Last week on our social media, we shared the list of every song that had topped the Radio Zimbabwe (formerly Radio 2) annual end-of-year countdown. That is to say: the most popular song in each calendar year by way of votes submitted to the station. It got tongues wagging.
By Shingi Mavima
In the absence of a consistent and comprehensive billboard-type chart, and in a music industry especially ravaged by piracy at ground level, It can be argued that the Radio Zimbabwe list is the closest barometer we have for what the biggest song in the country was in each year. The station has historically been far and away the most popular in the country and, while stations such as Star FM and Power FM have made significant gains, Radio Zimbabwe retains 35% of the the national listenership—full nine percentage points ahead of #2
With that said, we thought it would be fun and insightful to revisit the list and draw out some of the trends we observed, with the help of your responses on social media as well!
FULL Radio Zimbabwe Top 50 Best Songs 1980-2021 at the end of this article.
1. Utter Sungura Dominance
And dominance is just the word. By our count, at least 75% of the songs on this list are either strictly Sungura songs, songs by artists whose predominant genre, or offshoots of the Sungura sounds (e.g Dendera.) Indeed, it is the only genre to maintain a presence at the top over all five decades represented on the charts.
The genre’s ability to retain its essence and popularity, where several others have come and gone, is especially remarkable. Some folks within the comments section on social media observed or were surprised at the absence of a single ZimDancehall song topping the charts, given the stronghold Mangoma had in the 2010s in particular. This is an important reminder of how insular the social media spaces, dominated by the urban youth, can get. It is still worth remembering that 67% of Zimbabwe is rural—where Sungura is unmatched in supremacy (in addition to its significant urban fandom, of course.)
Zimbabwe is more than just the urban areas, and certainly more than the echo chambers of our Facebook pages. Think about, too, when it comes to…ehm…voting for other things.
2. Shona Hegemony
Should we be surprised by this? After all, the language group collectively known as Shona accounts for 80% of the country. It is also an 80% that has been politically and socio-culturally dominant since independence, often to the chagrin of the other ethnic groups.
Nevertheless, 38 out of 41 is still a remarkable haul! The three exceptions are Macheso’s Mundikumbuke from 2000 (ChiChewa), Blessing Shumba’s 2017 My Season (English), and the 2021 champ, DT Bio Mudimba’s Kujata jata (Shona/Tonga.) Even with these three, it is worth noting that the first two appear on albums—and are by artists—most synonymous with Shona music, while Kujata jata translates the original Tonga verbatim to Shona on the same song.
The dearth of diversity here is also jarring, given the very real prominence of non-Shona songs and artists over the years; whether that be Lovemore Majaivana, Solomon Skuza, or Ndolwane Supersounds and the myriads in between. Also struck that Ndebele, the second most spoken indigenous language, is not even among the three non-Shona songs on the list. What make we of this phenomenon?
3. The Gradual Disappearance of Groups
Six out of the first ten years were topped by acts identifying as groups. Indeed, there may have been standout personalities (Marshall Munhumumwe; Biggie Tembo etc,) but the songs and respective albums were attributed to the groups. In the next decade, only two out of the ten number ones were by a group. And none since 1997.
Fascinatingly, this seems to mirror the global trajectory in regards to groups. While collectives were all the rage across genres in the 1980s up until the early 2000s. While they haven’t entirely vanished, they aren’t as ubiquitous as before. Pundits have several theories for this, including the difficulty of equitable distribution of labor and the fruits thereof, how the social media era tends to leverage individual personalities, among others.
What are your thoughts on the evaporation of the group hit?
4. Gospel Gets its Share
Last year, we published a similar article in reaction to the ZIMURA list of the top thirty royalties earners in Zimbabwe for 2021. On it, we observed with slack jaws the absence of a single gospel artist, despite the indisputable popularity of the genre in Zimbabwe. Gospel may have found its redemption on this list though, as it cut a healthy piece of the pie for itself. Beginning with Baba Charamba’s ‘Mhinduro Iripo’ in 1999, eight chart toppers since then have been outright gospel: more than a third—including a 3-peat between 2017 and 2019!
What has happened then? Has gospel music gotten better over the years? Have the trials and tribulations of 21st Century Zimbabwe pushed us closer to the Lord and His musical stylings?
And perhaps this is not quite the redemption I initially declared it to be. The fact that there are this many gospel songs topping the charts, and not one of them made the ZIMURA list, is befuddling.
