From Ting-a-ling a ling To Popopopo : The Zimbabwe Dancehall Moment
Who remembers those days, on the streets of Highfield, pafio, in Harare, when one’s ears would be filled with sound of that dance invoking bass, and little kids voices resonating with Shabba Rank’s voice, on that dance and swing tip. I would have wanted to say on the dusty streets of of pafio, but in those heady post-independence days, potholes had not visited Zimbabwe’s roads, an affliction this generation has known all too well!
Thoughts of ting-aling and pafio were evoked as I became part of one of, if not the, largest gathering of Zimbabweans I have witnessed in my time in the UK so far. Promoter, King Alfred and the Zim Cup Clash of 29 March 2014 brought Zimbabweans from far and wide across the UK, and was testament to the growth and popularity of a genre of music that has traditionally been regarded as a Jamaican staple. My journey from the pastures of Shamva to fio and Kuwadzana, and my time at a mission school, have been enough to make ma aware of the place that dancehall music has had in Zimbabwe. I remember moments in boarding school when someone would bring a small radio that we would huddle around in the darkness for fear of being caught and play cassettes into the wee hours of the night. Thanks to the disciplinary practices of boarding school, we were not allowed to own radios. Something about my love (not) for authority may have come from there!
Anyway, so, listening to and watching Killer T, of the popopopo chat fame, perform at the Dunstable Leisure Centre made me think about some of the journeys this music has taken in Zimbabwe, and it’s currency across generations here amongst the Zimbabwean diaspora There is obviously the Marley moment in 1980. One Jamaican old man, after learning that I am Zimbabwean, came up to me, smiled and said “Aaah… Bob Marley… we gave ya yo freedom, ya know.” I wasn’t sure where he could have learnt such, so I just smiled back.
I go back to that moment because it symbolically represents an ushering in of a new dawn for Zimbabwe, and simultaneously of a significant musical moment, not necessarily of dancehall, but of reggae as an attendant and embryonic source of Zim Dancehall as we know of it today. Growing up, besides the ting-a-lings’ of the 90’s, one would regularly get the sounds of Gregory Isaacs, Joseph Hill and Culture, Jimmy Cliff, Eric Donaldson, Freddy McGregor, Yellow Man, Dennis Brown and many others. This is the music that would belong to those colloquially referred to as “marasta”. You get the image of big speakers outside a window, and a group of guys sitting and smoking at a bridge on the corner of the street. Cocoa Tea is asking “wont you go home soundboy” or something like that. I walked out of the house, back from school, ran kwaMachipisa to get meat from Makomva, to these sounds. Jamaican influences were thus pervasive.
My dancehall baptism came properly after 1998, in boarding school, as I have already alluded to. That is when I also became aware of the sound system culture of those days. There were names such as Stereo One International, Silverstone, Alkebulani, among many others. I remember names that were popular at that time, the likes of Bango, Mad Minnox, Major E, and others. I think that is the crucible that also formed Winky D. Now I was introduced to dancehall names and riddims that are too many to mention. Saturdays in boarding school were R.E (record evenings) and that is when “fresh” , new songs would be unleashed, cassettes from friends and relatives abroad unwrapped, as well as shiny new cd’s that could play on the new sound system the school had bought. It was sweat and sweat.
Suffice to say, from reggae bands such as Transit Crew and Ras Jabu, to the current generation of Zim dancehall artists, there has been a shift in language and style. Conversations continue around what Zim Dancehall means today, the tensions and differences that arise, and calls for unity. There have been criticisms around “authenticity” and representation of “Zimbabwean values” but in the end, these will not remain static. The popopopo chant is taking over, and one hopes Zim Dancehall is poised for growth and maturity.
People like Paul Simple and Zimbabwe Entertainment have been doing some really great work of putting Zimbabwean music on a transnational level, especially with this dancehall moment and the various music videos and interviews they have conducted. This constitutes an important part of promoting as well as archiving our musical journeys
The Zim Cup Clash 2014 was a poignant reminder of the diverse music forms that continue to come out of Zimbabwe, and the power of such music to remind one of times and places in the past. Performances from various young male and female artists evidenced the energy and enthusiasm that the Zimbabwean diaspora has in engaging with the music that is also making waves in Zimbabwe, as headlined by Killer T.
In many ways, reggae and dancehall have been part of many a Zimbabwean’s journey across borders and seas. After the winners of the trophy and the cash prizes, we hold onto the memories, of the cup clash, and of days past.
IMAGES FROM THE NIGHT AND MORE VIDEOS !!! INTERVIEWS !!! ZIMLINKTV