Zimbabwe: Music central tool in election

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Music central tool in Zimbabwe election

By Maxwell Sibanda for Freemuse

AS campaigning for the 2005 Zimbabwean parliamentary elections intensified, music became central to the contest. The ruling Zanu PF released its music album on the campaign’s launch, the opposition Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) for the first time composed its own songs, while former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo released his own songs for the campaign.

But like in the past parliamentary and presidential election campaigns for 2000 and 2002 respectively, the state broadcaster was only churning out propaganda music composed by the ruling party officials while banning several other songs classified as “politically incorrect”.

Minister Without Portfolio Elliot Manyika, who is also Zanu PF’s national commissar and elections director composed an eight-track album called Zimbabwe 2005 for his party’s election campaign and his songs are receiving saturated air play on Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holding, the sole state broadcaster. Most of the songs celebrate Black independence while in others the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is accused of selling out to former colonial power, Britain. One of the songs Sheyera Mabhuzu Mana is among the top five popular songs on state radio. Together with the music album, the ruling party has released a book, Traitors do much damage to national goals attacking the evils of colonialism and the main opposition MDC party in a fresh assault to win the hearts and minds of the electorate ahead of a crucial poll.

But only Manyika’s compositions are receiving airplay.

Former Information Minister, Moyo released his own campaign album Phambili LeTsholotsho which is being played in Bulawayo and the surrounding areas. Moyo was fired from government and Zanu PF after he decided to contest the parliamentary elections as an independent candidate. The album is being distributed to people for free and can be heard playing in beerhalls and bars. The title song, which has become a hit in Tsholotsho since its release was written by Moyo.

The opposition MDC has also seen the power and magic of music in campaigns and has tapped the musical talents of legislator Paul Madzore who has produced several songs which MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said the party had tried to get on state radio without success. The MDC has also released some campaign jingles which government has for the first time allowed on the state broadcaster as advertising material.

While Zanu PF enjoys the monopolistic use of state radio for its music, Moyo and the MDC have had to play their campaign soundtracks from mobile sound trucks, bars and car radios. For the first time there seems to be relative peace in the run up to the elections and the MDC has managed to take the party’s music into rural areas during Tsvangirai’s campaigns.

State radio however remains out of bounce for their compositions. As for Moyo, he is tasting his own medicine because as Minister Of Information for the past four years, he refused to open up the airwaves to independent players. Moyo, as minister had warned during a provincial tour on 3 October 2004 that the MDC would be denied access to the state media. “Unless and until we have a loyal opposition, it will not be possible for them to access the public media,” Moyo said.

After the announcement civic organisations and the opposition MDC attacked the move. International media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders said : “A leading member of the government who has gone so far to describe foreign journalists as ‘terrorists’ has yet again shown that Zimbabwe is now in a phase of all-out censorship.”

The other medium where opposition parties’ campaign music received airplay, SW Africa Radio Africa which transmits from London into Zimbabwe was allegedly been jammed by the Zimbabwe government who regards it a pirate station. The actions against the radio station are seen as part of a wider campaign by the government to suppress and censor alternative voices and to thwart political debate among Zimbabweans ahead of the 31 March poll.

The radio station employs Zimbabwean journalists living in exile.

The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), a Harare-based independent watchdog said the jamming of SW Radio Africa‘s broadcasts is being carried out from Thornhill airbase – located outside the South Western town of Gweru, between Harare and Bulawayo – where the government has a transmission station.

MMPZ alleged the government was using sophisticated Chinese equipment to block out broadcasts from Short Wave Radio Africa, run by a group of exiled Zimbabwean press freedom activists.

AND while Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was this month busy signing the new copy right act into law, his ruling Zanu PF political party was infringing on the artistic rights of Zimbabwe’s international music ambassador, Oliver Mtukudzi as they used one of his songs for their political campaigns without his knowledge.

This, only after Mtukudzi had played at a state function to celebrate the appointment of Vice President Joyce Mujuru whom the musician said was a relative since they came from the same rural areas of Dande. “I was celebrating the rise of a daughter from our clan. It had nothing to do with politics. I have relatives everywhere, in MDC and even in Zanu PF,” he told The Standard Newspaper which broke the story. Speaking to the same paper, Mtukudzi’s manager Debbie Metcalf distanced herself from the performance: “I was not part of the organisation of that function. I am actually unhappy about it because it was without my consent. The issue of one of his songs being used for a political advert is actually news to me. Tuku’s material can be used after we grant an agreement licence and I was never approached by either Zanu PF or ZBC.”

The dilemma facing Zimbabwe’s popular musicians today is whether or not to refuse taking part in state functions. The Zimbabwe government, through former Minister Of Information, Moyo had for the past four years intensified the use of musicians at state functions, including celebrations for the Independence Day, Heroes Day, and galas for the country’s late vice presidents – Dr Joshua Nqabuko Nkomo and Simon Muzenda.

In refusing to play at these functions one is seen as not being patriotic to the country, Zimbabwe. This has led to a number of musicians who have nothing to do with politics or the ruling Zanu PF party agreeing to government invitations to participate at state functions.

Although that comprise has been difficult, almost all the popular musicians in Zimbabwe have one day or another played at a state function. Popular Zimbabwean musician, Alick Macheso distanced himself from politics after a ruling party top official tried to use his name to woo the crowd during a Dr Joshua Nqabuko Nkomo gala . In an interview shortly after his performance at the gala at Ascot stadium in Gweru, Macheso said he was surprised to hear his name being chanted by Speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa.

