Songs by Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata, Chirikure Chirikure and Raymond Majongwe form part of the list of other creative works which the government has found too critical for comfort. Mapfumo relocated to United States in 2001 after the ban of songs from his Chimurenga Explosion album fearing the safety of his family. “I need my children to go to school and they have to do this is a free environment,” said the internationally renowned musician who has for years refused to be silenced. His music blends traditional Shona mbira music with western instruments and a political message replete with traditional metaphors. During the liberation war, his militant music was popular among the Black populace fighting to free themselves from colonial oppression. Even after independence Mapfumo remained consistent, fearlessly speaking his mind. Many of his other songs remain banned from Zimbabwean radio, including his 1988 song Corruption, which ridiculed corruption. It was followed a year later by Disaster, a song that similarly railed against graft and corruption. Since then a number of his songs from albums Chimurenga Rebel and Toyi Toyi have disappeared from the state broadcaster’s playing list.
Most songs from Zhakata’s 2003 album, Hodho (short gun) were among those struck off radio play lists. Zhakata says of the ban: “When I heard about the ban I went to ZBC to enquire, but officials at the corporation professed ignorance of the ban. I am not sure why they banned the songs.” But early this year (2004) Zhakata was quizzed for more than 30 minutes by Harare police over the appearance of his song, Ngoma Yenharo on an album compiled by a shadowy pressure group called Zwakwana (Enough). The song, off his album Hodho, features on Zwakwana’s compilation album entitled Red Hot Riot – Rocking The Regime Into Retirement. Zhakata distanced himself from the compilation of the album by the underground organisation. “They just included my song without consulting me. I do not know the organisation,” said the musician who in the past has had to cancel live show performances in certain parts of the country after receiving threats over his songs’ contents.
The controversial album also features songs by Raymond Majongwe, Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Lovemore Majaivana, Collin Sibanda, Vusi Mahlasela and South African Afro-Jazz exponent Hugh Masekela who has released a song critical about President Robert Mugabe’s rule.
International Music Ban
Still the government had other ideas as well to cement its censorship of “politically incorrect” songs. A lot of international songs, most notably reggae comprise of hitting lyrics that revolve around the need to respect basic human rights and freedom of association. Songs like Bob Marley’s Them Belly Full (But we hungry), in times when Zimbabweans were dying of hunger while those in the establishment were feasting, had to be dealt with.
In 2001 government announced that it was enacting a law that made it compulsory for DJs and presenters to allocate a staggering 75 percent of all programming to music from Zimbabwe. This was followed later with the announcement that it had to be 100 percent local content. In having 100 percent local content, which meant the Zanu PF government music productions, this meant no alternative voices could be heard from overseas musicians. Several popular DJs resigned after this announcement as they would be left with no choice but to play government music productions day in day out.
The pop teen station, Power FM was to be the most hit with this new programming as it catered for youngsters who were used to listening to gangster and sexually explicit lyrical music coming in various genres – pop, R&B or raga. To counter this, the government launched a recording stable for urban grooves (pop, R&B and raga) that was to be run by the teen radio station. The stable’s recordings were to be sung in the country’s languages – Shona or Ndebele which could give it a local feel. Indeed the teenagers, whose compositions had all along been rejected by record companies as not original and commercially viable, responded favourably to the offer. But their lyrics had to be “correct”. Hundreds of songs were recorded as single records and flooded the station. Most of the compositions have traces of popular international songs but spiced with local lyrics.
But like what Zimbabwean journalist Luke Tamborenyoka said, while it is true that localizing the content of our media comes with great challenges and enables us to realize our potential, “unleashing spin-offs in the creation of locally-produced films and music production houses, a country does not have to become a recluse in the process by playing deaf to artistic voices from outside its borders.”
Many critical and thought provoking musical drama or theatre plays by independent Zimbabwean arts companies have also found no space on the state broadcaster. Two of the most prominent theatre companies, Amakhosi Arts Community Centre from Bulawayo and Rooftop Promotions from Harare have over the years produced critical plays that have never been broadcast on television.
In 1986, Amakhosi Arts Community Centre’s controversial play Workshop Negative critically challenged the government and exposed the sham of its declared Marxist ideology in Zimbabwe where senior government officials preached socialism while they amassed wealth. Since then Amakhosi Arts Community Centre’s productions have been viewed with suspicion by the state. Some of the more critical works which could not be broadcast on national television were Cry Sililo, Dabulap and Stitsha a 1989 production about the issue of land.
Cont Mhlanga, a music and theatre producer for Amakhosi Arts Community Centre said the broadcasting industry was still closed to independent productions: “We have the products, but the problem is that there is only one buyer – ZBC. We need a situation where if one buyer says no to a product, one can move on and offer it to someone else.”
In 2004 Rooftop Promotions’ play Super Patriots and Morons was banned in Zimbabwe by the censorship board. Super Patriots and Morons condemns misrule and the abuse of human rights by an unnamed political leader. The play seemed to have ruffled the feathers of government during the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) in April.
