Zimdancehall sold for a song to Mbinga

It’s been a decade of dominance by Zimdancehall, yes ten plus years of Riddims, chants and dance. The air has been thick, filled with the genre which rocked from the rural to the urban, the corporate and in church spaces the sound filtered through but the winds of change are blowing hard. 

By Plot Mhako 

This is an opinion piece, it takes a look at the turn of events over the decade and the role played by Mbinga (the “filthy” rich”)

Zimdancehall (a localised hybrid of Dancehall music) blew up around 2010-2011 taking over from the waning Urban Grooves genre (something that is still very debatable with some arguing that the former gave birth to the later.) Several notable names are credited for playing a pivotal role in striking the matchstick that set Zimdancehall ablaze. Music producers like JPM, Mockery, Dollar Gettaz, Sunshine, Kritikal, Levels and artists such as King Labash, Winky D and instrumentally the four Kings of Mbare (Seh Calaz, Kinnah, Killer T and the late Soul Jah Love). 

There was something peculiar driving this crop of artists and producers. Their dream was written all over in their lyrics. The artists had a burning desire for better, they loved dancehall, were diversely talented and their text mirrored their lives,  struggles and hopes. 

The artist’s lyrics resonated with the multitudes and the movement became a household name influencing street lingo, youth culture and showbiz. With less Radio push at first, Zimdancehall used all unconventional means to distribute the music far afield. WhatsApp, CD piracy and public transport operators (Kombis) played a key role in getting the music to the people and soon Radio caught up. 

Four Kings of Mbare

Despite having borrowed the music culture from Jamaica, the artists, producers and promoters of Zimdancehall made everything very local, relatable and organic. Defying the odds, the bulk of the music was made at backyard, makeshift studios by self taught producers. 

As the impact of the genre grew, the money started to trickle in mainly from live show bookings. Around that time most artists had no idea they could monetise their content online and could create other revenue streams, what mattered to them was for the music to reach every ear. 

With the bulk of the artists coming from the poor and rough backgrounds, music became a window to escape poverty and a number of artists became role models in their neighbourhoods.

Mangoma as Zimdancehall is affectionately referred to became the first music of choice in Zimbabwe and ultimately a target for opportunists who saw a chance to manipulate the vulnerable and uninformed talents. Some players from the corporate world, politics, church, promoters, digital distributors, drug dealers, Mbinga / Bosses (well to do people), producers and the media were quick to take advantage wanting a piece of the culture. Their interests were not always for the good of the genre and the practitioners but for personal glory and gains. 

Sadly, the poverty that drove ZimDancehall artists to create music and dream for better is now driving them towards exploitation. The harsh economy keeps biting the talent.

Artists were roped in for various crusades and campaigns as crowd pullers but only a few benefited from the engagements as the bulk seemed content with small gains given the abject poverty they were trying to escape from.  Not many artists had sound advice, financial literacy and understood how to manage their talents as an enterprise. 

ZimDancehall Concert at City Sports Centre

Drug dealers used the culture to push their products creating an unholy alliance with some artists, supporting and sometimes hosting (or invading) free street parties known as Passa Passas where they would foot the artist’s bill and the sound system to draw thousands. In turn the dealers made their money from selling alcohol and drugs in all forms and shapes without caring about the impact on the community and the artists. These illicit practices drew the attention of the authorities leading to a blanket ban on Passa Passas which hurt the music.

“Only if there can be discipline in ZimDancehall this genre has potential to make millions. No other music in Zimbabwe (currently) is able to pull such huge crowds. Let there be sanity and Peace!!!”

Star FM

Over the past decade we saw countless conversations and fights that involved artists and online music distributors. A lot of artists excited to get visibility had previously been submitting music to bloggers without knowing there was money in the views and streams online. You can imagine how much money the whole industry lost! 

 

Of promoters and the unscrupulous ones! At one point anyone could become a promoter. Sadly a number of cunning and unscrupulous promoters took advantage of the flight, stage and opportunity hungry artists. The performers lost a lot of money in the process.

However, we have had some good and legit promoters who had great intentions and did a lot to promote, empower the artists. The likes of Chipaz, Mama Red Rose, Red Fox, BodySlam, Kenako, Godfatha Templeman, King Alfred and several other good diaspora promoters. 

We still groove to the Bodyslam riddim don’t we? The investment was real and very transformative. Most people can not recognise the entrepreneur behind Kenako but the impact is still evident to date, it was about the music and building an industry. If such players had continued on that trajectory I have no doubt the genre would be better structured and more rewarding.

Think of this! How much money has Zimdancehall made over the past decade and of that amount who were the biggest beneficiaries? Were they the producers and artists? Absolutely not!

Oftentimes people will always argue that the artists did not make good with their harvests but my assertion is that some of them were unwittingly deprived of their appropriate dues.

Like every product life cycle nothing stays at the peak forever and the genre appears at it’s lowest this year. The movement is evidently losing momentum.

What really happened? Zimdancehall was hijacked by divergent interests who left it for dead. Mbinga, maBosses are some of the main culprits who worked in cahoots with key industry stakeholders to sell out the genre for a song. The Mbingas literally usurped the energy. 

The riddim driven music saw the mushrooming of Riddims named after individuals (Mbinga/MaBoss) and companies. Producers who had been at the last end of the economic puzzle and out of the need to cash in from their sweat were agreeing to produce Riddim projects that promoted individuals or and enterprises but for small benefits. Producers used their long standing relations to mobilise artists with most recording and seeding rights to Mbinga or production houses.

The songs made on the commissioned Riddims literally became Big-up jingles and this continued unabated. Only a handful of more established artists would negotiate better terms. 

Slowly the genre grew monotonous in compositions, sound, lyrics, watering down the growth of the music and creating a disconnect with the fans creating an avenue for alternative genres. 

Pop culture thrives on the continuous emergence of a new crop from time to time but sadly the new crop became praise and worship singers for Mbinga / ma Bosses who displayed not much interest to see the youths and the genre develop but instead their names and social following grow. 

ZimDancehall Summit

Despite the slowing momentum, ZimDancehall still lives. The legacy left by Bob Marley in 1980 at Zimbabwe’s birth in the neighbourhood of Mbare continues to inspire and influence the youth. My hope and desire is for the music to evolve and blossom financially. The genre has the numbers and numbers are money!