Home | 2008NEWS | Censored musician launched internet radio on Zimbabwe independence Day

Censored musician launched internet radio on Zimbabwe independence Day

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Defiant Zimbabwean protest singer Viomak, Robert Matibili’s musical critic with three protest music albums to her name has found another effective way of evading censorship .

Her genre of music (political gospel) is banned in Zimbabwe and suffers total censorship unlike some of the censored musicians who suffer partial censorship. Although her music is heavily censored, her website is a hive of activity that is loaded with enough catchy information that justify the various themes of her music. The singer affectionately known to some of her fans as sister Viomak, Sis Vee or mhamha (mother) is one singer who is determined to turn the musical situation in Zimbabwe in a different positive direction when she says,“Music soothes the mind thus in these trying times appropriate music is the best therapy”.

Voto Radio Station.

On the 18th of April 1980, Zimbabwe gained its independence from its former colony Britain, and on the same day and month Voto radio launched its station to mainly focus on the importance of freedom of musical expression, in a country where opposing voices are severely oppressed. Whilst Zanu pf celebrated this day in their usual monotonous style well known to many, the crew behind Voto celebrated the day in a unique way.

The birth of Voto (Voices of the Oppressed), internet radio station on the 18 April 2008, is a great step forward in that all those Zimbabwean protest artists whose work is banned now have another effective platform where they can musically voice their concerns without fearing anything . This is really a great achievement in the sense that even Matibili himself now has the chance to listen to his dedications whenever he wishes. 

The project which was spearheaded by Viomak and her manager is set to remind Zimbabweans of the Voice of Zimbabwe radio which was beamed from Maputo, Mozambique. A very popular radio station during Zimbabwe’s chimurenga war, the station was used by Zanu to educate, mobilize, and recruit the masses. During the same period Zapu’s People’s Voice radio was broadcast from Dar es Salaam, Lusaka, Cairo and on radio Moscow. The Voice of Zimbabwe included such programs as The Chimurenga request program which was dedicated to those involved in the struggle. During that period Dorothy Masuka, Dr Thomas Mapfumo and ex combatant Cde Chinx Chingaira were popular revolutionary musicians.

The songs that were played in these programs boosted the morale of the fighters, motivated and inspired others to take action, thus in Viomak‘s words, “in those trying times music was the best therapy. When utilized appropriately music can be a massive weapon during a struggle for emancipation since it keeps the oppressed informed and entertained. Songs of struggle are therefore a source of inspiration and hope”.On a similar style and purpose, Voto radio broadcasts worldwide, courtesy of the internet.

Matibili who at one time had a wild dream of banning the internet in an effort to censor his critics put the plan on hold after the idea hit a hard rock. Even though internet censorship has become a major global problem as I read the other day, I don’t think Matibili and his cronies have the resources or the know how to filter what the internet offers. Of course it was once assumed that states can not control internet communications but according to a research by the OpenNet Initiative, more than twenty -five countries now engage in internet censorship practices. The good news is that Zimbabwe is not yet an expert on these issues. Societies with the most effective internet censorship policies usually block access to websites that are deemed undesirable or threatening .

In case Matibili chooses to dream once again, he might have to consult countries like Burma, Tunisia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran to see how he can use commercial filtering software so he can silence his critics, many of whom have resorted to using the internet to showcase their disgruntled voices.However, the good president will now hear protest artists chant their touchy messages at the click of a banner. One can only imagine the expression on the good president’s face in case he listens to Viomak’s song, ‘Zimbabwe mudumbu reZanu pf’ (Zimbabwe in Zanupf ’s belly). This song reminds Zimbabweans that they have a responsibility to do something about their situation and encourages all armchair critics to act in whatever way possible.

She doesn’t forget to remind Matibili that Zimbabwe does not belong to Zanupf but it belongs to all Zimbabweans. “I’m convinced the music will now reach many of it’s intended audience including Zanupf‘s new Chinotimba , UnBright Matonga”  said Viomak.Asked how the idea of coming up with an internet radio came into being, the singer who doesn’t beat about the bush explained that generally there is an acute blackout on Zimbabwe protest music be it in Zimbabwe or outside thus promoting it is the best way forward .

It has also been very difficult for her to have her music play on other Zimbabwe internet radio stations many of which prefer to play and promote other music genres than protest music. She also thinks that another reason for the blackout is that Zimbabweans are generally politically handicapped, reluctant to actively participate in political activities and many of them will tell you that they are not interested in politics without realizing that everything in this world is political. To eat it’s politics, to go to school it’s politics, to sleep it’s politics, to smile it’s politics, to cry it’s politics, to starve it’s politics, thus politics is life and life is politics. So anything political they generally view it as not so important.

