In 1991, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (Rutgers University) initiated the 16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, beginning on November 25 ( International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women), right through World AIDS Day on December 1st among other important activism days, until International Human Rights Day on December 10th.
By Shingi Mavima, Michigan, USA
The campaign remains as relevant as it was 29 years ago, as societies the world over remain entrenched (albeit to different degrees) in archaic systems that enable different forms of violence against women, whether it be physical (rape, femicide, battery), economic (wage differences, workplace harassment), sociopolitical (lack of franchise, representation), among other forms of marginalisation.
As such, here are sixteen Zimbabwean songs, one each for the days of the campaign, that have explored the matter of gender-based-violence. While a great list, we recognize that it is barely representative of all the music on the topic out there; so be sure to leave your own suggestions in the comment section.
- Mangoromera-Feli Nandi
“Bvumai kukura, baba vemusha uno
Mhirizhonga pamusha tinosvikepiko?”
(Grow up, you’re the man of the house.
How far shall we get with all this violence?)
Fela Nandi has ‘star’ written all over her. Admittedly, her name only came onto my radar with the recent collabo with Trevor Dongo, but upon looking at her catalog, she has been putting out music (at least on larger platforms) over the past year or so.
Her rich vocals bleed pain over a sound that represents the finest part of Zimbabwean melodies galvanized by a profound lyricism which has had me listening to the song at least half a dozen times to pick up some of the allegory. In the song, a daughter chastises the father for using his powers to beat on the wife and children, when they would better be spent elsewhere. The visuals to this song are also emotive and excellently acted.
- Chitima- Terry Afrika
“Taane makore mangani tichinetsana mumusha
Baba vevana munonyanyisa kushusha…”
(How many year have we been fighting in this homestead
Father of my children, your abuse is relentless…’
I have long thought Terry Afrika is slept on. This song is especially slept on, even by his generally slept-on standard. Somewhat a deviation from other songs we see on this list, in this case, the battered woman has decided to leave after the abuse had become unbearable.
We love to see it.
- Bodo- Bazooker
“Kana, bodo, ehe, mukadzi haarohwe
Ngaavhaire achiti inini handirohwe”
“Nope, never, women aren’t to be beaten,
Let her brag and declare that I’ve never been beaten”
ZimDancehall gets an unjustifiably bad rap; that is a hill I will die on time and time again. This award-winning tune from Chillspot’s Bazooka is not clouded in any intricate narrative; just a solid rejection of the idea of men hitting women. Sometimes, you just have to dish out the message in no uncertain terms.
- Musha- Hope Masike
Kana mai vachichema, musha washata…”
(The woman maketh a home,
When the mother cries, the home has soured.)
A simple missive from one of this generation’s most rounded artists, the song simply posits that the home is no home to be in when the mother is in tears. An age-old equation, really!
- Handiende- Steve Makoni
“Nhasi wandisakadza, mhuri ndayarutsa newe/
Wondiudza kumusha, ah! Musha wandinoziva ndeuno
Dikita misodzi zvakaerera
Ndogarira vana vangu, ndofira vana vangu…”
(Now you’ve used me up, and I’ve raised your family/
And you tell me to go back home? This is the home I know!
Sweat and tears flowed
I’ll stay for my children, die for my children…”
One of the most covered recordings in Zimbabwean music (Tuku, Selmour, Noble Stylz etc), ‘Handiende’ seems to assume a different tragic story each time it is rendered.
The desperate story of a woman pleading with a wantaway husband, the story points to a violence of a different kind: the ‘traditional’ idea that keeps a woman’s economic well being entirely dependent on her husband and, as such, powerless in the face of abuse or infidelity: what is she gonna do?
As the tide of economic empowerment persists, perhaps there will come a time when any new renditions of the song are merely for posterity’s sake, and not because of its continued relevance.
- Haitongwe nedemo- Pah Chihera
“Hona mavanga ndiwe unondirova…
Shamwari idzodzo dzinokufurira”
“See my scars, you’ve put them on me/
Your friends are a bad influence…”
A true custodian of an authentic Zimbabwean sound for the past decade, Pah Chihera’s general articulation of domestic issues is largely peerless, and is reminiscent of yesteryear Sungura stylings. The story here speaks to the broken promises of early romance turned sour. Critically, as the woman is being battered, she also points to her husband’s friends, who enable this behavior.
