|Zimbabwe seminar: Censor meets musicians
Supported by Freemuse, a seminar held in Harare in April 2005 dealt with the fear from musicians of the political system in Zimbabwe, and the total radio and television control by the state
For the first time a representative from the Zimbabwean Censorship Board met in an open discussion forum with representatives from the Zimbabwean music industry and media. This happened at a seminar supported by Freemuse, ‘Policy and Mechanism of Music Development’, held at Harare’s Mannenberg Jazz Club on April 28, 2005. The seminar dealt with the fear from musicians of the repressive political system in Zimbabwe, and the total radio and television control by the state.
Solomon Chitungo, a liaison officer with the Censorship Board, said their Board had never banned any song. He said the Censorship Board had delegated the responsibilities to individual stations and media houses to determine what they could or could not air, although they could respond to public queries if anything “immoral” was aired.
“Public opinion advises us whether we should deal with an artist or not, but since 1980, I have never heard of a song from our artists being banned,” Chitungo said.
The famous Zimbabwean musician Leonard Zhakata gave an account of the mental torture he has experienced over the past five years due to what he terms as “grossly unfair banning of his music” from state television and radio.
Most of Zhakata’s songs from his recent albums have never received airplay because they are deemed politically incorrect. Zhakata himself has been quizzed by state security agents on why some of his songs have been included on “Rocking the Regime into Retirement”, a compilation of protest songs by Zvakwana (‘Enough is Enough’), a pressure group advocating for democracy in Zimbabwe.
Former radio presenter Musavengana Nyasha said that during his tenure at the state-owned broadcasting station, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the D.J.’s were sometimes given directives not to play certain songs, especially towards elections when songs critical of the government were not to get any airplay. He said in some cases there were no directives but a culture of fear and self-censorship meant critical songs were not played.
Nyasha said there was a clear directive from the bosses at the radio station that Thomas Mapfumo’s controversial album, ‘Chimurenga Rebel’, was not to be played because it was critical of the government.
“During my tenure at the state-owned station, decisions to ban music was made by the station’s supervisors and chief executive officers an sometimes the perceived wishes of people in power such as the minister of Information and the President himself,” he said.
The government’s 100 percent local content policy has meant that no foreign music, whether from Africa or elsewhere, has ceased to be played on national radio. There is a lost generation of Zimbabweans who have never listened to any foreign tune on their national radio. Critics have argued, and rightly so, that art has never benefited by listening to its own voice. Art gets richer by interacting with other aesthetic experiences outside its own existence.
Takura Zhangazha, a media analyst, said that some musicians in Zimbabwe acted in complicit with the government by singing propaganda tunes for monetary reasons, thereby censoring their own honest views on what would be prevailing in the country as well as crowding out other critical voices from the national stations.
He said it was a form of censorship if musicians, as some were doing in Zimbabwe, decided to sing in support of the ruling elite and not in support of the ordinary people.
Patricia Matongo, a young female musician, narrated her ordeal as a victim of censorship because of her association with a particular recording company. She said she had approached former Information minister Jonathan Moyo after friends told her music was being denied airplay on the orders of the minister.
“The minister told me specifically that my music would continue to be banned if I continued to record with my recording company,” she said.
Participants were later told by a representative of the recording company that the information minister intended to be a shareholder of the company. When the company board resisted, he sought to “punish” the company by denying airplay from artists who recorded with them.
Emmanuel Vori, the marketing director with Gramma Records stated that censorship had dogged the music industry both before and after independence. “Before independence, music was supposed to support the liberation movements. The government seemed to want this position to be maintained even after independence,” he said.
Vori admitted that recording companies sometimes censored musicians by advising not to record certain songs. He said his recoding company had refused to record Thomas Mapfumo’s popular song, ‘Corruption’, for fear of offending the government.
Albert Nyathi, the secretary-general of the Musicians Union of Zimbabwe (MUZ) said he was also one of the censored artists. He said that initially he thought his songs were being denied airplay because he came from a minority tribe, but later he realized that most musicians had experienced censorship in one way or another.
“Censorship is the restriction of the creative mind. It is an attempt to limit the limitless and it must be resisted,” he said.
Nyathi had been shocked to learn that most musicians were ignorant of the legislation governing their operations. He said for example, the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act demanded that each musician should have a socalled “practicing certificate”. Nyathi said the Censorship Board had recently told him they would soon start prosecuting musicians who did not comply with the Act and were not holders of the required certificates.
He explained that the legal requirement is that no performer or musician would perform without registration. The Censorship Board, through the police, can stop a show, arrest the musician and confiscate equipment. The artist, in addition to being charged for performing without a license, would have to pay storage fees for confiscated equipment.
Guthrie Munyuki, an arts journalist, said: “Art, especially music, is the barometer to measure a nation’s movement towards democracy. Artists are mirrors and they have a right to be heard, whatever they are saying.”
The Standard’s John Mokwetsi reported from the event. His interview with Leonard Zhakata is published here:
‘Banned Zhakata pours his heart out’
Leonard Zhakata: deemed “politically incorrect”
Patricia Matongo: victim of censorship