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Young 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 had arrived.

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 shortages.

"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 Movement.

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 and strong."

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 activists everyday.

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.

Harare-based 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 his position.

"And Mugabe having himself led an armed political revolution, knows the game of silencing dissent extremely well."

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