A FEW weeks ago, the country’s social media streets were abuzz with what I call the “resurrection act” of one self-styled prophet and, to some folks, a sacrilegious poseur.
This act was the act of reviving the career of one of Zimbabwe’s more gifted artistes of that generation of musicians for whom some of my colleagues coined the misnomer “urban grooves” tag in the attempt to define the musical output thereof.
But the real thrust of the column this week is based on what I have suggested before in my writing that Zimbabwe is a society that is dazed or transfixed by a left-right combination of cudgels from prophets and politicians.
Apparently, the dominant figures in our popular culture are either so-called prophets or politicians and that is perhaps a sad indictment of our society.
The artistes seem to be mere props on the makeshift stage of our politicians and celebrity clergy. Thus it was in the past few weeks that the real star of the hoopla surrounding the musical exploits of one very talented artiste was the money bags pulling the strings. Stay with me.
As the 2000s dawned, they coincided with the arrival of a political maverick in the guise of the controversial Professor Jonathan Moyo in his first incarnation as minister of Information.
As he dazzled and mesmerised Zimbabweans with his acerbic wit and verbosity in fronting the ruling party’s programmes, he evoked admiration and hate in equal measure.
Soon, the country was about to see the unraveling of his full skill set as a political spindoctor of Joseph Goebbels’ stature.
His coming to office was marked by a policy pronouncement regarding the 75% local content requirement on radio stations which set the stage for what became an avalanche of mostly copycat and sometimes surprisingly quality pop ditties from the so-called urban groovers amongst which was one Rockford Josphats.
Rockford, or Roki as he is currently known, has in recent weeks been the subject of much chatter because of the meteoric surge in viewership numbers for his latest musical release which featured Congolese legend Koffi Olomide and Ray Vanny from Tanzania.
The numbers were staggering to most because they did not appear organic enough. They appeared to have been engineered or paid for, approaching the two million views mark a couple of days after the song’s release.
Still, the ones not paid for were large enough to still elicit the buzz around the song across the board. Zimbabweans were divided amongst those who felt that Roki deserved the attention because of his obvious talent.
Some felt that his association with Java was suspect if only because Java is on record as endorsing the regime. It is his right as much as it is the right of his critics to slam him. It is fair game in politics for people to attack those they deem to be representing what they are dead set against.
The column is not going to delve much into the nitty gritties of the controversy but the underpinning discourse around the nexus of politics, religion and art in our society.
From days of old, music has always played an inspirational role in political mobilisation and perhaps no one understood the theory and practice more than Moyo as he utilised the government coffers to fund the jingles that helped galvanise Zanu PF supporters to support the land reform programme.
But that “Hondo Yeminda” project was predated by the works of guerillas during the liberation struggle such as Light Machine Gun Choir and the likes of Dickson “Cde Chinx” Chingaira. Moyo introduced galas where several of these youthful singers featured.
Roki, Sandra, Sku, Pax Afro (Moyo’s very own band) and others who have since faded into oblivion provided the lulling soundtrack for that generation…It caused them to fall into a deep political slumber.
I mean they were singing to each other and for each other those love songs which I knew would not really amount to export quality material.
But it was effective in giving the generation a toy to mess with whilst the nation convulsed in political turmoil. That is my take on that period. A whole swathe of our society was lulled into slumber.
Defending a dubious legacy
So it was no surprise to me when Moyo came to Roki’s defence as people criticised him for the song Patati Patata.
There is a sense in which Roki is a creature of Moyo’s imagination because he, along with others, flourished and benefitted from the inordinate amount of exposure on ZTV and Moyo’s politically charged music galas.
Like Sandra Ndebele doing her splits to stunned audiences, Roki captured the popular imagination with songs such as Seiko, Chidzoka and Aiyaho.
His talent was indisputable and with Delani Makhalima prodigiously releasing them from his Galaxy Entertainment stable, for a season it seemed these musicians could do no wrong.
They thrived and I imagine even the music royalty-collecting society Zimura had a torrid time signing checks for them.
I do not doubt Moyo’s genius at spindoctoring. Few do. But the biggest criticism for him was how he used the musicians as fodder for his political project of mass mobilisation, helped in no small part by the fact that Moyo himself is a musician with one or two decent compositions to his name. I will argue that Roki owes a lot to Makhalima and Moyo’s creative and political handling.
Religion, opium still?
In principle, religion should make people more humane. It should refine their basest instincts. So when we begin to see a preacher or a so-called prophet behaving like a charlatan or money-grabbing grifter then questions arise. But why the fixation with these types?
There is credit that Zimbabweans must take for the rise of these people. I mean what is a church without congregants?
Is it the superstitious bent of our people or the politically-induced poverty or what? Somehow, over time, different religious types have preened and pranced upon our socio-cultural stage and for a season seized our attention.
In the past we have had Uebert Angel, Magaya, Makandiwa and now Java with his social media-hogging ways…Of these prophets, Angel is perhaps the first to actively package himself in as glamorous a fashion as has Java has, thereby feeding the apparent curiosity and hunger of our people for the shiny and frivolous things.
How else should one explain the phenomen or tendency? Consider the popularity, in the past there was the late Boniface Muponda and Robert Gumbura with their miracle baby-making and womanising ways hogging the limelight whilst the late Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirayi did their bit in politics to provide the nation with drama.
Recently, a 14-year-old girl died at a Johane Marange apostolic sect shrine.
At 14 she was still a child, but someone made her his wife and she died from pregnancy-related complications and presumably was buried at the shrine! This despite the country’s laws proscribing child marriage or intercourse with minors for that matter.
But how have these churches carried on with impunity? Some say it is because of political protection. It is a plausible explanation for a country in which the law enforcement always “gets its man” if it so wishes.
After much noise from activists and members of society alike, police finally released a statement to the effect that the predator had been arrested.
But there it is: the dirty open secret of our society all in the name of religion. I dare not even use the name of God in this example. Simply religion, which in my definition is man’s way of accessing the divine and not necessarily what God mandated.
What of the others?
Where are the entrepreneurs and the innovations that produced life-altering products and services? Where is our fixation with them? Why do we seem enamoured with politicians and prophets? The other day, I saw Emmanuel Makandiwa canvassing his followers for US$1 000 each.
He was targeting 5 000 followers. I wonder if he has reached his target. He called the offering “seed of honour”. I found myself chuckling as I watched the video clip which was circulating on social media. I mention this not because I do not believe in God. I just marvel that it is possible to do that and actually rake in the desired loot. I mean, this is our society with all its idiosyncrasies. Heaven help us.
Up till we learn to seek the practical and excellent in our midst, we may always be chasing mirages. But there is no water in a mirage.
Our artistes can continue with their antics which mimic Animal Farm’s Minimus who was used by the pig government to hypnotise the animals on the farm with music.
Our prophets and shysters may always be taking the money off the gullible and superstitious through sleight of hand shenanigans.
Our politicians may always be on the campaign trail, living for the next plebiscite, because their power and the largesse of it depend on remaining in office for as long as Mugabe did and for as long as Uganda’s Museveni is still doing.
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