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singer packs protest punch
Mail & Guardian (SA)
October 29, 2007
Viomak's velvety voice
drifts through the air like a lullaby on a gentle breeze. But her
protest songs pack a punch which could mean jail for anyone caught
listening to them in her native Zimbabwe.
The tunes bluntly demand
an end to President Robert Mugabe's rule and belong to Zimbabwe's
tradition of protest music that her fans say give hope and comfort
to the country's suffering masses.
"Voices are saying
'Mugabe it is time to leave office'. Everyone is calling: 'leave
now, the time is up'," 41-year-old Viomak and a chorus of young
Zimbabwean women sang at a recent protest outside Zimbabwe's embassy
But Viomak -- who declines
to give her real name, for fear of reprisals against her family
in Zimbabwe -- said her message must be delivered gently. "I'll
be asking God to come in and intervene in our situation in Zimbabwe.
... That's why it's sort of quiet or soft," she adds.
A former teacher in Zimbabwe
who has gained political asylum in Britain, Viomak is among a handful
of Zimbabwean protest musicians like Thomas Mapfumo, Raymond Majongwe,
Leonard Zhakata, Hosiah Chipanga, and Paul Madzore.
"She is my favourite,"
said Bridget Tapuwa, a Belgium-based Zimbabwean activist and writer
who promotes and distributes Viomak's work.
Tapuwa said that Viomak
knows how to reach Zimbabweans, most of whom are devout Christians,
by articulating a political message with biblical undertones.
"They really feel
God is with her. They feel hope," Tapuwa said when contacted
by telephone in Brussels.
Itai Mushekwe of the
Zimbabwe Independent weekly newspaper, who is staying in Germany
as he fears reprisals back home, said Viomak and Mapfumo are probably
Zimbabwe's leading protest artists. Mapfumo lives in the United
"Protest music is
increasingly becoming the only weapon to confront the Mugabe regime's
abuse of power following the fragmentation of the opposition in
Zimbabwe, believed to have been engineered by the country's intelligence
service," the arts and political journalist said in an email.
Ephraim Tapa, chairperson
of the Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) in the United Kingdom, the umbrella opposition force, said
protest music is as important now as it was during the struggle
against white rule in the 1970s.
"To those who were
in the bush, fighting for the liberation of the country, it motivated
them, it energised them," Tapa said in London.
"Music in Zimbabwe
is part and parcel of the social fabric."
Tapa said musicians like
Viomak -- a pseudonym forged from her first name Violah and part
of her surname -- should be "saluted" for their courage
in challenging the Mugabe regime.
Viomak has indeed skirted
After spending five years
in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada, she and her husband sneaked back
into Zimbabwe from Botswana in August 2006 by bribing Zimbabwean
security guards and a bus conductor.
For four months she lived
on the outskirts of Harare and travelled clandestinely into the
capital to record two of her albums at a studio before finally fleeing
permanently to England.
"I would travel
by day and put on sunglasses and put on a hat," Viomak recalled.
her husband, who joined her with their two sons in May in the central
English city of Birmingham, sold 7 000 CDs from the albums Happy
82nd Birthday President RG Mugabe and Happy 83rd President RG Mugabe.
She also distributed
her work through the offices of the sympathetic MDC in Zimbabwe,
but does not know how many were sold. "I didn't even bother
to check because I was risking my life," she said.
Her experience highlights
the enormous odds in selling her music to Zimbabweans at home or
even in exile, particularly the many in South Africa and Botswana.
Half of the proceeds go to charity.
Zimbabweans can only
listen to her music furtively as they all fear the omnipresent agents
of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
The air waves are state-run,
radio stations in exile are jammed, internet cafés are monitored,
shops are banned from selling her music and borders are so tight
it is hard to smuggle in large numbers of compact discs, they say.
"The CIOs are also
in fact now scattered over in all countries especially in South
Africa and they wear sheep's clothing, making it very difficult
for anyone to easily recognise them," Tapuwa added.
George Murevesi, an opposition
writer who is seeking asylum in Britain, believes the best strategy
is to vastly increase her listeners among exiles in South Africa
who could then smuggle in her music one by one.
The more Viomak CDs in
the country the more difficult it will be to crack down on everyone,
he said from the Scottish city of Glasgow.
with Viomak to release a new album on February 21 2008, for Mugabe's
84th birthday, Murevesi suggests that Viomak inject an urban beat
into some of her songs to attract a younger audience.
He is thrilled to work
"She is a pioneer
in the protest movement in Zimbabwe. Before her, or even at this
date, there is no other musician who is so critical of the status
quo on the ground in Zimbabwe," Murevesi said.
"We do have some
male counterparts who are doing the same but they're not as blunt
as she is," he said. - Sapa-AFP
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