Fellas, friends and family; see something, say something.
- Tozeza Baba- Oliver Mtukudzi
“Zvanzi ponda zvako ndifire vana vangu.”
(“She says “go ahead and kill me; let me die for my children.”)
A fascinating phenomenon separates African and Western music (and I say this as a very amateur ethnomusicologist: I stand correct by those who know more than me.) That is: if a song from the Western tradition of music is sad, it sounds sad- even if you don’t understand it. Afro-based musical styles tend to create upbeat music that may even be staple at parties, and yet have very heavy themes in content. Think ‘Tsaona’, ‘Mugove’ and, quintessentially, ‘Tozeza Baba.’ Arguably Tuku’s most danceable tune also carries one of his most important societal interventions. The story is told from the vantage point of the kids, and it’s of how a father, drunk out of his mind, comes home and beats his wife to a pulp. The title literally means “we’re terrified of father.” A powerful indictment of GBV culture, especially when coupled with mind-altering substances.
- Dai Maiziva- BlacPerl
“Vamwe vachidamburwa hembe and the next thing/
Society blames that on her dressing.”
It is criminal that we’re not talking about BlacPerl’s Project Perl EP as one of the more complete hip-hop projects of the year. Anyway…
‘Dai Maiziva’ triumphs in showing the multi-tiered levels of systemic violence against women in our communities: from the physical violence, to income insecurity, to underrepresentation in positions of power, to the reality of girls who can’t go to school for lack of sanitary pads. Now these may seem like disparate issues, but they stem from an obsolete and perverse male-centric system that needs dismantling.
- Matsimba- Enzo Ishall
“Mai vakafuka ravo vega. Baba vakafuka ravo vega
Asi mukufuka ravo vega, vakasiya mwana ari ega…”
(Mother’s in her own bed, Father is in his own..
But while they were apart, they left the daughter all alone”)
After his breakout in 2018 with Kanjiva and a litany of funny ghetto stories like “Handirare kuden Kwenyu Futi”, Enzo Ishall risked becoming a flash-in-the-pan comical chanter with not much in the form of enduring substance. That’s when he dropped the lyrically profound, tear-jerking anti-child abuse lament, ‘Matsimba.’
A particularly gut-wrenching moment from the video is when the mother of the girl who has been victimized by the father admonishes her from never telling anyone. It is painful because it is clear that she loves her daughter, but is afraid of either the father or losing him. These are the nuances of abuse.
Since Enzo dropped this, he has gone on to successfully blend his humorous narratives with a string of other conscious commentary; and for my money, nobody does that balance better.
- Nyawolwami- Nkwali
“Unyawolwami lolu liganyana O mina ngiyekeleni
ngihambe,ngitsholobele ,inhliziyo Yami idabukile”
(This foot of mine knows the direction to my destination,
let me go far and wide for my heart is torn.)
Another moment of sonic and cultural beauty in a lacklustre 2020, I admit that I had to have the song both translated and contextualized before I added here (woe be my African monolinguism!) For those, like me, who are not in the know, Nyawolwami is a traditional Ndebele song, crooned by people (mostly women) of all ages. A story of defiance, the poetic chorus speaks to escaping a treacherous situation (such as an abusive home), in pursuit of less-than-scorched pasteurs.
This rendition is beautifully done.
- Handiende- Shingi Mavima ft Simba Ci.
“She has to leave to live, but if she leaves,
she leaves behind her only reason for living…”
I told you this song had been covered multiple times. In this version, poet Shingi Mavima brings his age-old poem, ‘Scars of Love’ to the studio, and blends it with Simba Ci’s mellifluous rendering of Steve Makoni’s classes.
The poem as a standalone speaks to all the societal obstacles that not only stop people from leaving abusive relationships, but enables perpetrators right until the end. When juxtaposed with the pleas of the woman as she begs not to leave, the complexities of the abusive social system we have created is laid bare.
(Full disclosure- I’m the aforementioned poet. I wouldn’t usually shout myself out; but it fits the theme succinctly so, well, here we are.)