Why then are many Zimbabweans not interested in their well being which is the politics of their lives? She blames fear and ignorance.Viomak is not the only one affected by this blackout. One other Ndebele Zimbabwean musician who last year released some protest songs suffered the same fate from ‘independent’ Zimbabwe radio stations which are not willing to play his protest songs.

He explained how he contacted some Zimbabwean radio stations in the diaspora only to get unconvincing negative responses from the ‘owners’. However, Viomak was quick to mention that someone at Voice of America (Studio 7, Zimbabwe), said her music was too political and negative of Mugabe so they cannot play it on their station. This could only be a tip of an iceberg .Does this therefore mean that Matibili and his cronies are not the only ones who censor Zimbabwe protest music?

“Of course yes, there is only freedom of speech in many parts of this world and no freedom of expression”   she said, not willing to discuss the sad issue further.

In light of this, Voto is calling all interested Zimbabwe protest artists to come forward and be part of this important project.

She also says that instead of protest artists crying foul over the banning  of their music and other protest art, they should uncensor themselves by coming up with ways of making themselves heard. She also states that some musicians are singing about some funny, meaningless and empty themes forgetting that they have a responsibility to speak for everybody, and they continue to ignore the fact that there are a lot of great songs that can be born out of the times that Zimbabwe is faced with now.

Radio programs.

Listening to the station I was very pleased by the fact that Voto radio basically plays all Zimbabwe protest music, from MDC protest music to Ndebele protest music, even though Viomak’s manager at one point mentioned that he faced great drawbacks when he attended MDC opposition rallies in Zimbabwe in an effort to market Viomak’s music. He said only music by opposition supporters was played on the PA system available to market and promote their music , and those in authority  were not interested in any other protest music. However, Voto radio features all protest artists since those behind this project strongly feel that every opposing voice matters.Since protest art in Zimbabwe is banned from state radio the setting up of an internet radio that features such artistry is a breath of fresh air.

By giving exposure to protest artists who are suffering discrimination and oppression of their voices and views under Matibili’s regime, I’m sure many Zimbabweans will soon realise the importance of political activism. Like a few other censored musicians Viomak has to find ways of marketing her music and spreading her political gospel. She is not the only one who has to hunt for ways to uncensor herself. Other protest artists in a similar situation have had to travel to neighbouring countries to promote their protest work.

“With time Voto radio will strive to educate some Zimbabweans on their political responsibilities which include their right to be heard. Other programs in the pipeline include Prayers for Zimbabwe where political gospel music will take centre stage” she said.

Viomak who believes that the social conscience is slowly losing value in the Zimbabwean music industry says she is very pleased that the internet is not affected by POSA and AIPPA, Zanu pf‘s oppressive laws that make it unlawful for anyone to speak against Mugabe’s bad governance.Listening to Voto radio , I am convinced that if the handful of protest musicians featured on this station  were Zanu pf ‘patriotic musicians’ their music would definitely grace Zimbabwe state radio  airwaves day in day out. With songs sung by Zanu pf ‘patriotic’ singers riding high on the political charts in Zimbabwe why wouldn’t protest music by ‘unpatriotic musicians’ be instant hits. Asked to comment on this Viomak said,

“Zanu pf’s ‘patriotic musicians’ can sing like birds but as long as they sing for the wrong reasons, to me their music is filled with air, and they will remain as unpatriotic and worthless as the masters they are singing for."

”This leaves me with questions only Matibili should answer honestly. In Zimbabwe who is the patriotic musician? Is it the musician who sings to defend or support the leadership of a bad president or is it Viomak and the rest of other censored musicians who sing to despise the leadership of such a president and come up with ways of assisting the suffering masses exploited by the ‘Good’ president as in Viomak’s case? My English dictionary tells me that a patriotic person is someone who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion, whilst an unpatriotic person is someone who shows a lack of love for his/her country. How then does singing to defend a bad president make a musician patriotic? Anyway, it is very commendable that Viomak has decided to offer her fellow counterparts free airplay and promotion in a world where making money makes more sense than anything else.

The World Wide Web.
The internet has done great wonders for Viomak who constantly thanks its inventor. If it wasn’t for the internet her music project wouldn’t be as effective as it is now. She went on to highlight how the internet has played a very big role in her project when she mentions how a Zimbabwean, unknown to her recently offered to run a banner for her project on his homepage for free so that she boosts the number of visitors to her site in an effort to have her music spread as far as possible.Viomak is also thrilled that another Zimbabwean unknown to her offered to design the Wonai site for her for free so that she can spread her messages freely on the internet away from Matibili’s view.

