By Plot Mhako
The Urban Grooves movement that gripped the country at the turn of the millennium when the government announced 75% local content on radio represents a missed golden opportunity to significantly thrust contemporary Zimbabwean music onto at least the regional scene.
But the moment of a blow up became a damp squib. Fast forward perhaps a decade later, the streets gave birth to Zimdancehall a term coined by UK based artist and disc jockey Slaggy Yout. Zimdancehall, a Jamaican Dancehall and Reggae inspired music style was in many ways an indirect offshoot of the broad Urban Grooves movement. In what is probably a déjà vu moment, sadly, we seem to be headed down the same road.
And it isn’t a sexy pathway!
Could it be the law of diminishing returns taking a toll on the genre or a natural cycle associated with pop culture? It’s perhaps easy and convenient to lay all the blame on the artists but a quick glance at those nations thriving musically in the region, for example, South Africa, shows you that music as an industry only grows where all stakeholders come to the party, from capable managers, promoters and the corporate world.
The artists themselves of course need to be driven and hungry enough no doubt. l caught up with a South Africa based music pundit Edward Kararira who believes Zimbabwean urban contemporary genres represent a gold mine of untapped export potential.
“There’s need for the emergence of raw, ambitious arts or musical entrepreneurs. With the artists hungry enough to propel our unique urban contemporary music culture to at least the region and possibly globally. Young men with colossal dreams and ambitions! There are plenty urban contemporary artists who have got nothing more to prove locally,” he said.
Kararira thinks that with the structures in place, coupled with enough hunger on the part of the artist himself, there’s no reason why Winky D, Tamy, SoulJah Luv, Sanni Makhalima, Alexio Kawara, Roki, Nutty O, ExQ shouldn’t be rubbing shoulders with the best in the region!
Another comrade based in South Afric,a Norman Theodore, who is also an avid arts commentator attributes the bleak future Zimdancehall faces to an absence of an agreed broader strategy for self-renewal and succession. Yep!
That dirty word that gets even uniformed forces onto the streets has again popped up in music circles. Succession!
“The genre does not speak into the future with much of its content in form of current affairs music with a bold play-by date. There is lack of emphasis on new talent. Those big names are not doing much to bring in new names or repurpose fading ones. The producers who helped stitch together the genre used to do it for fame and passion and because there is not so much coming out of that, fatigue could be trickling in.”
And the trickle could seem more of a tsunami. An avalanche. The dearth is real. The Zimdancehall sound, quality, and style of composition have tentatively remained repetitive, stagnant and creating monotony. There seems to be no clear-cut strategy to sustain the momentum and take the music out of the country. Precariously there are no notable collaborations with musicians from other countries in Africa.
The hype which once seized the country and Zimbabweans living in the diaspora is evidently dying down and just like Urban Grooves, the latter has a countable number of pioneering survivors; voices like Soul Jah Love, Killer T and undoubtedly Winky D the last of which can easily be regarded as possibly the only artist who identifies with the genre but has managed to stay relevant and consistent.
There is a new generation popping up and last year had Silent Killer, Jah Signal and Boom Berto as some of the notables, but sadly the glory around them seems to be dying faster than one can say ‘musical coup!’
What could be the solution? Arts administrator and Reggae DJ with CapitalkFM Chamunorwa Mashoko thinks the solution lies in creating crossovers heavily founded with our traditional sound and instruments.
“Zimbabweans at home and abroad are the most culturally isolated people especially those in the diaspora. In most foreign cities you find West African clubs and festivals focused on West African products. Sadly Zimbabwean artists and establishments are busy copying other cultures.
“Imagine Nutty O dropping lines on traditional influenced beats? Look to the West as West Africans are already doing it and sadly now we stampede to copy them.”
The beginning of 2018 has seen the return of Riddims which propelled many artists to stardom at inception. In one day Chillspot Record released Decoy Riddim and the next day Solid Records dropped ZimDancehall Resurrection and I am reliably informed much more are coming but it’s yet to be seen if the formula will work this time around.
The genre is in danger of extinction once radio stations that were instrumental in both incubation and curatorship rethink on content policy. To compound this, the genre grew out of piracy and there seems to be no clear strategy to grow away from the same in order to strengthen the genre.
There is an excessive penchant and an insatiable appetite for unnecessary publicity and excessive mania for non-monetizable fame. The genre must right-size, self-correct and untag itself from bad publicity and focus on creating long-lasting music.
Failure to learn from the demise of the urban grooves genre could be an addendum to a list of ballooning and worrying self-destructive tendencies chief among them being an entrenchment of drug abuse as the new normal. Should an Operation Restore Legacy be extended to the music and arts scene? Well, time will tell as the plot thickens.