- Tichichema- Ammara Brown
“You beat me, is this the legacy you’re leaving…
You beat me, is this the love you couldn’t teach me…?”
An emotive tune from one of this generation’s biggest superstars. The 2019 track is accompanied by a poignant John Cole-assisted video, which shows how the pain bleeds across the entire fabric of the family. It is also important that the video setting appears middle class, showing just how violence and abuse in our society transcend social standing.
- Kumba Kune Vanhu- Holy Ten
“Anotobvawo kumba kune vanhu/
Anotobvawo kumba kune vanoti hecho chimhandara chedu…”
“She too comes from a home/
She comes from a place where her people proudly say ‘she’s ours.”
One of the phenomenal breakout stories of 2020, Holy Ten has a few recurrent themes in his music. One such theme is that of the plight of the girl child, from rape to the disproportionate economic impact of poverty that lands on their end. Touching on it on ‘Amai’ and ‘Bho Zvangu,’ the leader of the youth dedicates a whole song to this predicament in Kumba Kune Vanhu. Thought-provoking song, particularly surrounding the age-old use of means by older man to manipulate younger women for their temporary pleasure.
- Wachema Muroora- King Isaac
“Kazevezeve ndekeiko? Kusanyara mai nemwana/
Hona rauya radhakiwa/Izvozvi rode kundirova…”
(what is the whispering about? Mother and son, unashamed/
Look at him, he’s home drunk/ now he wants to hit me…”)
On his most recent album (2018), Makuwerere:Coat of Many Colors, grammy-nominated reggae artist King Isaac mixes his renowned Caribbean stylings with more homegrown intonations of Jit-jazz. One of the standout tracks thereon is ‘Wachema Muroora’, which describes an all-too familiar situation which makes GBV more common and hard to escape: that family members (in this case represented by the husband’s mother) also enable this toxic behavior.
(Although the song ends with the King encouraging the battered wife to remain steadfast in praying for change— and that’s good too, this author also recommends getting out of there if possible: better to pray from a distance than to have us praying as we put a box into the ground!)
- No to Women Abuse: Lipsy, Kadijah, Daruler, Lady B etc…
“Stop making excuses, type inokurova haikudi
Excuses, we all know what abuse is…”
One of the more recent and incredible efforts on this list, the ‘No to Abuse’ anthem goes against several prejudices in one sweep. First, it asserts women’s agency in a Zim Dancehall genre which (like others) is predominantly male. Secondly, it contradicts the lazy “women can’t work together” argument that tends to be low-hanging fruit for misogyny.
The song itself is excellent, and the multitude of voices on it allows for a complete spectrum of takes: from confronting the larger system to address issues of GBV, to addressing men, to encouraging women to break the bonds of abusive relationships and marriages.
Big tune dis!
“Vanhukadzi vanobatwa senhapwa…”
(Women are treated like slaves…”)
I know we’ve already seen Tuku on the list, but one doesn’t become the conscience of an entire nation for so long without a few songs about society’s most persistent problems. It is only right to conclude the list with one of the most iconic and international recognizable Zimbabwean songs, by the country’s biggest icon, which was a soundtrack for quite possibly the best movie in the country’s history (and, frankly, one of the best on the continent.)
As Tuku’s soul bleeds over his guitar in the way that only he could do, the song simultaneously lays bare the tumultuous standing of women within the uglier parts of tradition, which often leaves them socially and economically disenfranchised, even at their most vulnerable (a la being recently widowed), and encourages the titular Neria to remain resolute in the face of it all.
There you have it folks. Sixteen songs against Gender-Based Violence in its myriad of forms. Which ones stood out to you? Which ones have we left out? Let us know below
(You can listen to this Playlist on YouTube here: https://bit.ly/2KafiDi)
ABOUT THE WRITER
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Mavima holds a B.A in international relations from Grand Valley State University (Michigan,) and a Masters of International Affairs degree from Pennsylvania State University. He has published two poetry anthologies, Homeward Bound and Mirage of Days Old, as well as one novel, Pashena. He is also the co-founder and executive director of CLUBHOUSE International, a non-profit organization dedicated to working with Zimbabwean primary school students in community-building projects.