HomeNewsDancehall violence-content, substances, or the society to blame

Dancehall violence-content, substances, or the society to blame


Music promoter Partson Chimbodza aka Chipaz is probably the most vilified man in Zim dancehall circles due to the violent scenes that characterised some of his shows at the City Sports Centre in Harare.


The most talked about gig was the Sting 2014 which initially was reported to have claimed lives due to the melee that ensued after the release of teargas in the crowd.

The above mentioned gig besides being well attended had every ingredient of a chaotic show with several revellers being hospitalised after police reportedly threw teargas into the crowd.

Several theories have been peddled as to the way Chipaz organises his gigs as this is not the first time that violence has erupted at his shows but very few people have tried to be as critical as the matter requires them to be on handling it. Because of the freedom that social media affords everyone with access, anyone becomes an authority and falsehoods and theories are sold as facts. At the end of the day half-baked opinions get all the prominence.

There are several issues that one has to look at to understand the vices that dog this new found genre of Zimbabwean art and these range from the music itself to the system.

Zimbabwean ghetto culture

Back in the day, Zimbabwean urban communities were a pot pourri of cultures.

This was encouraged by the diverse backgrounds of families that made the ghetto.

Yet it was people of Malawian, Zambian and Mozambican origins that usually made the biggest communities with cultures that are almost uniform.
Many may remember the Nyau (Zvigure) dancers whose activities were often misconstrued to border on black magic and witchcraft due to the secrecy they maintained.

As time passed into the new millennium, a few hardliners who are in some instances regarded backward have remained to practice this culture as modernity has overtaken customs.

Passa Passa and the birth of Zim Dancehall

But that same concept of gathering people for night vigils while drums are being played by energetic youths while others gyrate on the dance floor showing immense skill returned in another form.

Largely inspired by the Jamaican dancehall culture, this new movement has been called Zim dancehall.

Initially, it was dominated by financially challenged youths that gathered at street corners in high density suburbs like Mbare singing freestyle while beats were provided by makeshift drums and plastic containers.

As time lapsed they borrowed more from the Jamaican Passa Passa and a small sound system was introduced to make sure the growing crowds all could hear clearly what the youths were singing.

Barbara Chikosi aka Mama Red Rose one of the main proponents of Passa Passa said the concept was just aimed at promoting new talent from the ghetto.
“It was free and it was all about the promotion of a new culture that we thought was vibrant,” said Mama Red Rose.

“We even took Capleton to several ghettos for such events and the youths enjoyed and were inspired. We took Passa Passa to as far as Kwekwe and it has helped the growth of dancehall music.”

Violence, sex and drugs

In some cases, the idea was to find the new king or queen of the game from the ghetto and that often culminated in clashes in which the audience is the judge.
If one wows the crowd they take the crown with them, but violence was pretty normal at such events – so was sex.

Then came a period when the youths felt they had grown too big for their respective communities and Passa Passa.

This gave birth to clashes between youths from different suburbs and that was not too far away from the time at which the violent clashes became more rampant.
To earn the crown and the most cheers, each participant brought with them a crowd from their own home ground.

Eventually, as the artistes’ popularity grew, that too became too small as they were now big enough to fill community halls like Stodart Hall in Mbare where Zim dancehall was born.

Luciano, Capleton, Sizzla Kalonji and Mavado among others then came to Zimbabwe and they endorsed Zimbabwe as new power house of dancehall.

Together with the Akon and Sean Paul gig at the national Sports Stadium, that has changed the face of Zimbabwean showbiz.

Positive as it may have sounded, the amount of hate language, sex, drugs and violence went unchecked.

Parents in the ghetto who had been seeing the unemployed youths idle in their communities were happy the youths were at least occupied.
Backyard studios and the diminishing role of the gatekeeper

Then too; the number of backyard studios mushroomed which at face value is a plus as it is next to impossible to get a recording deal for a dancehall artiste at any local label.

Yet the role of the gatekeeper disappeared.

Almost everything and anything can now find itself recorded.

Many will attest the amount of unfathomable lyricism they have had to listen to.

These lyrics made sure radio stations were inaccessible for the youths because of their lurid, violent lyricism.

The situation has been compounded by the apparent poor capacity of the Board of Censors, whose operations have remained stuck in the bygones.

Interestingly, due to the nature of their music, this has again triggered an intense anger in most of the youths who have become rebellious and no matter how correct one’s advice is; as long as you go against their views you fall out.

You become a “bomboclat”.

Now some of these artistes from Pasa Pasa have grown to become national treasure, show organisers see value in them yet even the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe concedes it does not have a clear policy to deal with this new phenomenon.

Elvas Mari, the NACZ director soon after the Sting 2014 debacle said he did not think it was necessary for the council to have a policy on violence.
“Violence is a non-debatable issue and we do not need a policy. The law deals with that and we do not necessarily need to have a policy on violence,” said Mari.

The solution

Music professor Fred Zindi in October held a seminar on the negative effects of dancehall music on the society. Despite the important notations made by the panel that included scribe Robert Mukondiwa, Winky D’s manager Jonathan Banda and Pastor Charles Charamba it remained apparent the majority of Zim dancehall practitioners were unwilling to reform.

Zindi dancehall music had started off as a fast paced genre that follows one loop and musicians just come and chant over that riddim.

“With high unemployment figures on the horizon due to the collapse in the bauxite and sugar cane industries, dancehall became alternative employment for the youths. All the Jamaican ghetto youths found an opportunity to become instant music stars through this simple music,” said Zindi.

He said at the youths in Jamaica did not record the sexual lyrics which they chanted in the dance halls.

“With the popularity of DJ music, they felt it was time to record these crude words which they chanted over the mike. The energy in the dance halls became very sexual, with increasingly revealing clothing, scandalous dance styles, and cruder lyrics from the DJs,” said Zindi.

He said the emergence of backyard studios has also made it easy for crude lyricism to be recorded.

“Conscious Reggae used to be showcased through reggae Sunsplash. However when Sunsplash was eclipsed by Sting, another culture from the ghetto emerged. I
witnessed for the first time in my life, respectable reggae artistes such as Bunny Wailer being booed off the stage and being pelted with beer cans,” he said.

“They said that music was too old fashioned. Ragga was the in thing. This is the culture which Zim dancehall artistes and fans are trying to adopt. We can only solve it by continuous education through workshops and seminars like the one we held recently.”

There are several issues that need to be taken seriously if the genre is to bring any good to society instead of this disintegration that it has proven to be efficient in.

It would be naïve to look at Zim dancehall aloof from the Jamaican dancehall scene.

The Magnum Sting 2014 in Jamaica that was held on Boxing Day was also cut short after scenes of violence and Zimbabwean dancehall version is not a creation of saints.

Passive assimilation of any culture has always been detrimental and it is best to treat Zim dancehall with caution and not let it dilute or instead overtake the behaviour of the society’s youths.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading