By Harriet Chigege
Viomak’s sand skiing musical spot doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Banned from the day she produced her first protest album in 2006, the protest singer who is strengthening her artistic muscles and increasing her lyrical stamina with experience is managing to override and master her challenges in a plausible way. So, whilst Zimbabwean political leaders are embarking on an unknown journey to the weird land of National Unity, protest singer Viomak is with us again with her new traditional release Happy 85th Birthday President R.G Matibili (Zimbabwe is Mine). The title of which was changed from Tiny Little Dot, a reference by the president of Zimbabwe Mugabe to the prime minster of Britain Gordon Brown, has everything that passes it as a protest package like all of her previous productions. Every year at this time since 2006 Viomak releases a music album dedicated to president Mugabe’s birthday as media begins to reflect back on the events of the past twelve months in order to tell us everything of interest and importance that occurred.
The name of this album is both appropriate and catchy. I prefer to call the album Zimbabwe is Mine as it reminds Zimbabweans that Zimbabwe is President Mugabe-Matibili’s personal property according to what the failed dictator said in December 2008 whilst he rejected calls from some African leaders to step down. According to media reports, Matibili’s 85th birthday party, was held in Chinhoyi and revelers celebrated their special day feasting on around five hundred cattle and packs of other goodies to the tune of oodles of Zimbabwean dollars and foreign currency, despite the fact that Zimbabweans are perishing at the hands of starvation and disease.
The album, which was officially unleashed on 21 February 2009, is a great dish that tastes like red wine beef stew. For those of you unfamiliar with Viomak’s music, she is an independent singer with no alliances to any political party and she remains loyal and adamant to a music career that is influenced by socio -political activism. It’s probably because of this that Viomak has remained in a rank of her own. Similar to other happy birthday albums, Zimbabwe is Mine doesn’t celebrate anything except ZANU-PF‘s failures [ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) is a Zimbabwean political party led by Robert Mugabe].
Barely three months after releasing her album Zimbabwe Circus, Viomak has once again taken on her responsibility as a protest singer to express herself with stimulating melodies. As Viomak keeps up the struggle in song she is convinced that protest art does not end with GNU [Government of National Unity]. There is so much in the album that is difficult to apprehend thereby becoming easier to listen to the music than to write about it, and this production is a great insight as to why. As a major player in the protest movement not only is Viomak regarded as Zimbabwe’s woman protest singer but is also regarded as a singer who specifically sings for charity. Like any other singer, different people refer to her differently because of her political stance, and her type of music but I call her exceptional and delight in the unique music she is frying. Her coping mechanisms remain a mystery to me, as it takes quite a lot to produce her type of music.
“Zimbabwe is rich in corrupt and incompetent leaders so the struggle continues even after GNU. More so it looks like it’s the sheets and not the bed that changed with GNU , as some of Tsvangirai’s members of parliament have already been named in a farming inputs scandal. Non aligned protest music will have to continue as a political watchdog” she said .
It is astonishing where all this magnificent music keeps coming from. Eight is her magic number as all her albums have eight songs. To think that Viomak has so far produced five albums with eight songs each totaling forty songs of the same themes it is really interesting that the music keeps coming in. Seemingly worried and enthusiastic a BBC world service reporter asked her what she was going to sing about after Mugabe is gone. She convinced him that as long as there are leaders one can always find something to sing about and it can be good or bad. This time around Viomak has once again delivered an album of absolute controversy and unlimited foot work. Her music is always punctuating moments in time.
Undeterred she has taken a stronger stand to express her thoughts and ideas about the political situation in Zimbabwe and the ongoing issue of gukurahundi [armed conflict] between Shonas and Ndebeles. As she stays true to being an artist of expression this release is truly a wonderful mixed bag as it evolves around a multiplicity number of unexpected themes.
There has been a few protest musical styles in Zimbabwe over time that have not only been the voice of the voiceless for political struggle, but have inspired many to progress through the revolution, and Viomak’s music flags the current political scene in similar ways. As she continues to sing the struggles and make demands through her music there is enough evidence that the struggle continues even after GNU. Zimbabwe is Mine is a great protest album from this exciting singer, who is determined to query the political situation in Zimbabwe no matter what it takes. She certainly does not fail to deliver in serving social commentary in her lyrics and all the trademarks of her music .Guess what, even if she changes her voices and name one can still tell that it’s Viomak music from the way she writes her songs. Her albums have always been an interesting suite. With album after album, it looks like it will take forever for her to call it quits.
This latest recording, the appropriately titled Zimbabwe is Mine, takes it up as her most unreserved criticism of the Zimbabwean government to date as it echoes a more detailed approach to the ZANU-PF saga. In previous birthday albums she would target Mugabe alone as the architect of Zimbabwe’s death, but songs on Zimbabwe is Mine touch on ministers names and other ZANU-PF losers’ names too.
