I adored the soulful action on Thursday nights. Lovemore Majaivana could do the classic leg shuffle and shimmy with resourceful elegance noticeably better than the self-styled godfather of soul James Brown and Prince Roger Nelson ever could. So although I could not understand what Umoya Wami was about, the excruciating and impassioned sensations Majaivana crafted caressed this tender soul of mine and made me feel enthusiastically human and one hundred percent Zimbabwean.
By Tafi Mhaka
His music transcended racial boundaries and created a rich and infectious landscape upon which a broad cultural identity and national ethos could be carefully painted on. The clean and sweet pop rhythms Majaivana composed colored the soul and fabric of civilization in timeless melodies that countless vocalists could only dream of making. While Thomas Mapfumo had shaped an extraordinary mbira infused beat upon creative, ethnic representations of African culture and tradition and national freedom, Majaivana brought a certain and unrelenting energy to entertainment that made the musical scene an undeniably electrifying and unifying force.
So could Oliver Mtukudzi: his loud and reflective cries on Jeri evoked painful sentiment and reminded us all of the man-made umbilical cords that tie brothers and sisters from different mothers. His condemnation of death in Madzongonyedze and Seiko Mwari moved us to tears and transported the sad realizations of our last breaths closer to home.
Where Mtukudzi made us sob and feel human and vulnerable and shoulder the unsolicited burden of undeniable mortality with fearful and unenviable reluctance, Safirio Madzikatire made us laugh and feel alive through the bizarre and excitable character of being an awkward, scheming and humble Zimbabwean. The set upon which the Mukadota series was filmed could have cost Z$500. Yet nobody can ever calculate the happiness Madzikatire inspired in the masses.
His routines could rival and outclass luminaries of the stage and screen like Redd Foxx and Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy without a shadow of doubt. The talented band of actors who accompanied him could definitely match and surpass the entertainers behind Sarafina and Ipi Tombi in South Africa. So while the TV show allowed Madzikatire the space to amass a national audience, his onstage enactments lent him the ingenious liberty to shine: the multi-talented actor who had been raised in Mbare could sing and act with matchless method and movement.
Zimbabwe oozed with talent then. When you needed one hot number for Christmas, Leonard Dembo continually stepped up. We danced along to Chitekete on exciting and unforgettable Christmas nights and fun-filled New Year holidays. You could not walk along Cameron Street in downtown Harare and all the way down to the flyover bridge that leads to Mbare without the perfect ode to the women of our dreams coloring the way.
It would not have been the Cameroon Street the people loved if it lacked that blazing Barura Express flavor. It would not have been the Zimbabwe hundreds of thousands of backpacking tourists from overseas loved so much without the sounds produced in Grammar Studios. Soulful expression ultimately became the quintessential realization of the beliefs etched in the preamble to the constitution and helped foster social and economic diversity. As Cont Mhlanga lifted township theatre from the dusty streets of Makokoba into the professional realm and made Amakhosi Theatre Productions a household name locally and abroad, Majaivana bridged the inglorious distance and innate inaccessibility that existed between different tribes.
He helped those of us who listened to his music feel and identify as one mixed nation through sound while Zimbabwe ambled down a long and painful path when our freed souls suffered catastrophic complications in the Matabeleland massacres. Nonetheless, the hopeful feeling that the nation could overcome a million and one woes fueled ceaseless determination. Our dream for social and economic equity forever seemed close and achievable through the Unity Accord.
Nothing lasts forever though. The music died when Leonard Dembo and James Chimombe departed earth and left us behind. The Marxist Brothers became no more forever when Simon Chimbetu disappeared behind the Boterekwa he had long feared to navigate alone. The laughter morphed into low, feeble expressions of despair and sadness when Mukadota became the main stand-up comedy show in the unassailable heavenly afterlife. Along with political actors like Sidney Makokoba and Edgar Tekere, the expressive happiness treasured by many, and the Zimbabwean dream, fell six feet deep into the fertile soil when defeatist and narrow-minded political showmanship and financial unaccountably birthed and pampered unparalleled selfishness throughout the land.