Rooftop Promotions spokesperson, Shepherd Mutamba said the ban had deprived Zimbabweans of a fundamental right to choose arts products of their choice. “The ban sought to rob our artistes of a voice and the freedom of speech. But art has many voices and many faces. One fine day when democracy finally comes to town, locals will have the opportunity to watch the play,” said Mutamba.
Equally critical plays by Rooftop Promotions which have failed to get space on national television include A Play of the Giants, Rags and Garbage, Ivhu versus the State and Dare/Enkundleni a joint production between Rooftop Promotions and Amakhosi Theatre Productions which encourages tolerance and dialogue among Zimbabweans who have been torn apart because of their political differences.
Daves Guzha the producer for Rooftop Promotions, a music, film and theatre company says the growth of the Zimbabwean arts industry would never be realized if there were no independent radio and television stations as ZBC was the only buyer of artists’ products. Guzha says: “A number of productions by various independent producers have been rejected by ZBC. There is no clear explanation. We need more players who can look at these products. The position is not favorable.”
Rooftop Promotions and Amakhosi Arts Community Centre have however managed to show one or two co-productions with the state broadcaster which are watered down. According to the two companies, those who need to have access to their protest works have only one choice – visit the theatres. Mhlanga says: “Every other avenue is closed.”
The production by government of the aforementioned music albums and campaign jingles have been used to the advantage of the ruling Zanu PF party as it is a form of advertising for its policies. This has left out (censored out) opposition political parties who can not do the same considering that the state controls the electronic media. In fact, a closer analysis of the productions show that they portray opposition party politics in the negative.
The participation of the Police and Air Force musical bands in some of these productions sends the wrong signal to the army and police, both public organs which have to be neutral and serve all Zimbabweans regardless of political affiliation. The two state-funded musical bands whose responsibility is to entertain Zimbabweans at state and public functions are now in the habit of playing these Zanu PF compositions, thereby taking sides by selling the ruling party’s policies.
On the other hand the use of prominent musicians to record the ruling Zanu PF propaganda has had negative consequences to involved musicians. The musicians’ continued flight on television has made them easy targets in the urban towns where the majority of people supporting the opposition political parties reside. Most of these musicians have been physically attacked by angry Zimbabweans for siding and promoting corrupt policies. Some have been chased from their homes while others have been ridiculed at various venues while performing. During political tensions, a number of these musicians have resorted to hiring bodyguards so as to safeguard themselves. Several popular performing venues in the city of Harare have barred some of these musicians from making bookings. This has left them with no choice but to play at relegated venues.
The result of government’s frustrating tactics has led to a number of talented Zimbabwean radio presenters fleeing overseas where they are now working on pirate radios, notably SW Radio Africa and Voice of the People which broadcast on short wave from London and the Netherlands respectively. The two radio stations play most of the songs black listed by government. The presenters have been banned from ever coming back to Zimbabwe.
Musician Raymond Majongwe, in an interview with The Standard newspaper this year alleged that he was receiving hoax calls from suspected State security agents telling him to strike his music off SW Radio Africa. “I haven’t had an official visit from the police but suspect all these threatening calls have something to do with my music. I have also noticed that I am being stalked by shadowy characters since I released my album which was reviewed by the Daily News,” Majongwe said.
The Daily News was the only independent newspapers in Zimbabwe and devoted five or more pages every day to the arts, music being the main subject. A number of the so called controversial songs were reviewed in detail in the newspaper. The newspaper also gave space to several musicians who were critical to government policies.
But the government closed that medium by shutting down the Daily News and two other independent newspapers.
In replacing the “banned” songs with its own commissioned music, government had wanted to kill two birds with one stone. First, it was to kill protest music altogether as radio and television were the most influential in terms of marketing music products. The government however misled itself in thinking that the commissioned music albums would sell thousands of copies which would bank roll more productions. The albums have failed to sell.
Second, the government thought the banning would affect these rebellious musicians’ live shows and record sales, hence destroy their income base. This, it thought would force the rebellious musicians to come to its fold.
And while government makes all the effort to keep the doors of freedom firmly shut, the banned music continue to reverberate in the commuter omnibuses, in private cars and in the high-density areas as ordinary people identify with the sidelined but hard hitting songs. The banned music is sold on the streets and open markets. As the propaganda takes centre stage and occupy prime time on state radio and television the ordinary people in urban areas have shunned national radio and television. With their attention swayed away from radio and television they have resorted to attending music and theatre live shows performances. They have also resorted to home video tapes to quench their artistic thirst.
In rural Zimbabwe, where 70 percent of the people live and most depend on radio for news and entertainment, the propaganda music has become doctrine, affecting people’s lives and way of thinking. And this has been fuelled by government’s declaration that all programming be dominated by local productions.
The result has been that Zimbabwe has been shut out from the international community, responding only to the deep resonance of its own sounds, indeed a world recluse as a frightened government seeks to shelter the country in its own cocoon, seeing plots and conspiracies all around it; indeed warped visions of enemies sharpening their swords in the horizon in an unparalleled optical illusion. Hence the need for “feel good art” in which state radio and television are replete with propaganda jingles that laud government projects and programmes.