As she pursues her music career as singer and songwriter she says she is still learning a lot. For a woman who has recorded five protest albums to date it is amazing to see her still capable of skiing in the sand without losing focus. Her most previous album Zimbabwe Circus, confirmed her status as the queen of protest music, and Zimbabwe is Mine rubber stamps her newly acquired status without doubt. The vocals and instrumentation on this album are varied and one can realize the defying mood originating from the lyrics and the beat in a splendid manner. Whilst Viomak maintains the usual choral sound and pattern, she has experimented with some new sungura rhythms. The album is woven in an assemblage of conga beats kalimba lines and graceful pads, supported by solid kicks and great bassline riffs, and flavored by hiats and talking leads.
The 8 songs gracefully haul your attention, unexpectedly dragging you into deep thoughts through a variety of tempos that furnish the power in her music with unforgettable lyrics .The album is good too in terms of production. The original instruments were laid down in Zimbabwe courtesy of one well known studio ,and the recording of voices was done in Britain .She has absolutely at the forefront a musical sequence that is easy to make up and sing along, comprising of verse, chorus, and break. It’s the kind of music that demands personal involvement and Viomak makes sure it’s easy to decipher with it’s simple but very powerful lyrics.
Viomak who developed a habit of designing her albums’ artwork came up with a sleeve that shows Mugabe behind repetitive images of Zimbabwe maps to highlight that Zimbabwe is his. Viomak pokes one eye out as if to scorn the aging dictator’s weird convictions. Why would someone even think that they own a country? Isn’t it weird? Apart from the influence of the cover picture that shows the album title Zimbabwe is Mine in attractive colbert font flashing Zimbabwean flag colors the music impacts on the listener in a big way. This album leaps from the platform as a glorious coalition of music styles without a shadow of a doubt that even with GNU the album will not be played on state radio unless the unexpected happens.
The water tight album has elevated Viomak’s position in the protest movement as her music continues to grab you from all directions as it seems to be getting better and tighter as it goes along .Her music carries on heightening up and intensifying the curiosity, piling up the zeal until you fail to imagine what’s up next. I might appear as if I’m over blowing the trumpet but for those of you who have listened to Viomak’s music over time you can tell that it is evolving around a shiny orbit.
As a self trained protest artist she took it upon herself to teach herself and learn a new type of music specifically so as to send out political messages in beat. Self-motivated and determined Viomak prevailed with her tough ambition and music expertise to do it herself. Even though her musical achievements remain unreported in the state press she has not given up on doing what she is supposed to do.
This is music for patriotic people who want to listen and dance to a different type of Zimbabwean protest music in a bowl of heartfelt powerful lyrics .Sister of the revolution in song, with the toughest words, it is given she is pioneering a new art form with her bold and entertaining lyrics . Whilst some protest singers have chosen to be praise singers Viomak takes a different approach in which she hopes to achieve her musical goals in a fair rather than a biased foundation .While there is no denying that her music is soaring in the right direction much more has to be achieved. Upon sampling the album, I am of the opinion that her well coordinated musical antics will touch on many hearts. You can start getting more curious now.
The album is headlined with the uplifting, vivacious and controversial song Gukurahundi , clouded in a continuous course of 16 instruments regulated by Viomak’s vocals producing a marvelous hard hitting sound . This song addresses the politically controversial topic of gukurahundi, where she reckons that the gukurahundi issue is deeper than what is widely said. Whilst she advocates for understanding and tolerance, peace and unity the vocals sound faultless and form a strong foundation for the song as they compete with the lively beat that forms a great foundation of this inspirational song. The song highlights the issues surrounding gukurahundi in a comical manner, and exposes those behind the conflict which gave rise to the terror era. Viomak encourages unity amongst Ndebeles and Shonas in an inspirational manner as she encourages Shonas to eat macimbi [Ndebele word for mopane worm that is harvested from trees in the area] and Ndebeles to eat mbeva [Shona word for mouse] and live as one in unity. A definite hit which drives you into a celebratory mood and a very good song for state radio air play.
The second song Mavhoterapapi fires in all chambers. With a slowish instrumental introduction the beat changes as it welcomes Viomak’s voice with an inviting arrangement .This is a song she felt moved and was driven to write and record after the post election political torture. A song in solidarity with mavhoterapapi victims (mainly MDC supporters) whore were tortured and burnt for voting for Tsvangirai. Isn’t it sad news that it seems as if nothing is going to happen to Mugabe and all the Zanu puffers who are guilty of human rights abuses? She sings the song personally involving herself .Participatory music she calls it. This she did to make it more real and personal. Mavhoterapapi is a very moving and honest song with an important message that will be used to remind Zimbabweans what they went through during the zanu pf era. This is an absolutely influential song offering an inglorious celebration of independence. Just a hint of the lyrics.
