Re-tracing the Frenzy of Zimdancehall

Music | By Plot Mhako, Artist | 22 November 2014

They say if you arrive in Harare and spend hours without hearing the sound of Zimdancehall then you have not arrived. This is a testimony of the impact and frenzy that has been created by the music genre whose inspiration is Jamaican dancehall. Over the past two years Zimbabwe has seen a serious proliferation of dancehall artists in every neighbourhood across cities, with studios also mushrooming everywhere solely to record and promote one music style.

Borrowing from the Caribbean island of Jamaica and done in native languages, Zimdancehall has a distinct melody which can be equated to poetry over beat. The history of its rise dates back to the early days of independence, from a time when reggae legend Bob Marley performed at Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations thus sparking a wave that saw Zimbabwe ‘converting’ into a reggae nation.

Similar to the Jamaican scene, Ragga and Reggae clubs and sound systems grew popular in the early 90s, creating  a firm foundation for what today is being termed Zimdancehall.
Dancehall DJs and sound systems such as Jah B of Stereo One, Jackie B of Silverston, King Alfred of New Generation, Templeman of RoughMix and Munya of Alkembulani among others, are credited for promoting dancehall and giving upcoming artists a chance to showcase during what they termed MC contest where one would toast lyrical on a dub version. Unfortunately only a handful of artists managed to break through into the mainstream music scene. However they still needed a seasoned artist to carry them on their back to get the limelight. This saw artists like Potato growing popular after a stint with the late Andy Brown and superstar Oliver Mtukudzi, Major E and Booker T with Innocent Utsiwegota and many others who could only spice up the set by making chants on particular songs.

The turn of the century witnessed sound systems enjoying a good share in showbiz and subsequently dying down mid-2000. A lot of music observers and fans concur that  Wallace Chirimuko popularly known as Winky D struck the final match-stick  for the unfolding revolution. The sound system DJ / MC cum TV presenter turned artist is recognised as the most popular and accomplished Dancehall artist to ever emerge from this land. Winky D whose early penchant for violent lyrics, love for the ghetto youth and un-paralleled poetic genius won him a phenomenal audience becoming the most popular urban artist in the country.

The Ninja President or Biggiman as he proudly calls himself has travelled and performed on all continents and still commands a huge following.  Raised in Harare’s Kambuzuma suburb the artist has gone on to set up Vigilance studios and live band which has seen more artists transforming their acts to live instruments, shying away from the backtrack CD culture which has been bemoaned for killing creativity. Today he has transformed his melody and message, churning out more positive lyrics to his fans whilst his critics maintain he rose to fame by singing negative stuff. His music and brand continue to rise, cutting across societal and racial divides, earning him huge contracts and brand ambassadorship for a lot
of organisations.

ZimDancehall took a curiously exciting turn over the past three years churning out a new breed of artists and backyard record labels whose hits got the entire country singing and dancing. Artists like Freeman, Guspy Warrior, Killa T, Seh Calaz, Shinsoman, Lady Squanda, Souljah Luv hailing from “ghetto” communities of Mbare, Chitungwiza, Dzivarasekwa and Highfield among others. This ensuing development saw the genre getting the attention of every citizen and promoters who rushed to get a share of the scene.

Today the culture has grown viral creating frenzy in every city and village thus becoming one of the most influential popular youth culture in Zimbabwean history empowering many young people who are involved in music production, sales, video and promotion business. Many self-taught music producers have set up studios in their bedrooms without proper recording facilities but still able to rock the nation. The now popular ChillSpot records, Gunhill Records, Mt Zion studios are among many makeshift studios whose works defy their setting and incapacity. Last year saw the introduction of the Zimdancehall awards which attracted a lot of corporate support, an encouraging step in recognising and supporting the scene. A lot of Zimdancehall artists continue to tour outside Zimbabwe to entertain their fellow countrymen and foreigners in South Afrika, UK, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the USA.

Nonetheless Zimdancehall has often been castigated for its negative messages and effects on the youths. Many feel that the genre fans drugs, alcoholism and deviant sexual behavior thus affecting societal development and exposing the youths to the deadly HIV virus. Several youthful artists have in the past released songs and videos that are sexually suggestive and encouraging the use of marijuana and violent behavior, an element many believe will bring the music style to its deathbed. Concerns have also been raised on shallow and similar lyrical content that brags about the same thing. Most of the instrumentals commonly known as Riddims have also been condemned for poor instrumentation
and arrangements.

One popular youth organization, the Jibilika Dance Trust has released an HIV awareness ZimDancehall CD titled Positive Riddim which features several prominent artists such as Killa T, Shinsoman, Juwela, Tally B, and flavor of the moment Tocky Vibes among other artists. The institution believes that the music style has the power to positively influence young people and the society therefore the need to engage artists and bring out
positive messages.