Thursday, January 17, 2013

The return of Willie Chigidi

Zvinoda Kutangira Pasi, a play by Willie Lungisani Chigidi
Published in 2011 by Zimbabwe Publishing House, Harare
ISBN: 9780797446434, 64 pages
Reviewed by Memory Chirere

Although I am yet to see it on stage, veteran Shona playwright, Willie L Chigidi’s latest and sixth play, Zvinoda Kutangira Pasi, shakes the faith of some of us who have not had opportunity to think deeply about the real lives of actors and how it may relate with their work.

Although we know that acting is imitation, would you stand it, if as in Zvinoda Kutangira Pasi, your wife appears in a local tv drama as somebody’s girl friend? Where would you put your eyes when her tv drama man gives her a lingering kiss in one scene and proceeds to go in between the sheets with her in front of the whole nation? Would you simply watch  from the couch in the sitting room? If you are in the bar with some dear friends, would you dismiss it and say: “Well, they are just acting”?

After all that, how would you feel when strangers point you out in public, saying: “There goes the real husband to that mischievous tv drama woman.”? Just where do we draw the line between life on stage and the real life of an actor? And; can actors claim that they are not affected (positively or negatively) by what they play on stage? Is our society ready yet to accept that the killer on stage could actually be a loving father and husband in real life? These matters appear simple  Chigidi seems to insist through his play that it is not.

Johannes Mabhechu cannot believe his eyes when his wed wife, Geraldine acts girlfriend to a local tycoon and serial bed-hopper called Justice. Whenever the sensational tv drama begins, Johannes either walks out of his friends in the bar or sits there, sulking. If he is in the home, he either rushes to switch off the tv or sits there scowling and muttering to himself. He does not know how to face his half grown daughters who encourage their mother.

Besides being a play within a play, Zvinoda Kutangira Pasi belongs to the theatre of ideas. Here the dramatic action is largely played out in words. There is very limited emotional and physical action. Only once do things become physical and somebody receives a slap across the face. As the title suggests, this play invites you to go back to the basics: Does drama mean the same for both African and western audiences? Do you become what you act? Willie Chigidi is keen on churning out plays that ask fundamental questions just as in; Mhosva Ndeyako, Mufaro Mwena and Imwe Chanzi Ichabvepi? and others.

However, Chigidi could have done better with the three Mabhechu sisters by making them more distinct. They tend to speak like one another and their opinions coalesce. This is a play that could be relevant across Africa and may be worth translating.

Born and bred in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, Willie Chigidi is a Professor of African languages and literature at the Midlands State University, Gweru.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Let us learn from Joyce Jenje-Makwenda

Although Joyce Jenje-Makwenda’s book; Zimbabwe Township Music is from way back in 2005, it is a constant reminder that we need to chronicle our arts and artists as Zimbabweans and participate in establishing our opinion in the larger world.

From a Zimbabwean point of view, it will not help matters if, for instance, the first full book on Oliver Mtukudzi is going to be done from out of Zimbabwe by outsiders. And… my dear Zimbabweans, that day is fast approaching! We may need to learn from the case of Dambudzo Marechera who is more written about abroad than at home. The wonderful reception that Moses Chunga received recently in Belgium, taking us by pleasant surprise, should be another wakeup call for us.

We are in a mess already because at major international airports today, you find books on our major politicians written by foreigners. And the books sell like hot cakes! We have not adequately described our prominent men and women to the world and to ourselves.  When we finally close the gate, the calf will have bolted. Although we may never be able to stop others from writing about our own, we have virtually failed to give the first word on most of our icons. This is a collective failure between those with the capacity to fund and those with the skills in our midst.

Although Joyce Jenje-Makwenda’s book is not and could not have exhausted all major issues to do with Township Music in Zimbabwe, it is a very useful starting point in understanding the music and the times. She rehabilitates many names in our music that were almost forgotten.

Joyce Jenje Makwenda’s aptly defines Township Music as music that originated in the new urban centers in the 1930’s and that grew from strength to strength up to the 1960’s and is still growing after slowing down in the 1970’s because of the disruptive war of liberation and subsequent exile of the artists. Without specifying any country, Makwenda says that this kind of music is a fusion of many traditional African music forms from the whole Southern African region like Tsabatsaba, Kwela, Omasganda, Marabi and others. There is also fusion with African American Jazz from America.

