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Zimbabwe rebel artists take on Mugabe
Tafirei Shumba, ZimOnline
November 22, 2007
The rugged youths sporting
dreadlocks under tight bandannas looked like any other Harare teen-boppers
as they walked casually into Book Café, a restaurant in the
city's Avenues area.
But within minutes electric
instrumentals of heavy rock 'n' roll, ragga and hip-hop music exploded
literally tearing apart the small cultural venue. The ragamuffins
A closer attention to
the hard-hitting lyrics and satirical poetry accompanying the rhythms
revealed the young artists were not Harare's usual teen-boppers
who hang around town lazily humming tunes.
The lyrics, own compositions
by the youthful artists, which Harare's paranoid government would
certainly not wish too many people to hear boomed: "The revolution
is right here . . . the revolution is right now. The revolution
is right now . . . the revolution is right here."
The next 90 minutes of
music, poetry and dance were to introduce a new breed of brazenly
courageous young artists adapting artistic metaphor to infer a particular
political line tackling head-on the excesses of President Robert
Mugabe's controversial rule.
Mugabe, 83, who has ruled
Zimbabwe since its 1980 independence from Britain is blamed for
plunging the southern African country into unprecedented economic
meltdown, marked by the hyperinflation, deepening poverty and food
"Government is manipulating
the arts and culture for propaganda to brainwash the nation and
we are coming in to challenge that and liberate our people's mental
perceptions of reality," the tough-talking youthful poet and
rapper Sam Farai Monro, one of the pioneers of the rebel music and
poetry genre, told ZimOnline.
The musical and poetry
performances, ineffable in every artistic sense, would probably
sound unconvincing to the uninitiated for the complex and rare way
the productions are arranged to blend with Western rhythms.
But it is the militant
lyrics calling for justice, human freedom, democracy and good governance
that clearly hit too close to Mugabe's bone and will likely cause
some consternation at State House - the official presidential palace.
The rebel performers
are taking their music and poetry to the townships not merely for
entertainment but also to engage the masses in the arts and culture
"as a tool for liberation".
Launched at the weekend,
the rebel arts initiative is using music and poetry plus theatre
as alternative artistic expression in light of the aggressive state
propaganda that has now been sharpened ahead of next year's joint
presidential and legislative elections.
Already musical jingles,
prating over government benevolence to new farmers by doling out
farm machinery and equipment, have been released to state radio
where they are playing with nauseating frequency.
Mugabe's ruling ZANU
PF is campaigning on the strength of the free farm machinery and
equipment that have been received mainly by government supporters
in a season touted by Harare "the mother of all farming seasons".
Said Monro: "Our
performances are acknowledging that there is a struggle that has
to be fought in Zimbabwe. We are fighting a pro-freedom and pro-democracy
battle because we are not free."
The artists, most of
them unemployed school leavers from poor working class townships,
are an outstanding breed of "born frees" - those born
after Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in April 1980 but who
have refused to be coerced into Mugabe's pet project, the 21st February
The movement that is
named after Mugabe's birthday, he was born on 21 February 1924,
is used to feed youths one-sided nationalist propaganda that does
not encourage free debate and generally idolises Mugabe as ultimate
defender of black freedom.
Monroe admits the risks
of refusing to conform but says the fear of a possible government
backlash is never a major preoccupation of the young rebels.
"Yes, the thought
of fear comes sometimes but we certainly don't work with fear in
our minds," he said, adding: "We are championing this
cause because we are the youths and the future . . . we are courageous
Courage and strength
are qualities the youths will certainly need in larger dosages especially
as Mugabe steps up a crackdown against Zimbabwe's small but bold
protest art industry and other voices of dissension ahead of key
presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
Mugabe, one of the few
remaining of Africa's old style Big-Man rulers, has often warned
that anyone who dared involve themselves in politics should expect
to be treated accordingly as a politician - meaning they should
be prepared for the same violence and harassment meted out to opposition
For example, Mugabe has
in recent months dispatched his Gestapo-style Central Intelligence
Organisation (CIO) - which reports directly to his office - to crush
student activism and dissent at state universities.
And critical arts and
culture remain threatened with dozens of theatrical performances
having been harassed over the past three months while music by militant
artists like Leonard Zhakata and Thomas Mapfumo remains banned from
state television and radio. On the other hand, government praise
singers enjoy unlimited airplay.
cultural activist and author Obert Muronda said: "Politicians
don't like to be criticised and Mugabe is no exception. He (Mugabe)
will treat diverging views and opinion with a heavy hand to protect
"And Mugabe having
himself led an armed political revolution, knows the game of silencing
dissent extremely well."
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