Let the voices be heard -Conscious reggae, dance-hall and hip- hop on the rise: Repositioning Zimbabwe on the global musical landscape
By Collence Chisita
Zimbabwe’s musical landscape has never been the same since the late and great Robert Nesta Marley graced the independence celebrations on the 18th of April , 1980 as he belted out hits from the album “Survival” which features the classical track Zimbabwe. Chitando (2007) noted that Robert Nesta Marley, the incomparable reggae artist provided the most enthralling and inspiring entertainment at the Independence Day celebrations on 18 April 1980. According to the writer the late Bob Marley was viewed as the paragon of resistance to oppression through his inspirational music “…a music of blood, black-reared, pain-rooted, heart-geared” (Bancroft 1992:16) welcomed the dawn of a new era. Since then the reggae, dancehall and hiphop genres have become the favorites of many cutting across race, gender, class and age. Bob Marley’s majestic visit opened doors and pathways to other international artists from the different parts of the globe including the Caribbean. It is against this inspiring background that Sharon Rue ( Sharon Rutendo Makovere), Rodney King, Carter King , Edwinson Tawanda Musiyiwa ( ETM), Jah Ricks, Dreamer and Fire were born and raised as the article will explore. What is unique about this trio is that they are trying to build on from the foundation built by other legendary musicians from Zimbabwe, for example, the late Aleck Machesu Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo among too many to mention.
First, the rising conscious reggae Empress, Sheron Rue hails from Triangle which is sugar-cane plantation town in Zimbabwe. The musical chanteuse discovered her talent as a singer at school. Her entry into high school provided her an opportunity to join the school choir not knowing that one day she would sing reggae music. Sheron Rue’s inspiration came from her parents who were influenced by top-notch reggae conscious Jamaican singers who visited Zimbabwe after independence, for example, Bob Marley, Don Carlos, Joseph Hill and Culture, I Jah Man, Abacush, Eric Donaldson, Peter Tosh among many others. Sister Rue as she is affectionately known in the music circles recalls the songs her parents used to listen to, namely; Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, I Jah man Levi, Eric Donaldson, Culture, Burning Spear, Yami Bolo, Hugh Mundell, King Yellowman among many other legendary reggae foundation singers. According to Sister Rue she didn’t understand the patois lyrical content of the conscious reggae played by her parents. She recalls her grandmother crocheting reggae regalia including hats and scarfs for the Rastafarian community in Zimbabwe while blasting reggae beats from the amplifier. The rising reggae songstress never imagined that one day she would be singing reggae and that her music would be heard beyond Zimbabwe. It was while at the University of Zimbabwe, that she began to do backing vocals for a local jazz superstar from Zimbabwe known as Tanga WeKwa Sando. This exposure gave her confidence that she could go solo and carve her musical niche in the reggae industry. Her resolve to embark on a solo journey was further strengthened by her involvement with a church musical groups under the tutelage of top ranking producer Lazzie T.
Sister Rue’s inspiration to sing reggae was also inspired by listening to reggae from the musical studio in Harare. She states that when she listened to reggae as a mature woman brought and reignited her love for music as a unifying factor during family gatherings “ .. the music brought this calming effect, unity and love… something rarely done since through time family members move to different places… the calming effect of reggae inspired me to the extent that I felt I should move into reggae music …” Rue cited Etana as one of her inspirations as a reggae singer. She had high accolades for the Jamaican singer Etana whom she described as “….she has got a voice that penetrates the heart like cupid’ s arrow and by watching her videos I learned so much… Her voice speaks maturity… no matter what she is singing her voice flows naturally like a natural mystic and you feel every emotion”
While many young people in Zimbabwe are singing one of the most popular genre known as Zim dance hall, Rue has chosen conscious reggae as her new genre of conquest. She sings about her daily experiences as a struggling but confident woman and she strongly believes that her experiences and message in her music appeals to people undergoing or experiencing same phenomenon. Rue is a Godly woman who cherishes peace, love and harmony for all the people in the world irrespective of race or gender or class. The rising reggae songstress is yet to launch her roots rock loaded album but she has released a number of singles that cover a variety of social issues.
Sister Rue has recently launched the single and video called “ Rise” which is great song that thanks the Heavenly powers for blessing us with life as we rise each and every day. As a God fearing woman she acknowledges the power of God in each individual human being’s life. Sister Rue with her sweet melodic voice encourages people to rise and face the day knowing that God can do anything. The video depicts life in the ghetto of Harare. Her other single “Shine your life “emphasises that God or Jah is the redeemer, comforter, provider, protector and blesser. She humbly submits herself to Jah the provider as she sings, begs for mercy and blessings as she treads the valley of the shadow as evidenced by her repeated chants “ Jah Jah! Jah!” On the other song “Free indeed” Sister Rue urges people to be set free and fight on the battles of life. The songstress states that nothing comes easy but rather one must be free to chart the new day with confidence. Her voice sounds like a mellifluous melody backed by the dreadful, inspiring rattling and forceful drum and bass background on all her songs. Her harmonious music is complemented by her beauty , heartful and brainy virtues that are visible to the eye , mind , and soul.
When I asked her what her dream was she responded “ …I wish to be on stage performing with world class artists… I wish to perform in Jamaica possibly the popular reggae Rebel Salute and share the stage with reggae greats like Ventrice Morgan aka Queen Ifrica, Shauna McKenzie aka Etana, Tony Rebel, Luciano, Everton Blender, Kerida Johnson aka Hempress Sativa among many others…”. She added that she would like to fit into this global music industry and represent her country Zimbabwe. Having listened to Sister Sharon Rue I have no doubt that she has a bright future in the global reggae industry and hopefully she will be able to collaborate with the already established reggae stars.
