Complete control: Music and propaganda in Zimbabwe
The Zanu PF government’s involvement in the commissioning of propaganda music productions has introduced a new form of censorship in Zimbabwe. In commissioning several propaganda music albums, jingles and videos, the government has managed to elbow what it calls “politically incorrect” music compositions from the airwaves.
Article by Maxwell Sibanda, former Arts & Entertainment Editor of the Daily News newspaper in Zimbabwe. Sibanda has just completed writing a publication on Politics and Music in Zimbabwe.
ZIMBABWEAN GOVERNMENT RECORDS MUSIC TO REPLACE CRITICAL SONGS
WHEN world class musicians staged the memorable 1987 Human Rights Concert in the city of Harare, Zimbabwe theirs was a peaceful protest and reminder to the world on the need to principally respect basic human rights. It was also a reminder to Zimbabweans who had just witnessed and survived the brutal murders of people from the Matebeleland region by President Robert Mugabe’s armed forces which saw the loss of an estimated 20.000 innocent lives.
A live performance before a capacity audience by Bruce Springsteen, Tracy Chapman, Eric Donaldson, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour and Maxi Priest couldn’t have matched for any other better celebration of that urgent need. And what a big jam it was, and one that shook the country too! The songs’ lyrics were rich, direct and undiluted. The sound had hit the ears of many. And many danced. What could you do? What with some music fans who had travelled from South Africa and other neighbouring countries.
But that was to be the second high profile concert in Zimbabwe after Black independence. Reggae star Bob Marley also gave a rare performance in 1980, at Zimbabwe’s first Black independence day where he introduced Zimbabweans to conscious and hard hitting reggae sounds. Marley was invited to grace the occasion because of his militant songs that preached Black freedom, good governance and peace. And his music spoke!
In Zimbabwe, music has for years held a special place in the country’s political history. During the colonial era Zimbabwean musicians recorded inspiring compositions that sought to remind the black populace of its need to free itself from oppression. Most of the songs were banned by the colonial regime government fearing that such compositions would incite a Black uprising.
During its bitter eight year old war with the colonial Ian Douglas Smith Patriotic Front regime, the ruling Zimbabwe National Union – Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) launched its own pirate radio station, Voice of Zimbabwe that used to broadcast from Mozambique. Militant songs were composed by the party’s choirs and broadcast on the station as a moral booster to its fighters and supporters. Music, thus became central to its war strategy. Indeed even after Black independence in 1980, a number of Zanu PF choirs throughout the country continued to sing and record political songs. But with relative peace in the county and competition from secular musicians, most of these choirs gradually disappeared.
See also the Freemuse report on Zimbabwe (2001)