A crisis of Imagination haunts Zimbabwean music

This week I will focus on one of the key factors holding back our music from growing into an industry, transcending borders and changing the global narrative on the country and competing like Nigeria, South Africa, and Ghana are doing. Our biggest challenge is not entirely financial to but a crisis of imagination.

Plot Mhako, Germany

We seem stuck in a musical rut. A random sample of music that is making it mainstream and floating on top can be extremely worrisome if one is to imagine the future.

There is a state of inertia. Music producers, artists, composers, Djs and managers are grappling with the status quo. The future of Zimbabwean music from afar gives a false mirage of growth but a closer listen and look at the visuals accompanying the music can be depressing.

This is not to downplay the few who are putting in great work to improve on creativity, packaging, and delivery.

Even at live shows, most bands and artists are very predictable. Their sets, dances, and delivery is half baked ad uninspiring. 

Our failure to re-imagine coupled with our undying love for anything foreign poses a great threat on the great wealth of authentically Zimbabwean music legacy created by the late Dr. Oliver Mtukudzi, the Bundu Boys, Ilanga, Master Chivero, Chiwoniso Maraire, Lovemore Majaivana, Fortune Muparutsa, the Runn Family, Dorothy Masuka, Thomas Mapfumo, Paul Matavire, Edwin Hama, Andy Brown and many more amazing sons and daughters of Zimbabwe. These artists created signature music that will live for generations to come, songs whose messages still resonate with today and tomorrow.

Oliver Mtukudzi – pic _pri

One striking common thing about these greats is that whilst they borrowed some melodies they were not caught up on waves from trends. They worked hard and put in the craft to come up with something sounding different and new. Their lyrics touched on cultural, social, political issues and some were just for pure fun and entertainment but still family-friendly.  

Someone could say I am looking too much into the past and times have changed. There are new technology, new innovations and a new generation that is more exposed and preferring different from what we had before. I think we are simply not rooted, we are poorly cultured or simply an osmosis society. We assimilate anything that comes our way and shuns our own. 

Ammara Brown – one of the women defying the odds

The West African and South African sound is going global. Their formula is simple, tap into the local musical traditions, fuse with urban sounds and conquer the world. P Square, Davido, Burna Boy, Sho Madjozi, Sjava, Yemi Alade, Sona Jobarteh, Anjelique Kidjo, Sauti Sol, Diamond Platnumz and hundreds of others. They are building a multi-billion dollar music industry and learning the trade and creating the ecosystem back home. Winning awards at international platforms, dominating chart shows, topping the rankings on downloads and streams. 

Back home our stars have limited illumination simply because they follow the wave and try to imitate those from other countries. We have a lot of music producers who are simply lazy, they copy, change tempo, add a few variations and paste.

“I want to go international so make me an international beat with some trap or Afrohouse melody”. These are some of the phrases you can hear the most if you are to spend a day at a recording studio. This is how far the youngsters can imagine and dream. It is what they see and hear which they simply want to replicate. There is no appetite to develop something fresh. 

The composers and singers ride on the same wave, copying other artists, composing shallow songs and of late putting a lot of vulgar and profanity. A song can be composed, produced and released within an hour. It is indeed a microwave music business. Once the songs are out, depending on the status of the artist and resources at their disposal the song makes it on the national radios. Online, the touts will excitedly blog and hype the music and some of it can even become hits and radio catches up too. 

Austria based renowned artist and member of Insingizi Vusa Mkhaya believes artists should start investing in songwriters. “This is how it’s done worldwide. You will find one album having more than 5 to 10 songwriters or even more,”

“Not every singer is a good songwriter and vice versa. Once we accept that then we can start talking about “music business” otherwise it will be Ngoro this Ngoro that for the next coming 20 years….” said Vusa Mkhaya

Tafadzwa Jengwa a music enthusiast concurred saying, “That is how our arts industry can grow sustainably. I follow Jamaican music and I have seen record stables who employ songwriters and session musicians who will then in turn work as supporting functionaries to the artists who sign with the stables, and I haven’t seen much of that in our motherland.” 


Mixing and mastering which involves adjusting and combining individual tracks together to form a stereo audio file after mixdown then mastered to ensure that the various song or songs are clearly polished is often foregone. 

It is not only songs that are lacking originality but some of the videos too. Whilst some directors, videographers, choreographers, and artists are displaying great effort, creativity and innovation in making music videos, the bulk is caught up in the plagiarism mode. I could give tens and tens of music videos whose concept was copied elsewhere. 

Now with the introduction of drone technology in music video making you will discover that the gadget is easily finding its way into every storyline even where not necessary. 

The same locations, props, cars, dancers, choreographers and at times the same vixens appear over and over in different music videos. 

The biggest achievement is getting your music played on Trace, MTV or Channel O and getting a million views on Youtube and that’s it! Could it be that we have been deprived of alternative TV platforms at home for too long that our sense of achievement only extends across Limpopo? 

The national economy is in turbulence, the social fabric is torn, the politics oftentimes unstable too. Whilst these situations are negatively affecting the growth of the music industry, its viability and the survival of artists I think the environment is more fertile for creatives. It presents a cocktail of narratives that the world is yet to hear. Genuine life moving stories that can inspire the nation and the world in a major way.

Every artist who is going international is simply selling a different narrative packaged with great sounds from the motherland. This is what Burnaboy is doing. He is telling a story of an African giant rising from the desolate to conquer the world. His sounds borrow a lot from native traditional music and the sound of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat. The same with Sho Madjozi whose amazing story, language, sounds from the poor Limpopo province are rising to global acclaim. 

Mokoomba _ pic source Mokoomba

Mokoomba is doing it! Despite experiencing a blackout at home, the boys from Chinotimba Township in Victoria Falls are international stars. Their language is Tonga, their sound Afro laced with some deep traditional vibes. 

What i find more saddening with the lula-lula music generation is the failure to learn from those that went before them. Failure to tap into a deep musical heritage that could define the traditional, contemporary and urban Zimbabwean sound. 

We have too much hyped poor content floating above great music. The residue content has the shortest lifespan and does not portray who we are and fails to paint a bright sounding future. The few who are making a great effort to create are seldom ignored. They struggle to make it commercially. The bubblegum music sells fast and fades quickly too. 

Every week we have Zimbabwean artists crossing borders to perform in other countries. A lot of them especially the Zimdancehall and Hip hop artists are simply performing for homesick fellow countrymen. Their appeal is limited. 

Contrary to what happens in Zimbabwe when we have a foreign artist touring, the Zimbabwean performers attract no hype or attention from the media and the natives in the countries they tour. Could it be failing management? Could it be the artists who are easily content or simply afraid to break new frontiers or simply their music can not sell beyond the local market? 

Soon we will wake up to realize that the western and eastern world which is greatly investing in researching on our traditional music, instruments and local artists will have more ownership and control of what we shun. They see what we don’t see and appreciate it. They invest in the local culture and music scene than our own government does. This should be worrisome and challenge us as young creatives to appreciate our great sounds, instruments, language and musical heritage, document and promote it globally. This is where the money and the power to re-inspire Zimbabwe to dream and re-imagine lies.

Until next time, the plot thickens.  

The article was originally published in the NEWSDAY 


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