This week I am going to focus on musicians and their power. I feel that it is befitting in light of events that have taken place in the past few days.
State of the Art: Admire KUDITA
That Dickson Chingaira, popularly known as Cde Chinx, died on June 16, is significant. It is the date on which South African youths sealed their fate in a deadly anti-apartheid protest in 1976. It is now celebrated all over the world as the Day of the African Child. Chinx was an African child. A revolutionary child. His song Vanhu vese vemuAfrica is the one that plays in my head every time I reminisce about the singer. But what was the importance of the comrade?
Chinx is the stuff of Zimbabwean legend. Forever etched indelibly in this country’s popular imagination. He sang freedom songs.
He was the pied piper of a liberation war effort alongside the likes of the Light Machine Gun in Zapu. Music was the rallying force used by the guerilla movements to whip up the emotions of the masses and to sensitise and radicalise many a despondent youth during the time of this country’s liberation era.
His death last week was the passing of a musician arguably loved by many Zimbabweans. Like all mortals, he would have had his enemies too. But that is not the thrust of this column.
Born in 1955 in the Makoni district of Rusape, his love for music was encouraged by his primary school headmaster.
Latterly, Chinx reportedly got a scholarship to study medicine after completing his secondary school though he failed to redeem it due to challenges with his travel documents. In 1975, that is when he joined the liberation struggle and ended up leading the choir set up to boost morale in camp.
Needless to say that Chinx survived the war and would become one of the most famous post-Independence Zimbabwean musicians with hits such as Roger Confirm and Zvikomborero, which spoke about unity.
His great work of art would have to be Vanhu Vese VemuAfrica, which was given the Silver Jubilee Award for the Most Inspiring Song of the Liberation War during the 2005 National Arts Merit Awards. MNET Africa also recognised Chinx’s talents for the Simon Bright-directed movie Flame. Chinx played a major acting role and his song, Maruza Vapambe Pfumi won the best sound track.
“This music you know it’s a transition, right, from liberation music up to the music for development and reconciliation. At the present moment we have got this unity. We want it so much and we want to develop our country and to develop our country we must be reconciled fully. And all my music should touch on these lines. The way I do it is I have to say where the bad is and where the good is. To the truth of the good is where everyone should look.
So I shun the bad and always promote the good,” Chinx said in an interview at the height of his career in the mid-1980s.
Post-Independence, Chinx teamed up with the likes of Keith Farqurson, Busi Ncube, Don Gumbo and Andy Brown under his Barrel of Peace band and churned out hit after hit. But the star-studded group did not last.
The motifs of his music were peace, love and unity, which he deemed integral to nation building. His message, of course, chimed with the zeitgeist of the nation at the time. It was a hopeful time and a time of hope. Zimbabwe had promise and the ruling party cast a rose-tinted multi-racial vision of Zimbabwe which was before too long shattered by the political tensions between erstwhile freedom fighter colleagues. The tragic outcome was, of course, the notorious and tragic Gukurahundi. I could not find a Chinx song that I could relate to this period except the songs that preached peace and unity such as Zvikomborero.
Place in history
There are those who will want to criticise Chinx for his pro land-reform stance. He did record songs in support of the programme at its beginning in 2000, alongside Andy Brown. In this sense, one may be tempted to view him as a mere parrot of his party line.
His efforts at this time did not win him playing gigs outside of his party circles. Andy Brown literally lost his musical career over this period as promoters shunned him. Such is the lot of a musician: you are damned if you do and still damned if you do not.
Like Bob Marley?
Marley is the one who sang: “Soon we’ll find out who is, the real revolutionary and I do not want my people to be tricked by mercenaries . . .” in the song Zimbabwe, which was said to have been written in 1979 at the dawn of our nation’s Independence. With the passing away of every freedom fighter, these words come back to haunt.
Is Chinx’s place in the annals of our national history secure and is his name besmirched by his political sympathies?
Without doubt, his songs during and in the war’s aftermath, were revolutionary and life-affirming. But was he our Bob Marley (assuming that we did not have Bob Marley with us)? Interestingly, I saw a tweet this week with the two revolutionaries standing together in the picture. The picture must have been taken at the time of Marley’s 1980 trip to Zimbabwe.
Minimus or Griot?
In the George Orwell classic novel Animal Farm, the pig called Minimus writes propaganda poems and songs lauding Napoleon and Animal Farm.
Minimus typifies the hijacking of art for propaganda purposes in a totalitarian state that is hell-bent on controlling what the citizenry thinks. He is ordered by Napoleon to do this dirty work and maybe because he is one of the pigs, he happily obliges to do the task.
The question must be posed in this moment of reflection. Was Chinx Minimus? I believe the answer to that question lies in the hearts of many Zimbabweans.
Personally, I do not believe that Chinx was Minimus. I believe that for most of the people in his generation, the righteousness of the freedom fight was beyond reproach. There was just cause for joining the struggles. Yes, Chinx could have sung more to call out the comrades on their obvious excesses after the war was won.
In the end, one redeeming event in his life has to be the moment when, via the efforts of one Joseph Nyadzayo, Chinx received a newly-built home in a low-density Harare surburb. My concern is really about the man as an artiste. Musically speaking, he is definitely a hero.
He played his part. He could have done more perhaps, but that is left for another generation to grapple with. The generation of the likes of Soul Jah Love must confront the question of how to use their influence and platform.