A new breed of brave young female artists is emerging to challenge bad governance risking political persecution by fearlessly tackling intolerant leaders.
Sharp-tongued artists, if they are not arrested or intimidated, are not played by the sole state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), still firmly in the iron grip of Zanu PF.
In electioneering times like this, ahead of the expected general polls next year, all artistic work, especially music with powerful political undertones critical of the rulers, is automatically banned from the airwaves.
The coalition government of President Mugabe and his erstwhile enemy, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T) and the smaller MDC-M faction, led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, has not reformed the broadcasting sector and the aging ruler, in power for 30 years, must be chuckling to himself.
Should a general election take place next year, Zanu PF already finds itself with the upper hand.
In the run-up to the polls the party has always manipulated the ZBC to its advantage, continuously airing nauseating propaganda in the form of partisan music, views and news.
Edith Katiji, a youthful Zimbabwean musician, is a tough-talking artist and one of a kind amongst her generation of female artists whose edifying music is too close to the bone for any notorious leader.
With her all-female cast of young musicians, Katiji has just released her debut album Utonga, which means a new dawn. All but one song on the 10-track compact disc is played on ZBC.
The track that has caused consternation is Hutungamiri, which means “leadership”.
True to satirical artistry Katiji does not name the bad leaders in her music but rather uses the rich tapestry of metaphor to drive her message home.
“I am saying that when we elect people into positions of leadership, it means we want them to move us to a higher level and so we look up to them,” Katiji said in an interview.
She said true leaders were accountable to the people.
“Leaders must tell us where they are taking us. The failure by leaders to consult the people means the leaders are not accountable to us and the result is that the people look elsewhere for new leadership. If leaders are negligent the people abandon them. Certainly there are ground rules that leaders must follow and the people must set those rules. If we allow wayward leaders that can’t be controlled then the people are hurt.”
By blacking out Hutungamiri from the airwaves, said Katiji, ZBC feared the assumption that the song would be viewed as targeting President Mugabe.
“There is need for more radio stations to offer alternative and wider choices to artists and listeners, more stations for the people to speak out. More stations also mean more royalties for us.”
In hard times, especially during heightened political conflict and strife, brave artists in Zimbabwe rise with edifying reflections of bad leadership despite the risk.
“When the police realise you have done a song that is hitting at someone in a position of power, they want to find out who you are and where you are from. Persistence and the guts to stand up and say this is what I want to do is the way for the female artists no matter what anyone is going to say. There are stumbling blocks but the spirit is to stand up and go.”
Katiji said of Zimbabwe’s leadership: “Is the political leadership in Zimbabwe responsive to the people? The parties — all three of them (Zanu PF, MDC-T and MDC M) — are doing what is convenient to them under the circumstances.
If people are being consulted we are yet to see if what we want is going to be done. We are not in a position to say what we want is being done or addressed.”
The female generation of “born-free” artists — those born after Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence from Britain — has clearly steered away from confrontation preferring to use the less hazardous aesthetics of art.
However, the militant Chiwoniso Maraire decided she would sing what she wants regardless of the consequences, as long as the word is out there.
But the Zanu PF machinery is countering all the “stubborn” music and has never been short of cheerleaders of all ages.
Now there is an unprecedented bombardment on the airwaves with songs and musical videos that portray President Mugabe as a squeaky-clean man-of-the-people.
The MDC-T has recorded music glorifying its own agenda but the ZBC will not play the songs.
Tafirei Shumba is a Zimbabwean journalist writing on arts and culture.