Zimdancehall is neither a panacea nor a cure all, but its promise is undeniable

Zimdancehall captured the man of the moment stance for the previous decade in Zimbabwe. It is a genre of music which has its roots from Jamaican reggae and dancehall.

By Collen Gaga

The music started from the ghettos of Harare and Chitungwiza.

Zimdancehall has created more than a chanting musical style but also it has created a culture commonly known as the “bad maness or badness life style” which tests one’s toughness to counter hard times and hustle hard in any situation no matter how tough.

The rise and survival of Zimdancehall in Zimbabwe has been a struggle bundled with a wide range of negative connotations, leading many morality fanatics like churches, the elderly and the police and the jury to equate them only with profanity, misogyny, violence and crime.

These fanatics, jury and the law enforcement of Zimbabwe paint Zimdancehall with gloomy colours that Zimdancehall lyrics are criminal threats and they might have harmful influence on children and the youth affecting the society.

The police have actually crafted a new form of harassment that equate every ill-behaved ghetto youth to Zimdancehall artist, you hear them saying “imbava vapfanha veZimdacehall ava, vanenge vakarohwa ne madrugs” ( they are criminals these Zimdancehall boys, they are always high on drugs and are always up to something evil).

There’s no denying that the lyrical content of Zimdancehall is confronting, and in many instances, it includes the glorification of violence, substance use, and gender discrimination. Opponents of the Zimdancehall culture argue that the music is aggressive in nature and promotes social rebellion – however provocative lyrics do not negate the fact that Zimdancehall is a vocal outlet for many people in Zimbabwe.

Also while many people struggle to look past the profanity, materialism, and high-risk messages often celebrated within mainstream chanting music, bad man culture at its core is built on values of social justice, peace, respect, self-worth, community, hustling and having fun. And because of these values, it’s increasingly being used as a therapeutic tool when working with young people. Civic organisations and youth oriented organisations have been using Zimdancehall as therapy to lure the ghetto youths to the lines. For instance, the voluntary male circumcisions program and the voter registration in Zimbabwe used Zimdancehall to lure people to partake in the programs.

Zimdancehall has had an overwhelming influence on the peasantry community in Zimbabwe, as well as society as a whole. Zimdancehall is more than music, it is a culture.

Over the past decade, it has influenced and uplifted Zimbabwe, speaking up for generations and providing a voice to a group of people trying to deliver a message. Zimdancehall has provided a platform for MCs and chanters to express their opinions about society, the government and the treatment of the poor people in Zimbabwe for decades.

This outlet is crucial for the uplifting of the peasantry community and would benefit society entirely if people opposed to Zimdancehall tried to embrace the culture rather than attack the culture.

The other is that Zimdancehall remains accessible and in grassroots. At its simplest, you can make a beat with your mouth beat boxing or on a desk and create or recite lyrics about anything without singing. The proliferation of cost-friendly, music creating software and hardware puts more involved participation in reach, and allows flexibility in creativity and even pathways to entrepreneurship.

Marginalised communities in the country resonate with the ethos of resisting exclusion and fighting for equity and justice. Others just love the beats and lyrical flow. Beyond beats and rhymes, there’s also something for everyone, Clarks dance, DJ’s scratch and mix, and graffiti artists draw and write. Combined with emceeing, or chanting, these are the basic elements of Zimdancehall with the other being Knowledge of Self: the drive for self-awareness and social consciousness. This accessibility and inclusivity makes Zimdancehall such an effective therapeutic tool for working with young people. It’s a style most feel comfortable with and it provides a way to build rapport between client and therapist. The lyrical content is a vehicle for building self reflection, learning, and growth. Whether analysing existing songs, or creating new content, the vast array of themes found in Zimdancehall songs enable therapists to access topics that may otherwise be hard to talk about. Zimdancehall emerged as a reaction to the daily experiences of poverty, classism, exclusion, crime, violence, and neglect. It necessarily embodies and values resilience, understanding, community and social justice.

Zimdancehall is neither a panacea nor a cure all. It is not perfect, but its promise is undeniable. It is a culture with complicated social and historical roots. And it should not be appropriated without acknowledging, respecting and addressing these, because it is precisely these origins that make is so important. It enables us to critically reflect on our society, and forces us to face issues of, privilege, class, and cultural appropriation.

Given the urgency of our need for equity, justice, tolerance and critical civic engagement in today’s society, we need to challenge our preconceptions about the Zimdancehall culture. It is perhaps one of the most important and generous movements in our world today.

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