He told the media: “The chefs should not try to use me. I was only hired and like an ordinary Zimbabwean I could not refuse to play at the gala because it was a national event for our Father Zimbabwe (Nkomo). I have never played at any political rally and I don’t want to be associated with any political party. I will not fall in the footsteps of some musicians who have become politically excited.”

Other musicians have agreed to play at state functions so as to avoid being blacklisted by the country sole broadcaster, ZBH.  If a musician is blacklisted, his or her songs are censored and denied airplay. Without radio airplay musicians’ record sales and live show performances attendances decline.

While playing at these state functions does not mean endorsing the ruling Zanu PF and its policies, it is composing particular propaganda songs for its campaigns that has always back fired.

And so it did to Mtukudzi.

After the news of Mtukudzi’s performance, and the fact that his song was being used by Zanu PF to back one of its television campaigns there was protest from his legion of supporters in Zimbabwe and abroad.

The new twist of events were not healthy for Mtukudzi’s overseas tours where he is making most of his business. Even at home, that might backfire as witnessed by the decline in show attendance by musicians who sided with Zanu PF in the past elections.

In order to avoid confrontation with his audiences, Mtukudzi posted an online statement meant mainly for his overseas fans. He released the same statement to the media. He said: “Following recent press reports, I wish to place on record and make absolutely clear that I am not a Zanu PF supporter. I am a loyal Zimbabwean who believes in a true and tolerant democracy. As a musician, I have been appalled that the Government has used its monopoly of the airwaves to restrict airplay of artists who they see as unsupportive of its policies. People who do not promote government’s image are often seen as being enemies of the government and attempts are made to silence them or undermine their careers. This is a gross abuse of human rights, so many of which have been violated in order to secure government’s grasp on power.

Most distressing is that the government has denied numerous Zimbabweans in the Diaspora their democratic right to vote.

Zimbabwe is a deeply divided society. The political divide often cuts across family loyalties and ties, placing individuals in an impossibly difficult position. Family and political loyalties may conflict and create underlying personal tension, which in my case, has been exploited to try to portray my political morality as being other than it is. Various subterfuges have been used. A request to sing a few solo songs at what I understood would be a private gathering of relatives was turned into a Zanu PF event, and, without warning or permission, filmed and broadcast. It is like an American Democratic Party supporter being asked to sing happy birthday to his Republican brother and suddenly finding the event being used in a Republican Party campaign ad. Furthermore, I understand that one of my songs Totutuma has just been used, again without my permission, to promote a Zanu PF event in a manner that suggested I would be performing at the event or that the event had my support. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that this is a deliberate strategy to undermine my popularity as a singer, and to prevent my songs from being used as a rallying point for those who believe in a true and tolerant democracy. In return for my fans’ loyalty, the band and I hope to put on unforgettable shows in our impending UK tour.”

But for some of us who have been following music and artistic events in Zimbabwe for the past five years, this did not come as a surprise at all.

When Zimbabwe’s cabinet minister and top ruling Zanu PF official Elliot Manyika released a Zanu PF song for campaigning during the 2000 and 2002 parliament and presidential elections called Nora, it became a “hit” on the state broadcaster. The minister credited himself as the song composer only for people to discover later that his actions were actually an infringement of the Copy Right Act as another similar song titled Kuenda Nekudzoka had been recorded and released in 1986 by Ambuya Nehanda Youth Choir Tafara 2 District.

Manyika became the second minister to be embroiled in composition rights after Light Machine Gun (LMG) Choir accused former Minister of Information and Publicity Jonathan Moyo of using music composed by former ZIPRA liberation fighter Give Nare. The song in question, Yithi Thina, was composed by Nare at the behest of the late liberation war leader Joshua Nkomo to be used in that party’s campaigns for the 1980 election. On Moyo’s double album, Hondo Yeminda Volume 1 &2 it was renamed Siyajabula Namhlanje. The album was released in 2001 as campaign material.

LMG choir recordings were destroyed by government agents in the early 1980s and their music banned from being played on state radio for fear of mobilizing the opposition Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) supporters. (ZAPU was the second biggest Black party that waged war against the colonial regime, alongside Zanu PF’s armed wing, ZANLA . Its armed wing was ZIPRA led by Joshua Nkomo.)

Manyika and Moyo were never prosecuted for their actions.

But Mtukudzi was angry that the ruling Zanu PF had used his music for political gain without him knowing. And he had every right to be angry, because this was fraud. One has to have rights to use musicians work in advertising and campaigns.

During the 2000 and 2002 elections there were popular musicians like Simon Chimbetu and Andy Brown who composed music for Zanu PF and their popularity deteriorated drastically with audiences avoiding their shows. Urban promoters also refused to book them for live shows. The urban population, most whom support these musicians by buying their music and attending live shows are actually opposed to Zanu PF policies.

Read more about Oliver Mtukudzi
Oliver Mtukudzi – Zimbabwe’s music ambassador

2005 update: Postscript to the Freemuse report on censorship in Zimbabwe

Freemuse report: “Playing with Fire: Fear and Self-Censorship in Zimbabwean Music” (October 2001)

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