Many of the musicians covered here are great names; Moses Mafusire, Dorothy Masuka, Sonny Sondo, Lina Mattaka, Simangaliso Tutani, Roger Hukuimwe, Louis Mhlanga, Jacob Mhungu, Alick Nkatha, Sarah Mabhokela and many more.

 The township musicians played guitars, saxophones, and pennywhistles. They also employed vocals and footstamping to provide entertainment in the growing townships. The first organized Township music was a group from Mbare called Bantu Actors that were led by Kenneth Mattaka in 1932. They had a popular tune called ‘Kumadokero’.

 Besides being a book on music, it  also sociological insights into the world of black people in Harare and Bulawayo of a period of the stated seventy-five years. This book is both informative and exhilarating because besides the historic narrative, there are also here very beautiful pictures of the beautiful iconic musicians of various generations from Harare to Bulawayo.

 As you flip through, you develop nostalgia for the 1930’s, 40’s or the 60’s. The pictures here tend to say much more than words or any form of theorising.

 In one picture, the great musician Sonny Sondo, appears in a dark suit with a marvelous bowtie, drinking what looks like wine from a mug. There is an air of a modern man around him and you can also see that the fellow could smile! His most popular composition is ‘Handei KwaMutare’, a song about the beauty of the mountains around Mutare district. A local Zimbabwean band called ‘Mbare Trio’ did a remix of this marvelous song in 2006.

 In another picture, Sonny appears alongside Steven Mtunyani, Titus Mukosanjera and Sam Matambo of the City Quads of the 1960’s. From these fine pictures, you see that these were refined fellows who realised that they had arrived, musically. They were at the helm of a black people’s Music culture. They gave black township folk some new cultural pride.

Amongst the women musicians, Dorothy Masuka’s pictures are the most outstanding. Turning the pages, you realise that during her days, Dorothy could ‘pose’ for a ‘photo’. In her more recent photographs, in this book, she is chubby, less cheerful but clearly combative, with her eyes closed as she belts out into the mike.

Described here clearly as the best ever woman musician from Zimbabwe, Dorothy Masuka has been singing for over fifty years! She went to school in South Africa from where she discovered her voice. Sophiatown swallowed her and she shared the stage in the 1950’s and 60’s with some great South African women musicians like Dolly Rathebe and Mariam Makeba. Penning great and timeless classics like ‘Hamba Notsokolo’ and ‘Imali yami Iphele eshabeni,’ Dorothy came back home to Rhodesia in the 60’s, crossed boarders into Malawi, Zambia and England.

Known simply as ‘Dotty’, she was once married to Dusty King, a great soccer star of the 50’s. And her single wish now: ‘Someday a local football stadium be named after her former husband.’ From this book one gets the impression that there were no clear cut cultural hindrances to the development of women musicians. If there were, Makwenda chooses not to highlight them at all.

The several pictures of Josaya Hadebe in this book portray a handsome African cowboy with no horse! He should have broken many girls’ hearts in the 1940’s and 50’s. He played ‘Omasganda’ and his favourite tunes tended to be ‘derogatory and vulgar.’ His favourite song ‘Pendeka’ was about the life of a prostitute. However he recorded over fifteen songs with Gallo recording company. And the crowds just loved Hadebe! When he visited the Bantu Sports club in Johannesburg, in 1951, he caused a riot ‘as the crowds followed him through the tunnel, obstructing the soccer spectators from all sides of the field.’

Omasganda artists like Hadebe gave people a sense of belonging because they positioned themselves as ‘popular in a set up where black people wanted ordinary black heroes to identify with in the loneliness caused by being in the township, far away from one’s village of origin.'

However for Joyce Makwenda, one Augustine Musarurwa must be the most outstanding male Zimbabwean musician of all times. His prominence in this book is done justice by a very close and touching narrative of him that reads almost like a day to day diary of events of his life. His song ‘Skokian’ (an illicit township brew) is a song that crossed boarders and various musicians made numerous versions of it. These include the great jazz trumpeter, Louis Armstrong himself, Nico Carsten, Robert Delgado, Sandy Nelson, James Last, Paul Lunga and others.