5. Still No Women
Although this list departed from the ZIMURA one in having a host of gospel artists while the latter had none, we had no such luck with the women. Not one woman on either list.
The ZIMURA list was a snapshot into one year, so okay, maybe no woman buzzed that year; but over 41 years? Even with female dominance in gospel circles accounted for?
What a miserable trend.
6. No Tuku!?
This is the observation that got the streets talking. What do you mean the GOAT of Zimbabwean music did not top the annual charts of the biggest station in the land!?
The reality gets even more peculiar when we consider that his peers on the all-time-greats list (Mapfumo, Dembo, Chimbetu, Macheso etc) all feature, many of them a few times over. Heck, even his heir apparent, Jah Prayzah, had 2012 on lock.
I have a friend who has consistently refused to entertain the idea of Samanyanga being the greatest. He contends that, for all his longevity, there was never a time when Tuku was the preeminent artist in the land. The late eighties and early 90s belonged to Dembo; thereafter came Zhakata, with Chimbetu picking up the rest; then we entered the Macheso years, etc. I hope he has not seen this list—we may never hear the end of how this ‘empirically’ proves his point!
But such a reading of Tuku’s popularity and legacy is far too simplistic. Let’s be honest: how many artists on that list had you not thought about in ages before you saw this list? Two years after his passing, Tuku was the second highest earner on the ZIMURA royalties list. While other artists (in all their brilliance) made songs whose instant flame shone brightest, Tuku lit a fire whose warmth would be felt far away and for a long time. On Spotify, for example, his monthly listeners are more than those of Jah Prayzah and Winky D combined. There may not be much to read into this as far as Tuku goes.
(It is also worth noting that Thomas Mapfumo, the other artist often brought up in the GOAT debate, made the list just once- 40 years ago.)
Other interesting Points:
- Alick Macheso and Leonard Zhakata are tied for the most entries on the list, each with four.
- A Leonard has topped the charts on seven occasions! No doubt would have been more if Musorowenyoka had not passed away so young. (SN. Lenny Mapfumo, fancy extending the list?)
- Only one indigenous language first name on the list, can you spot it?
Radio Zimbabwe Top 50 Best Songs 1980-2021.
1980 Four Brothers ( Makorokoto)
1981 Thomas Mapfumo (Gwindingwi rineshumba)
1982 Nyami Nyami sounds (Dhora rangu)
1983 Devera ngwena Jazz band (Too cheap)
1984 Nyami Nyami sounds (Fundo inokosha)
1985 Sungura Boys (Hapana chisingapere)
1986 Bhundu Boys (Kuroja chete)
1987 Leonard Dembo (Sharai)
1988 Marshal Munhumumwe (Rudo imoto)
1989 Leonard Dembo (Vanemazita)
1990 Simon Chimbetu (Nguva yakaoma)
1991 Leonard Dembo (Chitekete)
1992 Paul Mpofu (Murambinda)
1993 Ngwenya Brothers (Nyaradzo)
1994 Leonard Zhakata (Mugove)
1995 Leornard Zhakata (Unochemei )
1996 Marko Sibanda (Matsotsi haagerani)
1997 Pengaudzoke (Zvibate pamhaka)
1998 Simon Chimbetu (Dzandipedza mafuta)
1999 Charles Charamba (Mhinduro iriko)
2000 Alick Macheso (Mundikumbuke)
2001 Noel Zembe (Ndaiwana hama)
2002 Pengaudzoke (Tsaona)
2003 Alick Macheso (Madhawu)
2004 Hossia Chipanga (Makomborero)
2005 Cephas Mashakada (Samson)
2006 Joseph Garakara (Idya banana)
2007 Tongai Moyo (Wakanaka)
2008 Gift Amuli (Amai vevana)
2009 Josphat Somanje (This time)
2010 Freddy Manjalima Kapfupi (Mai ngaa)
2011 Alick Macheso (Tafadzwa)
2012 Jah Prayzah (Chirangano)
2013 Alick Macheso (Macharangwanda)
2014 Leonard Zhakata (Dhonza makomborero)
2015 Blessing Shumba (Chimwe nechimwe)
2016 Leonard Zhakata (Madam boss)
2017 Blessing Shumba (My season)
2018 Rev Chivavira (Matishamisa)
2019 John Munodawafa (Tenda)
2020 Mark Ngwazi (Taurai madzoka)
2021 Bio Mudimba (Kujatajata)