Zimdancehall, the law and sexual innuendo

I remember back in the day when I was just a 20-year-old college boy trying, with little success, to charm a next-door girl in my hood, and I got myself into some serious trouble in the process.


The girl was still in high school, doing her A’ Levels, but was already showing signs she was growing into a fine young woman who had it all — beautiful brown eyes, coral-black hair, lilac soft lips, glossy dark skin, and she carried her wasp-waisted body with some kind of an elegance that melted my young self.

So, whenever I got the chance to talk to her, or walk her down the street – something that made me feel like a king among all the other boys — she told me she loved music.

The trouble started when I decided to steal a DVD from one of my brothers’ collection and I gave it to my prospective bae as a gift.

This was an unmarked DVD that I had never seen my brother play, and it was right on the bottom of the pile, so I assumed he had forgotten about it.

“I am going to play it right away,” the girl said. Little did I know the DVD was a collection of X-rated music videos, including R Kelly and Jay Z’s Fiesta in which girls dance topless.

Before long, my girl’s mother was at our house, the DVD in her hand, demanding to know why I gave her daughter an X-rated DVD.

This alerted my brother and the whole thing escalated. I was heavily reprimanded and I lost my girl. But that was just the early 2000’s when X-rated content was easy to store away from children.

More than a decade later, with the advent of smartphones that can carry tonnes of videos, relatively affordable internet and unlimited access to any content, the gates have been broken, and the old ways of censorship do not work effectively anymore.

Had it been now, I would have simply sent the music videos to my prospective girl on Whatsapp and no one else would have known!

Which is why it is quite curious how dancehall musician Seh Calaz would be fined for contravening the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act for recording a not-so-explicit song, Hohwa.

Seh Calaz was fined under the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act (Chapter 10:04 that regulates and controls the public exhibition of films; importation, production, dissemination and possession of undesirable or prohibited video and film material, publications, pictures, statues and records; the nature of acceptable public entertainments; and to provide for matters incidental to the foregoing.

In the song, Seh Calaz is clearly talking about sexual conduct, but uses otherwise clean language, and innuendos that can be deciphered or interpreted anyhow.

This is the same with Ricky Fire’s Bedroom Match, a song that can be interpreted to be about a sex date between two people, but again, it is interpretation.

That is what art is about — artistes write lyrics in a way that allows us listeners to interpret in our own way, and unless there are clearly vulgar words, censoring such work of art would be tantamount to stifling artistic creativity.

If all songs with sexual innuendos were to be subjected to the same censorship process, then which artiste would be spared?

Even our forgotten Calisto Nyamhute of the Special Meat fame would be pulled out of his hibernation to face the music, as it were. Boom Betto of the Munodonhedza Musika fame, Tocky Vibes of Ndakundikana, Soul Jah Love’s Ndongosimudza Musoro, among many others, will all be charged.

In addition to the problem that comes with the censorship process, interpreting works of art instead on using factual evidence like the existence of clearly vulgar language, the process itself is way outdated.

In the digital age, copies of artworks are not just physical anymore. Music, videos and other art works are circulating freely on social media platforms, and if there is to be any censorship — of which there is no need — it will not work using the archaic methods.

The very existence of the Censorship Board and the archaic censorship laws in this country is not necessary.

I believe that the government and relevant authorities should move towards establishing a process that allows the categorisation of content based on its rating.

This helps users choose what is best for them, their children in accordance to their values, traditions, customs and other factors that determine choice of content.

This is critical, because as far as I have observed, there is no attempt to do that, even on our national television and radio compared to what other countries.

There is need for the Censorship Board to be reformed, and its modus operandi revised in light of new technological developments and international trends.

Stakeholders’ must push for the modernisation of the laws governing content distribution.

As Seh Calaz — who was convicted and fined $100 — argued, the song in question was a leaked club version. And music can be leaked by anyone over whom the artiste has no control. On Youtube, certain songs have different versions and are classified accordingly to allow users to select their preferred choices.

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