Born in Zvimba at Musarurwa village, Augustine Musarurwa was not only a world-class saxophonist but also a decent policeman with a knack for the three-piece suit. When the African-American musician, Armstrong, made his famous visit to Rhodesia in 1960, Musarurwa personally paid tribute to Augustine and played alongside him. Later, in 1970, even Hugh Masekela made his own version of Musarurwa’s Skokian.

Besides being a wholesome book that asks the reader to browse on and on, Makwenda’s book has some useful sub sections. In the Recording History section, one learns that recording of music in Zimbabwe started in Masvingo (then Fort Victoria) in1929. Hugh Tracy who was interested in collecting African folk music did the recordings. Individual musicians got prominent recording by Gallo in the 1940’s. Josaya Hadebe, George Sibanda and Sakale Mathe were some of the very first to be recorded.

In the section called Venues one learns about the centrality of venues like Mbare’s Mai Musodzi and Stordat halls and Bulawayo’s Macdonal and Stanley halls in the development of Township Music. The story of an Asian man called Mohammed Bhika or Karimapondo is also touching. He built the Bhika Brothers restaurant to allow decent blacks to have a decent spot to have meals and drinks and music. Africans and Asians were not allowed in the whites only city center spots. Mr. Josiah Chinamano (B.A.) was reported in the African Daily News of 17 November 1956 to have said, ‘the restaurant is a real pride to all Africans who will patronize it.’ In such places township music blossomed.

The Kwela Music section of this book has a more interesting scenario. Kwela music is pennywhistle music. It was first played by the street side, attracting both black and white passersby who were quickly displaced by the police as Kwela usually indicated that there was some gambling going on nearby. The police would order those arrested to climb into big vans and would shout “Kwela! Kwela!” and that became the name for this sharp music. Spokes Mashiyane is considered the most prominent Kwela musician.

There is a way in which township music tended to express the presence of black folks in the urban centers. It became a rallying point for black people and the colonialists tended to disperse people who congregated around an Omasganda or Kwela musician. It is no mistake that names of some nationalists like Daniel Madzimbamuto and Webster Shamhu are associated with either recording or general development of Township music.

Joyce Makwenda has led by example. She has made a very conscious choice to work on a musical form that grew and developed as she grew in the Zimbabwean township of Mbare herself. She is working on a familiar subject in familiar territory. Other writers could work on various other popular Musical forms of Zimbabwe like Chimurenga and Sungura.

There is need now for other writers to go into the some sub themes (established here) and explore them to greater detail, establishing the effects of the music on the lives of ordinary people and exploring more effectively the major individual Township Music  artists themselves. This would be necessary because Township Music has resurfaced again in Zimbabwe with the likes of Tanga weKwaSando, Dudu Manhenga, Prudence Katomeni and others.

-By Memory Chirere





Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Zimbabwean Literature in 2012

(picture: Chiundura Moyo makes a point with his thumb at a writers meeting in Harare recently as Virginia Phiri, Chinodya, Zimunya and Ratsauka  listen.)