‘Isu takamaka pana Tsvangirai takamaka panaTsvangi (We marked on Tsvangirai’s name)
Mugabe akaramba pana Tsvangirai akaramba pana Tsvangi (Mugabe refused Tsvangirai’s name)’
Mavhoterapapi is a ponder again kind of tune with a well to do arrangement and is so gratifying you can only imagine how it’s going to come across to victims of torture as Mugabe is set loose . Every part of the song flows at the right rhythm and pace that allows you to concentrate on the lyrics even if you don’t want to .If you’re looking for music that reminds you of Mugabe’s evilness Mavhoterapapi will heal your desire. Listen to it , play it and dedicate it to that one victim of torture or their relatives.
“I felt like writing about all those innocent souls killed during the political events that gave rise to many innocent voters’ wounds and deaths. I hope people will take the lyrics seriously and understand that reconciliation with Mugabe and ZANU-PF is a very bad start to democracy. We cannot talk of achieving democracy without achieving justice. Let this awaken some emotions and remind Zimbabweans that even with GNU we still have a responsibility to fight for justice .Our struggles do not end with GNU.” she said.
Matibili wauraya (Matibili you have destroyed), is Viomak’s most favorite song. Covered in sungura beat the song invites the obvious comparison with sungura chiefs. It’s one of those songs that offer a refreshing sound and uplifting on the dance floor and a relaxation to listen to at home. Remove POSA [Public Order and Security Act] and AIPPA [Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act] and the song will grace any part of the country with ease. There are about five to six highly obvious dance floor-feeders on this album, but you’d be thinking of something else to leave this one out. The song has a touchy melody that peacefully unites the verses and the choruses over unshakable instrumentals and voices. Viomak contributes some wonderful lyrics on the track which makes you wonder how Zimbabweans will react if the song is allowed to stream directly from state radio. Tell you what, apart from facilitating energetic dance floor tactics all over Zimbabwe the song will also make tongues to wiggle endlessly.
If you feel that protest music doesn’t have a valuable place in Zimbabwe, then try Matibili wauraya. Just flow with the lyrics and rhythm on this one and you will soon realize that if protest singers don’t sing about it then their sins might be forgotten .Again who said sungura is for Zimbabwean male singers only? The song starts with a nice full sungura lead and it just carries on getting better, briefly taking the song to a bit of rumba. I am not sure if Viomak is contemplating being a sungura singer too. It will be interesting for Zimbabwe women to catch up with sungura music as it has remained a male dominated area since time immemorial. Even though the song is a great musical soundscape it doesn’t call for misleading dances.
Welcome to the fourth song, the guiltless and harmless Gore iro (That year). With this song Viomak is assured of air play on state radio only if she uses a different name. Plans are underway to send the song to ZBH (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings) for airplay. I am tasked to do it. That said, I have exposed the plan theoretically and expect to hide it practically. The only ‘innocent’ song on the album , and has a profound bearing on the historical operations that took place in Zimbabwe. Her mixed vocal harmonies narrate the operations within layers of compromising and co operative instruments giving the song a greatly padded musical audio.
For those who can’t remember some of the operations that took place in Zimbabwe Gore iro is your take. The song mentions the operations only as the beat plays and your duty is to dance and cram the operations without harming anyone’s feelings.
Moving forward, Viomak is full of surprises.What you take for granted she takes it seriously. Did you read in the media that Robert Matibili –Mugabe fathered a son called Edward who resides in South Africa? To awaken you to the news Viomak dedicated a song called “Baba vaEdward” to the president. The song takes 6th place on Zimbabwe is Mine and yes in addition to Zimbabwe, Edward is his too. From Matibili to “Baba vaEdward” is where her lyrical cardinal points are pointing at. The upbeat sound similar to Marshall Munhumumwe’s fast tempo will definitely make you home sick. If you know his song Mbereko yakaramba then you should understand what I mean. In “Baba vaEdward” she tells Edward’s father to be ashamed of himself and exit power instead of signing unity agreements. Of course she also refers to Grace Mugabe as a shameful Disgrace who should be ashamed of engaging in exorbitant shopping sprees whilst the country is perishing. By the way, again this is telemusic production in which she sang the vocals on the phone to her producer in Zimbabwe who in turn came up with instruments for all the songs.
