Philani A. Nyoni      

For the lovers of Wacky and weird, Atlanta, the series, is ambrosia. In one of my favourite episodes ever made, a character played by the insanely talented Danny Glover remarks that hip hop never grew beyond its adolescence. I tend to agree with him because mostly, I’m not a fan of much of the stuff that has come out of the stu’ in the name of hip hop in recent times; locally and abroad. What happened to stuff like “F*#k The Police”, “Fight The Power”?

Out on bail, fresh out of jail, Hopewell Chin’ono, alias Mbudziyadura decides to drop a dancehall freestyle from his comfy home that police who are sent to arrest him prefer to spend the night canoodling in. It’s as terrible as ‘music’ can get but it’s got one thing current music doesn’t have: truth. Hopewell doesn’t have the vocal range of [NAME WITHHELD] nor the production skills of [NAME ALSO WITHHELD], but the lyrics are relatable, so much that this guy is suddenly trending on Twitter for something other than his usual (seemingly unwarranted) trips to Chikurubi; this guy, with a webcam and a play/pause button blows up harder than most cats ever will. Enter the age of #DemLoot.

One could say much of the excitement around the track came from the novelty of someone like Hopewell, who already has a huge following (not all are his friends) taking his message to another medium; remember how the president’s dancing went viral and even ended up in some fan-made videos for #Dem-Loot? So the song/freestyle sears through the internet, suddenly has a tonne of covers from different artists and I pause to wonder why: did they envy the attention the hashtag was generating, or did they truly seek to connect with the audience and be ‘conscious’ and relevant with the plausible deniability of performing a cover? Either way, I think it was a powerful moment for the most popular genre in the country; without disrespecting all those who speak the truth of their Njemas in less than overt tones, with this song, Zim Dancehall finally spoke truth to power. 

Enter Vusa Mkhaya, the king of covers. This is a madman who has covered everything popular and rocked it Imbube style because that’s him: along with Ramadu and Nqo, the guys at Insingizi, the best selling ZImbabwean group of all time singing a largely popular and equally disrespected genre called Imbube which has earned Ladysmith Black Mambazo only three Grammys. Vusa has covered everything from Sikhosana to Big Zulu, yes, last year’s December song with such finesse that Big Zulu himself gave a heavy nod to the rendition. So what’s a little freestyle by a jailbird? 

A lot, apparently! Some internet users have been appalled by Vusa’s rendition of Hopewell’s track. It’s a fantastic track, I am sure the hordes that requested it after the thirty second rendition Vusa dropped (as he usually does with his remixes) are far from displeased. Chanting, Mkhaya took us down several twists of memory lane from someone he calls That Woman whose refrain was ‘STOP IT!’, all the way back to the 90’s (When people convicted of corruption committed suicide) with his reference to Felix Moyo’s Silandulo from the TV show “Kukhulwa Kokuphela”. Desire Moyoxide delivers his poignant rhyme with his usual precision; never ask that man about his opinion of misgovernance, I know because I have the twenty-track album he dropped last quarantine, and that wasn’t the first time he had an opinion. 

Suddenly, more have an opinion. I have seen a lot of comments from people who want to boycott Vusa’s music after #DemLoot. I’m certain nobody is boycotting Moyoxide because as aforementioned, he has a twenty-track album about corruption and misgovernance so those who listen to him know what they are getting themselves into. As one in possession of Vusa Mkhaya’s albums both, I wonder what the naysayers are boycotting; Mkhaya has never held back his opinion in his personal work, in fact, one should only look to his last album to see how restless his content has become with the way things are. Songs like ‘Lizobuya’ hit the revolutionary spot, now you want to boycott Vusa Mkhaya? Really? Which one exactly are you talking about? 

Isn’t that a throwback to the Trump presidency? I mean, remember when Eminem did that BET freestyle? Or that album; ‘Revival’? Suddenly ‘everybody’ was upset with him because he ‘had gone political’? Because he really totally wasn’t political when he did Mosh, or went at Bill Clinton? In fact, we should be calling Marshal Mathers out for  saying nothing about Obama, kinda racist right? One could say opposition to Eminem taking a stand means slinging mud at artists for not keeping quiet clearly isn’t a uniquely ZImbabwean thing; the way I see it, we are worse off because the song doesn’t mention anyone’s name; it just doesn’t like corrupt people; I thought we had an entire Commission to seek out and missile corruption? 

But in the end, the one thing we must do is said very often in Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Hopewell has chosen to fold his deck and fight corruption. Maybe he isn’t perfect, but sometimes, when he’s not full of it, I sort of get where he's coming from: how can an entire genre be so complacent with the healthcare system while some of their own are dropping dead at thirty-one from conditions that should be manageable? It is because we crucify our prophets? Maybe he’s Shona so Vusa and Moyoxide have no business associating with his fight, afterall, what happens in ZImbabwe does not affect us in Matabeleland. Maybe all three of them are CIO because, you know, that’s what CIO do: point out the messed up shit in our country then arrest you for nodding your head. 

I am glad Vusa is an artist who has earned some recognition for his work, including a National Arts Merit Award. Many artists try to find themselves in the audience and that can be dangerous. While the naysayers say what they say, I witnessed an overwhelming number of people request that Vusa breaks his protocol of covering a song for thirty seconds and do a full version; I guarantee those who asked for the version are more than those who have qualms with it now that it’s out. I am glad it’s the work of a seasoned artist because this criticism could easily throw a novice off their path.

Zimbabwe will never grow out of its infancy as long as it pretends to be a democracy and cannot accommodate other opinions without resorting to baser instincts. Many have lost everything, and now we deny them the right to voice about it. From where I’m sitting, we have assimilated the rules of the oppressor and passed them among each other and so we have become prefects of repression before the oppressors themselves stir. The prophet is not accepted in his home city, maybe that’s why the most popular genre in the country is less concerned with speaking truth to power than having a good-old-jolly stonyeni time. We have a critical mass that’s brutal enough to keep artists on the safe side. We have muzzled the poet, set low bars for our pantheon and comfortably devolved into a society that worships the mbinga, who proceeds to die by his own recklessness then we, society, the only time we organise, proceed to assemble and march towards the car manufacturer who did nothing but be present at a fool’s parting with his money.