While Sharon sings from Zimbabwe, there are Zimbabweans who have crossed the boarders into the diaspora, for example, Rodney King, Carter May and King Aktive among too many to mention. This musical outfit known as the Drip Gang cite Busy Signal, Tupac, Vibes Cartel, Bob Marley, Notorious B.IG.G, Lil Wayne, James Blunt and TI as their source of influence in their musical journey. The trio is based in Pretoria in South Africa. The Drip Gang posse sings and produces music that explores the trials and tribulations of growing up in an African setting whereby the kind hearted grandmother is the caregiver. This motif is expressed in their song entitled” Change of life”. There other song “Man Up” is also a bildungsroman that highlights their journey into music from humble beginnings. The trio’s upcoming album “Many ways of making money” explores the challenges of living a life as a hassler and it’s meant to inspire all the youth to use their minds and energy to uplift themselves.
The aforementioned group also owns a record label “Drip Gang label” with Carter May as the producer. They also have a portfolio for a music video director and fashion designers who share similar interests in art. The upcoming young musicians have done musical collaborations with local Zim dancehall artists from Zimbabwe, for example, Junior Brown and Maskiri The Drip Gang music label records a variety of musical genres including reggae, hip hop, gospel and dancehall. Just like any other upcoming youths, the Drip Gang Trio cited the lack of capital, equipment and international exposure as some of the challenges they are fighting to overcome in their musical journey. The hopeful singers and producers expressed enthusiasm that through time they will realize their noble goal to become internationally recognized musicians and producers. At the end of my short interview with the Drip Gang Posse I was convinced that the upcoming musicians have greater potential that needs to be harnessed and that given adequate support they will be able to position themselves on the international music scene.
My next interviewee was the young Brenna (aka Jah Ricks) as he is popularly known in the music circles. The young man traces his entry into music from 2012 when he teamed up with Fainos (Fire) and Dreamer. The crew that hails from Zimbabwe mining town of Zvishavane sings hip –hop and reggae including dancehall music. The team owns a studio known as “World Trusted Studio” whereby they retreat to when they are not at their full time employment. Jah Ricks and crew sing songs that explore themes relating to peace, love and harmony, good parenting , family cohesion and how to uplift the poor and marginalized. When I asked them their source of inspiration, the crew cited life experiences, the desire to tell one’s own story and sing one’s own songs and the need motivate and inspire other upcoming singers. I proceeded to listen to some of their songs , for example, the hip –hop “ Shocked”, “ Bad parenting” and “ Siphelekenzima” explores themes that relate to feelings and empathy in a world that has gone. The influences of Jamaican reggae singers resonates in the interview with the young and jovial Jah Ricks who cited Buju Banton and Bob Marley as key sources of inspiration. While I reasoned with Jah Ricks he also introduced to his producer known as Skinny Killer a soft spoken South African young man who has self-taught himself the nuts and bolts of musical production thanks to the proliferation of digital technology.
My last interview with Edwinson Tawanda Musiyiwa popularly known as ETM a young youth who hails from the province of Mashonaland East. Just like the other aforementioned musicians ETM grew up listening to Bob Marley, Sizzla Kalonji, King Shango, Buju Banton and King Beanie man. It is also encouraging that among local Zimbabweans musicians ETM cited Aleck Machesu, the late Oliver Mtukudzi, Decibel and Major E as key sources of inspiration. His love for music was nurtured by listening to local and international musicians and this inspired him to think of becoming a musician. ETM is a conscious reggae enthusiast as evidenced by dreadlocks, his conscious reasoning on matters of life and his music including the lyrics he sings. The young ETM strongly believes that music serves as a powerful and indispensable tool to transform the world into a better place for all humanity. There is no doubt that when you listen to his music you really gain a positive transformative experience. His music relives the nostalgia of unforgettable moments from his experiences in Zimbabwe His forthcoming album scheduled for release in September is entitled “ Mukurarama” meaning in English “survival through life”. The album explores various themes that affect ordinary people, for example, the challenges and opportunities in life, family unity, death, and positive living and thinking. ETM‘s album is constituted of conscious reggae and reggae gospel. The young musician is working with Timeless productions under the able expertise of Alasters Musworiwa. When you listen to his music, you will agree with me that ETM was moulded from the lyrics industry as evidenced by his deep lyrics that explore the hassle and bustle of ghetto living. What is inspiring about ETM is his commitment to reggae music “…conscious reggae music for life…”
If the late and great Reverend Martin Luther King had a great dream, the same can be said about the young rising Zimbabwean artists covered in this article. Overall, what is inspiring about these upcoming musicians from Zimbabwe is that their dreams and hopes for a brighter and fruitful future are achievable as long as they remain focused and working hard for in order to realize endless opportunities that the global world can provide. I was humbled by their acquiescence to answer my questions as they saw this as an opportunity to build a future through networking. It is my conviction that this exposure through Island Stage will give the young hopeful an opportunity to recreate their career as musicians of note. Sister Sharon Rue, King Active, Rodney King May , Carter May , Jah Ricks, Dreamer, Fire and Ras ETM make up an extraordinary young talent with the potential to propel Zimbabwean conscious reggae , dance hall and hip hop into the future while they remain deeply rooted in a musical foundation that makes transcend geographical boundaries .
Bancroft, A. (1992). The New Religious World. Herts: Simon and Schuster Young Books.
Chitando, E. (2007). ‘Come down, O Lord!’music, protest and religion in Zimbabwe. Scriptura: Journal for Contextual Hermeneutics in Southern Africa, 96(1), 334-347.