Viomak has always spoken as a woman of strong will, rallying a patriotic inclined community away from home. This of course is very distressing as it keeps her away from the actual people she is singing for. That’s life in exile as a protest singer. She is not the only protest singer affected .Some exiled banned singers are also feeling the pinch. “Baba vaEdward” penetrates the album in a swift punch and lifts your mind momentarily taking it across the problems in Zimbabwe with regret and pain. Viomak sings what political leaders and some of their supporters don’t want to hear, and what some are afraid to say publicly.This is why her musical journey story is not well told, documented and contextualized in Zimbabwe.
Batai mutonge (Bring to justice) is set to be another hit. Call it a song of shaming and an advisory track. Honestly I fail to understand how song writers do it, but to imagine that some names were taken, mixed with a whole lot of words and made into a bunch of meaningful great rhyming sounds . Remember the days of folklore telling when our elders would spice their stories with nice tunes and they would ask us to sing after them? This song is one such epic that takes us back to the folkloristic culture. From the word go the song roars with a bang, immediately leaving you in no doubt that it is going to provide some exciting dance moments in Zimbabwe. To me this is the most melodic and fast paced song of the album. It is about a very significant subject with a strong and real message that says bring Brighton Matonga, Happyton Bonyongwe, George Charamba, and Chipangano to justice after Mugabe is gone. The song naturally is going to be a huge one. However, Happyton Bonyongwe is the notorious CIO boss and how huge the song is going to get also depends on how Bonyongwe feels. In a society where people view backbiting and inspokenness (opposite of outspokenness) as the norm, Viomak has chosen to disassociate herself from that kind of mentality by saying things as they are in her songs. This is a very good approach that I think should be embraced by citizens of undemocratic societies.
“You cannot succeed in fighting for freedom of expression if you oppress your mind yourself .Free your mind first from inner oppression before you ask your oppressor to free you “she said.
It doesn’t end there. Viomak knows where her music cuts the deepest. Her courageous voice is hugely felt in the song Musaregerere JOC (Do not forgive JOC ) in which she pleads with Zimbabweans not to forgive the six JOC [Joint Operations Command] members namely Constantine Chiwenga, Paradzai Zimondi, Perence Shiri, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Augustine Chihuri and Gideon Gono.
“JOC members have caused so much harm and pain to Zimbabweans and letting them free is not only doing injustice to Zimbabweans but it defeats the whole purpose of fighting for democracy. Earthly justice should prevail. Heavenly justice will take its own course too.”
It looks like Viomak is not convinced that this kind of music will only see the darkness of night in Zimbabwe unless heaven opens. Musaregerere JOC ejects defiant lyrics in a hustle free celebratory fashion, culminating to a joyful tune that leaves you in a joyous for a very long time. The song assumes a Zimbabwean traditional beat that loops a great rhythm and vocal treat. It harmonizes around repeating verses that mention JOC members’ names with some defiant harmonies that echo in your ear like someone calling from the top of a mountain advising you not to forgive JOC. With a lively beat the song reflects her inner feelings as someone who is determined to see all human rights abusers in Zimbabwe brought to book. Her music reveres her convictions.
Closing the album with a final piece of the birthday cake. The title of the album does not have a title track, meaning Zimbabwe is Mine is not the title of any of the songs. However the song that sings about Zimbabwe is mine is Broken-buttock blues .The warm song is a poem turned song that features renowned poet John Eppel’s lyrics .After being requested to do so, Viomak crafted the poem into a song and provided a tune that comes across with the voice of a tortured woman who narrates how she was beaten by ZANU-PF thugs for voting Tsvangirai.
That points to the end of the eight track album. In a very soft and patient voice, the song ends the album with a mixture of English and Shona like a bilingual sermon, with the support of an outstanding organ that dictates the pace and tone of the song in a waltz style. The addictive persistent melody will let you play the song again and again, as your love of the music grows with each repeated play.
Ending with rumors on collaboration. Viomak disclosed that she is working on collaborating on her next album with Tsunami, an MDC musical group of the Rwendo fame. The last time they talked all was going in the right direction. Tomson Chauke is also hoping to be part of this crew. Together, these artists are hoping to manufacture an extravaganza of sound expressed through their varied vocals and expertise. Viomak is writing the songs of the album still to be named. Keeping my fingers crossed and praying that it will happen is what I’m doing. As of now I am imagining what the music will be like and how it can evoke the spirit of the struggle if all goes out well. Asked why she has agreed to collaborate with Tsunami when she is non partisan, Viomak said, “We are fighting the same battle, but from different angles. We might not agree on certain issues but we can still come up with common lyrics to produce healthy protest music.”
The surprises keep coming in. According to what she said, Viomak is contemplating writing music on the dubious ZANU-PF and MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] GNU, in an album titled ZANU DC. Yes history has to be packed in wave format too or else upcoming generations will have to feed on Chigwedere’s fiction which is not good.
Viomak’s web site: www.viomakcharitymusic.com