Interestingly, sometime back I came across a very controversial podcast on the internet dubbed, ‘Musikanzwa Controversial Show’ compiled by a Zimbabwean still unknown to me. Musikanzwa is a Shona (Zimbabwean language) word that means mischief. During the almost  one hour episode the dj who complied the playlist played exclusive Zimbabwean songs, something you will never here on state radio, he announced. He went on to say all the eleven songs he featured cannot be played on the Zimbabwean state radio due to their content. Viomak’s acappella song, ‘Zimbabwe iripi ‘(Where is Zimbabwe), that features on the podcast is a tune that squarely rests all the problems Zimbabweans are facing today on Matibili’s shoulders.

With this in mind I will not dispute the  fact that the internet has played a pivotal role in meeting some of Viomak’s musical goals. The challengesHer musical career has come with loads of challenges. On 24 November 2007, Viomak was interviewed by Pamela Stitch of African loft on the Story of political gospel, and when asked if she had faced any challenges in her brand of music. She responded,

“Very big challenges. I live on verbal insults mainly from Zanu pf supporters, praises and salutations from my dedicated fans. Some Zimbabwean newspapers are not eager to write my stories for fear of reprisals."

Some Zimbabwean internet radio stations are not eager to play my music for the same reason. My music is banned in Zimbabwe. Some people don’t buy my music cause they fear for their lives. Most of those who buy the music play it secretly. My music is the first of its kind and a few others don’t like my idea of mixing gospel with politics. So my music is very controversial but the good thing is I have more fans than enemies.”What then is the purpose of continuing to sing if you face all these challenges? I asked Viomak.“You keep hoping that one day God will help us change the situation in Zimbabwe. Hope gives us the zeal to move on until we achieve our goals.”She is very hopeful that God will answer her prayers as in her lyrics. In an interview with BBC she also mentioned that she was hopeful God answers prayers.

Viomak who is always insisting without hesitation that Rhodesia under Smith was far much better than Zimbabwe under Matibili emphasized the same view in the BBC interview.As if the setbacks she faces are not enough, Viomak also explained to me how her cd’s and cassettes are at times sold unclenched or labelled particularly in Zimbabwe, so they won’t be noticed   by her enemies.An idea that doesn’t go down well with some few buyers who are not used to seeing such kind of music packaging.

She also narrated how she was duped by some MDC high ranking officials in the UK and South Africa who crooked her when they offered to be selling agents of her music only to disappear for good with the music. Zimbabwe protest musicians face such kind of challenges since they do most of the marketing and promoting on their own due to the sensitivity and the risks their music entails.Her manager also explained how he had tried in vain to place adverts in the Herald newspaper to market her first two albums. The adverts which were later accepted by independent newspapers, the Zimbabwe Standard and the Zimbabwe independent caused havoc after some suspicious men called him endlessly asking if they could meet up with him.

The men later visited and threatened one Toendepi Shonhe a political activist who had personally offered to sell the music from his offices in Harare.These are just a handful of the drawbacks and challenges that Viomak faces as a censored musician. Now that the goal of setting up an internet radio station has been achieved what is now left is to work on it so that it becomes a bigger project that will rise from being an internet radio to an actual radio station that rises above the ground.

Print Media

Whilst maintaining that she will continue singing protest music as long as it is necessary, the outspoken and humble singer revealed that she had not experienced censorship on state radio only, but she has also found it very difficult and rather impossible to have her stories published in some Zimbabwean print media .As her publicity officer I also experienced the same fate after the release of her third album. It remained an uphill struggle to find have her story published in certain Zimbabwean newspapers. Both of us hugely thank Freemuse for providing censored musicians an environment to be heard.Upcoming projectsMoving with the times, her website now boasts of a whole lot of free ringtones .

Viomak who just finished doing the groundwork of her 10 track standby album ‘Happy Deathday President R.G. Mugabe-Matibili (Death is certain) to be released at the end of time,  is now working on her fourth album ,Happy 85th Birthday President R.G Matibili (Little Tiny Dot).The title of which was inspired by Matibili’s speech in which he referred to the prime minister of Britain Gordon Brown as a tiny little dot on this world, is due for release on 21 February 2009 as per he tradition. Tracks on the album include ‘Gukurahundi’, a song that chronicles what transpired during that controversial time in Zimbabwe’s history and ‘Operation Mavhoterapapi’, a song that moans the torture and beatings that Zimbabweans experienced after they placed their votes in front of the ‘wrong’ face during the so called harmonized elections on 29 March 2008, the results of which are yet to be confirmed.

The innovative and determined singer is also working on a book titled, Rainbow Tears in a Throat Thunderstorm. The book highlights the trials and tribulations of being a Zimbabwean censored musician, coupled with being an outspoken female in a society of politically irresponsible, good for nothing primitive leaders and confused citizens. It also highlights the musical struggles of operating underground inorder to expose issues on the surface and a whole lot of political and cultural issues that make her “to be proud of who she is and regret about what she is”, according to how she expresses it.

 

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