Zimbabwe: Protest musician overcomes obstacles

26 March 2008
Zimbabwean musician Raymond Majongwe could not find anyone who would print or publish his music within the country. Like other protest musicians, he had to resort to foreign lands for recording his new album.

By Sebastian Nyamhangambiri reporting for Freemuse from Harare

In Zimbabwe – a place where the dissenting voice is an endangered species – musicians face trouble recording their work because record companies fear to be blacklisted by the regime.

Singer and musician Raymond Majongwe had to record his 14th album ‘Dhiziri kuChinhoyi’ (‘Diesel at Chinhoyi’) in South Africa after the recording companies in Zimbabwe refused to do the job, fearing reprisals from the Robert Mugabe-led government.

“All the recording studios I approached refused because they did not want to risk being put in trouble. I decided to go and record in South Africa because I did not want to use the computers as what other (protest) musicians now do (because their music is refused to be recorded in professional music studios in Zimbabwe). I wanted to use live instrument like other (prominent) musicians do,” said Majongwe in an interview after the launch of his album on 13 March 2008.

“Fear of reprisals is not only in recording industry. If I take this album to any music outlets, they are going to reject it,” Majongwe told Freemuse.

No airplay on ZBC
Raymond Majongwe’s music is reportedly blacklisted and does not enjoy airplay on the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, because it is openly critical of the government. However, he has vowed to continue playing his chimurenga (liberation) music as long as the message continues to reach its audience.

“I equate myself to a boxer who believes he can fight. He gets knocked in the first round but continues coming back, fighting until he wins…” said Majongwe.

“I have 14 albums under my belt and none of them have ever been played on ZBC. I am not worried, though, because I play live music, including in Nigeria and South Africa. People say they enjoy my music, and they hear it from other quarters. What is important to me is that it reaches people.”

Raymond Majongwe’s music – like other Zimbabwean protest artists’ music – is distributed through informal channels and is popular in nightclubs, public gatherings and in the public transport.

Kingstons Stores: ‘Wayward music’
Raymond Majongwe said music outlets have refused to sell his latest album. This reporter went to Kingstons Stores, a government-owned shop, to see if the musician’s allegation could be confirmed. I asked for a copy of any of Majongwe’s albums, and the reply from a sales executive was: “That type of music is wayward, and it won’t have space in this country. No one can allow such music in a normal environment.”

As if Majongwe had predicted that kind of answer, at his reception earlier the same week he had told his guests that he believed his music was proper but that “the environment was not right”:

“They (shops as well as ZBC) refuse my music not because it is bad but because it is critical. If we were in a free environment this would be the album of the year, not only because of the contents of the lyrics, but also in terms of the musical arrangement,” said Raymond Majongwe.

ZBC: Music must be ‘constructive’
“I can challenge anybody including the ZBC. I have given them my albums but they do not play them. I have asked they for the reason and they tell me they have been told not to play it. By who, I am not told…”

Henry Muradzikwa, the ZBC boss, refused to comment on the allegations by Majongwe but conceded to censoring music:
“At times, you check if music is constructive to the society or not but by and large we leave that judgement to music presenters and producers but once in a while we assist them. But that is not a policy,” Henry Muradzikwa told Freemuse.

Song about arbitrary arrests
The six-track album ‘Dhiri KuChinhoyi’ (which literally means: ‘Diesel being mined in Chinhoyi town’) is an attack on the government that was gullible to a witch doctor that claimed that she had found some diesel ores in some rocks in Chinhoyi last year. The government gave her lots of money before it was discovered that the diesel was gushing out of a storage tank left by a white farmer before he had forced out of his property in the 1990s.

In the lyrics of the album, Raymond Majongwe also demands equitable distribution of wealth instead of the situation now in which it is mainly in the hands of the ruling party while others suffer.

Another song: ‘Mbwende’ (‘Cowards’) calls on Zimbabweans to desist from being cowards and rise against oppression.

‘Vanosungirwei’ (‘Why are they being arrested?’) complains of the arbitrary arrests of dissenting voices by the brutal police and secret agents.

‘Nhasi tiripi’ poses a question: “Where are we heading (as a nation)?” given the deteriorating situation in the country.

Inspired by Mapfumo
“The bottom line is: I am not going to stop. I am not going to relent. I am not going to retreat. One day music will come. One day this music will be re-recorded and played and it will get to its audience. For now I am concentrating on doing my best. I am not giving up. Not now,” Raymond Majongwe made it clear.

He said he was inspired into performing music by the chimurenga music guru Thomas Mapfumo who is now in exile in the United States. Mapfumo’s music was popular from the liberation war up to late 1990s. It went off air on ZBC stations after he sang ‘Corruption in the society’ and ‘Mabvebve’ (‘The country is now in tatters’).

Photos by the author




Raymond Majongwe

The album
– ‘Diesel at Chinhoy’

Promotion poster at the entrance of a Kingstons Music store

Related reading on the internet

Agence France Presse – 25 March 2008:

‘Zimbabwe suffering inspires protest art’

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