It can be difficult to monitor and ultimately define the general production, mediation and reception of literary works from a single year.  Although Albert Nyathi may have published his iconic poem, My Daughter in book form in 2012, the poem itself may be far older than so many other books by other authors published in 2010 or 2011.
For me the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association’s Indaba 2012 was the most outstanding literary event in Zimbabwe in the same year. The theme for the 2012 Indaba and Book fair was ‘African Literature in the Global and Digital Era.’ The Indaba ran from 30 t0 31 July.
The key note speaker, eminent scholar Prof Ngwabi Bhebe was to the point. The aim of his paper was ‘to unpack the concepts of globalisation and digitisation and to explore their implications for African Literature, contemporary history and other disciplines.’ I suspected that he did not want the conference to wander away from the real substance.
He was in agreement with Apolo Nsibambi in saying that although globalisation is ‘a process of advancement and increase in interaction among the world’s countries and peoples facilitated by progressive technological changes,’ it is however, ‘not a value-free, innocent and self-determining process’.
It means that Globalisation is both a meeting place and a battlefield. You stay out, you are damned, you jump in with no clear purpose, and you are damned. Globalisation is not just contemporary, Bhebe warned. Globalisation as a phenomenon stretches back to the old world trades and the old world systems. Globalisation has always been with us. It is not just a thing of today. Throughout the ages, Africa has already lost a lot to globalisation, for instance, through Slavery and Colonialism, Bhebe argued.
For Bhebe, the positive role of the African writer in Globalisation and in both digitalisation and digitisation, is standing up to the challenge to ‘putting the African story at the centre.’ The African writer in this new epoch of globalisation dominated by a new technologically oriented new world order must create a new Africa, a new spirit of optimism, an Africa full of promise, able to feed its teeming populations with a healthy and vibrant people not dependent on Europe and America for sustenance.
African literature, Bhebe continued, must be ‘an indispensable site for debating the paradoxes of the so called dark but the richest continent. For Bhebe, it appears that the African writer should be an ideological worker. However, all this is not going to be easy, he reckoned, because at the moment Africa does not even prescribe the criterion of how its literature should be produced, marketed, mediated and appreciated.
Maybe the flashing point of Bhebe’s presentation is when he said, “I am not least worried about writers making money. But I am distressed about a global culture in which many writers have lost the need to look at our lives critically, to focus on our unique position in the planet’s history and to form ways to celebrate and recreate our humanity as they pursue a higher level of prosperity. Societies interact and in the course societies undergo change. It is when the change becomes unidirectional, that is, flowing only from one culture and adopted only by the recipient culture, that problems arise.”
For me, the fifth session of the second day of the Indaba (on 31 July) stands out most clearly to this day. This session was entitled ‘Copyright, Access to Books and Piracy in Africa’. At first one thought this was just filler because copyright sessions at the ZIBFA Indaba are usually the least attended. But this session was the most lively and illuminating. It was chaired by Dr. Nda Dlodlo.
The third speaker, Chief Superintendent Ever Mlilo of Bulawayo whose paper was entitled: ‘Copyright Violations: The View from the Police’ was the paper of the Indaba because it shed the most light on what publishers and writers take for granted in matters of copyright. She made the following points:
  • Most Creators in Zimbabwe do not clearly know their rights and laws governing Copyright.
  • The police are not necessarily to blame for not arresting the offenders because, “There are laws that we follow as the police. We do not just arrest.” 
  • The fact that Zimbabwe ratified copyright treaties like WIFO does not mean that the police can now arrest offenders. First, the ratified treaty must be subjected to parliament before it can become a law that empowers the police to take action.
  • Intellectual property is different from other forms of property as it needs careful investigation and clear evidence for an arrest to be effected.
  • It is generally not easy for the police to determine that intellectual work has been stolen. Therefore, the police cannot always arrest when there is reproduction.
  • Some reproduction of creative work is permissible if it is limited and to educational purposes, we were reminded.
Responding to the issue of seemingly lenient sentences meted out on those who infringe on copyright, the Chief Superintendent pointed out that;
  • Sentencing is done by the courts of laws who also work with sentencing principles as required by the process of Justice. The sentencing principles consider factors like; is the copyright violator a first offender, is it a woman offender etc. The subsequent punishment may come out seemingly light as a result.
  • In some cases when the violator of copyright is convicted, no compensation goes to the creator, she added.
  • She also complained that unlike in the cases such as stock theft, the owners of copyright in Zimbabwe do not seem keen to appear in court.
