Roots of Zim reggae music

10 Sep, 2013 - 00:09 0 Views

The Herald

Fred Zindi Music
BEFORE independence in 1980 the only reggae stars that were known in Zimbabwe were Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Nash and Desmond Dekker. Jimmy Cliff, born James Chambers on April 1, 1948, was known for hits such as “I Can See Clearly Now”, “Vietnam”, “Many Rivers to Cross” and “The Harder They Come”.

Johnny Nash, born John Lester on August 19, 1940 in the US, on the other hand, is said to be the original composer of “I Can See Clearly Now” which he recorded in Jamaica where his girlfriend lived. He made another hit with “Guava Jelly” while Desmond Dekker made international charts with the reggae tune “Israelites”.

Radio stations in the then Rhodesia were awash with music from these three music icons. These were the beginnings of reggae music in Zimbabwe. Because Zimbabweans had already fallen in love with this kind of music, it was no surprise that at independence, a decision was made to invite reggae’s rising star at the time, Bob Marley, to the country.

The thousands of music fans who attended Marley’s show at Rufaro Stadium were mesmerised by his hits such as “Zimbabwe”, “One Love”, “Stir It Up” and “Redemption Song”.

After the visit to Zimbabwe by Bob Marley in April, 1980, reggae music became ubiquitous in the country and almost every young person adopted the Rastafarian culture at the time.

The Zimbabwean youth began to spot dreadlocks and dressed in red, gold and green (Rastafarian colours) outfits. Some even stopped eating meat because Rastas do not believe in killing. They also began to speak in Jamaican patois. Everywhere you went one would hear: “Are you feeling Irie?” “One love”, “Jah love”, “Blessed Love”, and “Cool runnings bredren!”

After the death of Bob Marley on May 11, 1981, his legacy lived on as the popularity of Rastafarianism and reggae music continued unabated.
In 1982, Misty in Roots, a reggae band based in the United Kingdom, was the first reggae outfit after Bob Marley to come to Zimbabwe and did a three-month tour when they performed in every city of Zimbabwe. This was followed by Aswad and King Sounds in the same year.

After 1982, a flood of reggae musicians came to Zimbabwe one after another as a reggae market had been created by Bob Marley and Misty in Roots. A year later, Jimmy Cliff toured Zimbabwe, then UB40, Don Carlos, Ijahman Levi, Eric Donaldson, Culture, Dennis Brown, Lucky Dube, Maxi Priest, Freddie McGregor, Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton and many more. Reggae music, up to the late 1990s, had become a household music genre in Zimbabwean society.

Misty in Roots, who are to this day still doing concerts in Europe, began life as a London, Southall-based British roots reggae band in the early 1970s. Their first album was 1979’s “Live at the Counter Eurovision”, a record full of Biblical Rastafarian songs. It was championed by BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, who helped to bring roots reggae to a white audience. At this early stage, the band was a collective with five lead singers and various musicians, though by the time of the second album the band had slimmed down to just three members. Along with Steel Pulse and Aswad, Misty in Roots were one of the most popular British reggae bands in the late 1970s.

In 1979, Clarence Baker, a member of the collective, was severely beaten and injured by the SPG during the protest in Southall against the National Front provocation. The incident which started this provocation began with one of the protesters asking one policeman to move his horse which had come too close to the marchers. Clarence was heard by one police officer shouting at the man, “Hey, how can you ask an animal to control another animal?” All hell broke loose as the police officers who were nearby teamed up to beat him up.

The punk band, The Ruts, who were partners of the People Unite co-operative honoured, Clarence in their song “Jah War” which appeared on their album “The Crack”.

After a break from recording in the 1990s, Misty in Roots returned, releasing a new album in 2002 and continued to play concerts up to 2013. They are still performing up to this day.

  • Their albums include “Live at the Counter Eurovision 79” (1979).
  • “Misty Over Sweden” (1979).
  • “Wise and Foolish” (1982).
  • “Earth” (1983).
  • “Musi-O-Tunya” (1985).
  • “Forward” (1989).
  • “The John Peel Sessions” (1995).
  • “Jah Sees Jah Knows” (1997) (2 CD version includes bonus CD of Live at the Counter Eurovision ‘79).
  • “Roots Controller” (2002).

Misty in Roots embraced what Bob Marley had already started in Zimbabwe, that is spreading reggae music throughout the country.

From 2007, onwards, a new craze in dancehall artistes from Jamaica followed. These ranged from Elephant Man, Beenie Man, Capleton, Red Rat, Fantan Mojah, Lutan Fyre, Mr Vegas, Mavado and Sizzla Kalonji, who all visited Zimbabwe at one point or another. Most of them came without their backing bands and they thrilled sizeable audiences.

They were involved with a faster pace of mainly computer or digital reggae music.
These artistes paved the way for local dancehall music exhibited by the likes of Winky D, Guspy Warrior, Shinso Man and Sniper Storm who have created their own versions of Jamaican dancehall using Shona lyrics.

Dancehall music moved with the times and became a slightly different form of roots reggae music. It is a new genre of Jamaican popular music — a more sparse version of reggae. It is characterised by faster rhythms which are mainly due to digital instrumentation from computers.

It also speaks on politics and religion as most dancehall artistes are often heard chanting “Jah! Rastafari” but some of these artistes are not directly committed to the teachings of Rastafari. Artistes associated with dancehall music include Sizzla, Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Bounty Killer and Capleton.

Despite the religious beliefs, quite a number of dancehall artistes have been known to be associated with violence and anti-homosexual (battyman) lyrics. They have been criticised by many international organisations for preaching hatred. The anti-homosexual stance is quite popular in Jamaica but it moves away from the great teachings of people like Bob Marley  who preached peace, love and harmony to all  mankind.

The only Zimbabwean reggae band that has stuck with roots music since 1988 to this day is Transit Crew whose members include Munya Nyemba, Samaita Zindi and Anthony Liba.

Whether roots reggae has a future in Zimbabwe is a question of wait and see as more roots reggae bands such as Herbal Roots and House of Stone have come on the scene lately.

After a break from recording in the 1990s, they returned, releasing a new album in 2002 and continuing to play concerts as of 2013.

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