ZIMDANCEHALL, a music genre that has stood the test of time in Zimbabwe is certainly here to stay as its artistes have become forces to reckon with in the local showbiz industry.
While its pioneers such as Winky D, Souljah Love, Seh Calaz and Killer T were off to a false start as many “arts fathers” were sceptical about this genre, the artistes and many others who keep sprouting are somehow proving them wrong.
Chimurenga music legend, Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo was among those who had reservations about the Zimdancehall genre as he felt the youngsters were imitating Jamaican artistes and were not good at it.
“I don’t hate them at all. I’m actually happy to share the stage with youngsters but they need to be original. Zimdancehall can only grow if the youngsters desist from imitating Jamaican musicians, like patois,” Mapfumo was quoted saying some three years back.
He said he was not wholly against the genre, but suggested that the youngsters needed to have originality in order for them to make an impact outside the country’s borders. As such, he preferred the likes of Jah Prayzah as he came up with unique music that was exclusive to him.
“We cannot do patois better than the Jamaicans and if you go on the international market with such products, they’d rather prefer that from Jamaica than ours.
“They should do what people like the late Lucky Dube did. He packaged his reggae music in a South African flavour and became a hit internationally,” were noble words of advice from the legendary musician.
And listen to Mapfumo some of the artistes did as they composed their tunes in a way that was relevant to the ordinary Zimbabwean. Some, however, like Silent Killer and Ricky Fire decided to go the foul route singing vulgar tracks which never made it to local radio stations. These tunes though, were actually popular in the ghetto suburbs for some reason.
Fast forward to 2018, Zimdancehall music has taken the country by storm as it is undeniably one of the most loved genres and has taken the limelight from urban grooves’ which was a hit in the 90s to early 2000s.
What makes the Zimdancehall genre special is that its artistes, most who come from high density suburbs, compared to hip hop, do not fake their lives or try too hard. Through their lyrics, they reflect what they encounter on a daily basis in their neighbourhoods, something that must be emulated. This has made it much easier for music lovers to relate to their music.
The challenge with most of these artistes though is drug and alcohol abuse which is made to seem cool in their music and often tends to lead other youths astray.
Despite that, the genre, like chanter Etherton B always says, is giving the voiceless a voice.
For the genre to be successful though, are people from artiste managers, press, radio and TV personalities who have promoted the music and artistes in various ways. These have included a column dedicated to Zimdancehall in H-Metro daily as well as Zimdancehall shows on popular radio stations.
But at the forefront has been the Judgement Yard reggae/dancehall movement which has been discovering these artistes and playing the music at nightclubs, shows and radio.
Under the Judgement Yard family is DJ Flevah and chanter Etherton who have, for years, been focusing on the promotion of dancehall music from the days of Red Fox in Harare. After popularising the genre, they began to get many bookings and ended up being oversubscribed. This led them to rope in two youngsters – DJ 2 Bad and Abisha Palmer.
Using the Judgement Yard name, DJ 2 Bad and chanter Abisha would cover up for Flevah and Etherton when they were overbooked or were out of the country. This would not go down well with some promoters or show attendees as they had become acquainted to Flevah and Etherton, especially the latter because of his roar and chants which make Judgement Yard stand out.
But with time, people warmed up to the other part of Judgement Yard and got to appreciate them more with each performance. ZiFM Stereo founder, Supa Mandiwanzira who has always believed in youngsters was among those who appreciated the other part of Judgment Yard. He quickly engaged them and offered them a four-hour slot on his radio station.
Being a radio station that had branded itself as one for the ‘rich kids’ playing mostly urban music, DJ 2 Bad and Abisha were in for another rude awakening as they were looked down upon by some people at the station when they joined. This was because they were quite different from the rest as they did not have fancy accents and played music which at that time was said to be that for those in the ghetto.
This did not deter them as they took to the decks and mic and captured listeners as their set was quite refreshing. Saturday afternoons have never been the same again as the duo brought life to the station’s programming through the show they named the ‘Zi-Dancehall Empire’. Their show begins at 2PM.
Now, they are on their own feet as they have left Judgement Yard and formed what they call the Zi-Dancehall Empire which they believe is going to be way better than Judgement Yard. This empire has introduced the country to talents such as Jah Signal (Sweetie), Enzo Ishal (Kanjiva), Boom Beto (Mai Makanaka), Nutty O (Boom Shelele) and Hwindi President (Tambira Monarch) who are definitely shaking up things.
The duo focuses on relatively unknown artistes who need that final push to get them into the limelight, just like the way their predecessors (Etherton B and Flevah) did with the relatively known Zimdancehall acts in the country. What makes their show on radio more meaningful is the fact that they come from areas where this dancehall talent lies so it is very easy for them to identify the talent.
Just like their mentors, 2 Bad and Abisha are now getting international gigs as far as Namibia and Dubai. They have also performed at the Victoria Falls Carnival and are slowly becoming residents at Ginimbi’s Club Sankayi in Harare.
Having grown up in Mbare, Harare, Abisha a reggae and dancehall enthusiast said the ‘Zi-Dancehall Empire’ was a platform established to identify and promote up-and-coming Zimdancehall musicians.
“2 Bad and I are helping a lot of new voices and the unrecognised talented musicians by playing their music on radio. Also, we revive careers of those musicians who people say are no longer relevant by playing their music on this platform,” said Abisha Palmer.
“We want Zi-Dancehall Empire to be bigger than Judgement Yard. It’ll be the biggest dancehall movement in Zimbabwe and we want to grow it regionally and even internationally.”
This has endeared the duo to their listeners because they are in touch with what is hot in the ghetto music circles. They have an understanding because this is where they grew up.
To show their maturity in the industry, Abisha has recruited two talented DJs and an MC whom he is grooming.
He said Zi-Dancehall Empire would be releasing its first mixtape soon that will be available online for streaming and download for free.
“We’ll also make many physical copies that’ll hand out to fans for free at shows,” he said.
While thanking Zimbabweans for supporting the Zimdancehall movement, Abisha said their hope was to establish a music academy where they will teach people about music and radio.