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Let the voices be heard -Conscious reggae, dance-hall and hip- hop on the rise: Repositioning Zimbabwe on the global musical landscape

By July 16, 2020Articles

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 Africa96(1), 334-347.

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