The scandalous anomalies of societal inequities that were illuminated through the nefarious actions of Samson Paweni and Kumbirai Kangai and the looting of the War Vets Compensation Fund never resonated with the disenfranchised masses as much as they should have. Yet the seeds of ear-splitting disapproval began to sound when Leonard Karikoga Zhakata released his magnum opus in 1994. Mugove should have become an ironic reminder of the cynical wails of marginalized and religiously loyal masses, but we looked inward and found a renewed love for all-things Zimbabwean and brushed aside signs that economic and social disaster loomed with blissful indifference. We simply buried our disfigured souls deep in the notes of African cultural identity and abilities.
Where popular artists had found it near impossible to fill venues across the country, a fresh appetite for local entertainment thrust local acts to untold riches and fame. Mtukudzi experienced an excellent renaissance that made him a world acclaimed African artist after he released Tuku Music. The so-called Borrowdale dance Alick Macheso popularised along with Nicholas Zakaria and the Khiama Boys brought an exhilarating taste of growth point life and rural culture into urban mainstream society. We could dance until sunrise on Friday nights while Macheso commanded his band and stage presence much like the consummate blend and resurrection of Fela Kuti and Jimi Hendrix and John Chibadura.
But the inharmonious and animated aftershocks of corruption and societal discrepancy had become loud and clear enough for all to hear and see when Mapfumo released his finest piece of social commentary: Mamvemve. The production on the Chimurenga song is absolutely brilliant and the lyrics encapsulate the poor man and woman’s struggle like no other song has ever done – and rather unquestionably, Mamvemve remains the best six and half minutes of nostalgic evaluation and melodic nirvana that will ever charm Zimbabwean airwaves. Perhaps Dembo summed up African life in his hit song Kukura Hakutane extremely well and life in Zimbabwe is sincerely synonymous with poverty and hardship and economic failure.
Music has lost its political voice now and the new generation of artists have largely drifted from serious social commentary and become fixated on love and relationships and money. Sanii Makhalima and Nox Guni have excelled as the ultimate crooners and Tocky Vibes has represented the heartbeat of township life with distinction. Winky D has become the voice of a youthful Zimbabwean dancehall generation and Jah Prayzah has grown into a continental revelation.
As the music plays on without sober reflections on the turbulent times we live in: who will stand up and release a song about the three million economic exiles scattered in the diaspora? When will a present-day rendition of Mamvemve be released? There must be a lifetime of drama and heartache to sing about now. Zimbabwe has become a drama-filled nation of questionable moralities and dubious financial legalities. If you had fallen asleep fifteen years ago and woken up last night you might still be at a loss of words now over the social and economic and moral degeneration Zimbabwe has produced in a few years.
The social media phenomenon that is Olinda Chapel occupies a special place in the heart and soul of Zimbabwean life. So does Zodwa Wabantu now, and only for her nakedness and raunchy dance routines. None of the above-mentioned social influencers are acclaimed actors but the more elaborate their lives become the more people watch and cheer on like fanatical fans who cannot get enough of wild American Reality TV shows like the Jerry Springer Show.
Nobody can hate on the Kim Kardashian appeal and street savvy game Olinda and Zodwa flaunt, but Zimbabwe has serious social and economic challenges to solve, and can ill-afford fanciful and exorbitant distractions that add up to hot air every day. Life must be superb when everyone can conveniently forget that the Economist Intelligence Unit now rates Harare as one of the ten least liveable cities in the world. The Global Liveability Report released last week by the Economist appraised critical factors such as crime and healthcare and food and public transport and the quality of life in the capital city.
So life must be wonderful when the Zimbabwean dream is dead in the Zambezi River and London and Dallas and Johannesburg have become endless extensions of our shameful and low flying spirits. Air Zimbabwe used to fill a special void in the national consciousness and make the nation proud. Air Zimbabwe TV adverts showcased the best of Zimbabwean communities and cultures and national parks and wildlife. Now the national airline is the unhealthiest representation of Zimbabwean economic regression and stagnation parked on the runway of OR Tambo International Airport.
But remember the material bonds that exist between the constitution and shared manifestations of emancipation? The preamble to the constitution remains clear about our national objectives: fairness and honesty and equality and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms should be the basic principles that the nation abides by. But the nation is beating a low-spirited song of disgraceful inequality and hopelessness and imprisoned liberties in 45 million ways. Who has obliterated the soulful heartbeat of Zimbabwe?