  • She also cited cases where the stack holders in the book industry indirectly encourage copyright infringement. One good example is the non availability of set texts in a whole town! This encourages schools and users to photocopy.
  • The Chief Superintendent said it was lawful for people to photocopy limited material for educational purposes and writers should know that they have responsibility to society which nurtured them in the first place.
Towards the end, we slowly started to climb out of the initial sate of devastation. There was a general agreement that the players in the book industry need to sort themselves out and to work very closely with the police. “Always consider your work as if it were your cow,” was a statement to remember from this informative slot.  Never has a slot on copyright at the Indaba been this provocative.
At an organisational level the newly formed Zimbabwe Writers Association continued to lead the way in 2012 in terms of bringing together a wide variety of Zimbabwean writers. They had outreach meetings in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo and Mutare. The birth of Zimbawe Writers Association (ZWA) was a culmination of self-initiated efforts and activities taken by Zimbabwean writers of diverse backgrounds to form such an organisation, with the vision of developing it into a strong and dynamic umbrella organisation for writers in Zimbabwe.
The efforts to form  ZWA  can be traced back to 29 July 2010 when on the side-lines of  the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF 2010), 33 Zimbabwean writers who attended a workshop at the Zimbabwe German Society to discuss the status of writers and their organisations unanimously agreed to form a new organisation to unite the various associations to speak with one collective and bigger voice where their common  interest and welfare are concerned. The Musaemura Zimunya led ZWA was subsequently registered with the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe in January 2011.
In Harare ZWA continued to hold bimonthly meetings on various subject like “How do I create?” and “How do I make money through my art?” Writers and academics who include; David Mungoshi, Petinah Gappah, Stephen Chifunyise, Virginia Phiri, Aaron Chiundura Moyo, Barbra Nkala, Lovemore Madhuku, Primrose Dzenga, Chiedza Musengezi presented and led discussions at ZWA meetings in 2012.
There were also some outstanding book launches in 2012. Ericah Gwetai’s Embracing the Cactus, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s Shadows and Naison Tfwala’s Umfukula Wenhlathu, among other titles, were launched at the Intwasa Arts festival in Bulawayo in September. Tshuma went on to do another very well attended launch in Harare.
There was indeed a remarkable  upsurge of new titles  by Bulawayo based writers in 2012 with other books like Christopher Mlalazi’s Running with Mother and Philani Nyoni’s Once a Lover, Always a Fool.
Embracing the Cactus is Gwetai’s third book. Only a couple of years ago, she wrote Realities, a book of short stories and Petal Thoughts, a must read biography of her late daughter, Dr. Yvonne Vera.
Not to be outdone, prolific writer Shimmer Chinodya launched a collection of short stories entitled Chiwoniso and Other stories which is highly experimental and partly autobiographical too. Chinodya has had a very positive 2012, giving talks on radio, conducting workshops for new writers and participating fervently at writers meetings.
From the usually quiet city of Masvingo came From Where the Wind Blows which was edited by Oliver Nyambi and Tendai Mangena and published by Mambo Press in 2012. This was the most visible poetry anthology in 2012.
Emmanuel Chiwome and Zifikile Mguni’s book, Zimbabean Literature in African Languages: Crossing Language Boundaries, is the most important new academic book on Zimbabwean literature that I have read this year, 2012. This is an attempt to bring literatures in Ndebele and Shona languages to the centre of Zimbabwe’s critical practice for serious scrutiny. The text breaks away from separatist approaches in the study of Zimbabwean literature in African languages.
Another important book of literary criticism to come out in 2012 is Anna Chitando’s Fictions of Gender and The Dangers of Fiction which focuses on Zimbabwean women writings on the topical subject of HIV/AIDS. This book will be useful to students who read Virginia Phiri’s Desparate, Sharai Mukonoweshuro’s Days of Silence, Tendai Westerhoff’s Unlucky in Love, Valerie Tagwira’s Uncertainty of Hope and others.
Another new book on Dambudzo Marechera, accompanied by visual and audio tapes was eventually released in 2012. It is aptly titled, Moving Spirit: The Legacy of Dambudzo Marechera in the 21st Century.’ In it are essays, poems and testimonies by 27 contributors who include various scholars, writers, buddies of Marechera, music composers, journalists, and filmmakers from all over the world. It was compiled by Dobrota Pucherova and Julie Cairnie. This proves that Marechera is going to be a perennial subject. As a nation we may be taking too long to notice that we could create tourism around the likes of Marechera. There are people out there who may want to come and see Marechera’s grave, Marechera’s Harare, Marechera’s Rusape, and to read Marechera’s original letters at the local archive.
Taken in the round 2012 was not really a bad year for our literature even if one is acutely aware that a nation’s literature is judged more by its impact than by figures and mere presence of new books and willing writers.
-By Memory Chirere-