are enacting laws that censor music so it cannot reach the people.

The participants noted that censorship is meant to prevent protest voices from getting heard by ordinary people. Protest musicians are urged to dream up a world beyond the ordinary because they are the vehicles through which populations register their concerns.

Concert clearance
Protest musician Biko Mutaurwa, one of the key speakers at the event, said music promoters in Zimbabwe were finding it hard to get permission to hold concerts and this in itself was hindering music freedom:

“The promoters have to apply to the Zimbabwe Republic Police who will ask many questions before they can allow you to stage performances. There is department within the Central Intelligence Department known as PISI that handles concert clearance,” he said. And according to Biko Muraurwa, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, ZBC, is also at the forefront in terms of censoring music products:

“When a musician releases a new album he has to submit it to the library where it is listened first before being submitted to the selection committee which will make recommendations on whether to play it or not,” said Biko. “It is at this stage that a lot of good music is being dropped from the playlist.”

Biko Mutaurwa was of the opinion that because music is for the people, there should not be any self-censorship when composing it:

“Musicians should learn to free the music and release it to the people without any dilution,” he said.

“Today’s world is governed by systems which demand that artists behave like a mirror, reflecting the image. We are saying to the authorities that we cannot just mirror the image, we need to look beyond that image. The mirror’s image might just be cosmetic but as artists we are there to shape the destiny of many lives,” said Biko Mutaurwa.

Freedom sacrificed by emotions
Music journalist Novell Zwangendaba said there was no definite definition of music freedom as it had a different meaning to various groups — politicians, religious groups, musicians and the listening public.

“At the end of the day it is the musician’s ability to stand for what he or she creates. The musician can have a different political ideology, that is fine, but I believe that the real freedom to create has today been sacrificed by emotions,” said Novell Zwangendaba.

South African based dub poet Mzwakhe Mbuli paid a high price for speaking out losing out on his freedom and even his access to communication, according to Zwangendaba who said that Mzwakhe Mbuli summed it up in the celebrated song Freedom Puzzle when he sang:

    “Is freedom a puzzle? Is freedom a quiz?
    What is freedom? And what is the meaning of freedom?…
    To ex-freedom fighters, the meaning is different…
    To KwaZulu/Natali people, the meaning is different…
    To black and white people, the meaning is different…
    To those living in tin shacks, the meaning is different…
    To the bosses and farmers, the meaning is different…
    To the rich and poor, the meaning is different…
    To the homeless, jobless, miners and workers, the meaning is different…”

Zwangendaba said when internationally renowned protest singer Fela Kuti began singing people laughed at his music:

“People thought it was barbaric, but later they realised how close it was with life’s realities. His music affected his family; his mother was beaten by state agencies, and she died as a result.”

Record companies
Protest musicians felt that record companies in Zimbabwe were a stumbling block to their artistic freedom as they were refusing to record their music. Several musicians, among them Raymond Majongwe and Leonard Zhakata, said they had problems when it came to recording their music with local companies.

Majongwe said most of his music recordings were done in South Africa:

“Local record companies are afraid to record me for reasons best known to them. But there are always alternatives and I have found recording space in neighbouring South Africa.”

“My music can also not be sold in many traditional music outlets and I have resorted to selling it underground and at my shows.”

Zhakata said there was little to celebrate for at this year’s Music Freedom Day:

“Apart from the ZBC not playing us, the recording companies are also refusing to release our music. I have albums that are ready but the record companies are afraid to release them.”

Zhakata’s efforts to get reasons from record producer Tymon Mabaleka on why they were holding on to his products had been unsuccessful.

“I recorded my albums at Gramma Records studios under the Zimbabwe Music Corporation (ZMC) music stable but they are always giving funny excuses,” Zhakata said.

Journalists
Musicians felt that polarisation of the media in Zimbabwe has helped in curtailing musicians’ right to be heard. Journalists and radio DJs were accused of taking bribes from musicians.

“If a musician is poor, then he is not played,” said Zwangendaba:

“I have met a number of musicians who have told me that they cannot be played simply because they had no money to pay DJs and that they could not receive fair coverage in the print media because they cannot afford to bribe the scribes.”

He also said individual journalists were responsible for curtailing the freedom of musicians:

“The arts journalists should learn to give fair coverage to all musicians because we cannot have a situation where some musicians can only receive positive coverage from a particular section of the media while the other section gives them negative coverage.”

Musicians at the meeting said that because of the polarisation within the Zimbabwean media, they actually knew where to take their products for good coverage.

“If I sing protest music, there is no way I can receive fair coverage from the state media, so I go to the independent media whose editorial policies allow coverage of protest voices,” said one protest mbira musician.

Musicians also urged arts and music journalists to seek further training in the particular areas they wanted to cover. A participant said journalists writing arts and music stories were not doing their research and most times their articles were shallow.

“Just having a journalism training background will not make one write authoritatively and the calibres of journalists we have today are not helping at all and I hold them responsible for stifling freedom of expression by musicians. They do not research and they write half-baked biased articles which hinder artistic freedom.”

Musicians urged to use other mediums
Musicians were urged to use other mediums if record companies or ZBC were censoring their music products.

“If recording companies refuse to record us because they feel our music is hard hitting, we should device other ways of recording including the use of digital recording which an artist can build at his home. The musician just needs a computer and a few gargets to build such a studio where on has the freedom to record whatever he or she wants,” said one protest musician.

Other forms of mediums that could be used include Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

NGOs exploit musicians
Some musicians felt that NGOs where commissioning musicians to record music which they did not believe in.

“This is affecting us as musicians because the idea and the concept of the song is not yours, but one that is donor-influenced,” said one participant. “We are always doing HIV/Aids songs, but this is killing our creativity and there is no freedom for the musicians to create. We need to desist from such practises and realise that for us to have artistic freedom, we have to be independent.”

The meeting noted that while the NGOs prescribed themes to songs, their collaborations were helping in changing societal behaviour.

“You musicians are role models to young people and when these NGOs invite you for collaborations, they want to maximise your popularity. Youths will listen to you, the old will listen to you because you’re their role models,” said a participant.

“Your collaborations with NGOs also equip you so that when you are financially sound, you record your own independent productions. The issues you sing about – HIV/Aids, TB or even poverty affect you as an individual.”


Above, left:
Music journalist Novell Zwangendaba



Leonard Zhakata


Click to read more about Zimbabwe on freemuse.org

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