DURING January’s bloody political protests, this reporter had a conversation with Winky D’s manager, Jonathan Banda, who at the time, sounded very worried about the safety of his artiste as the politically volatile situation unravelled.
Banda’s fears had been prompted by threats of violence towards the dancehall singer that saw him prematurely dump a show in Kwekwe.
Weeks prior to our engagement, machete-wielding assailants, believed to be linked to Zanu PF in the Midlands had promised to mete out punishment on Winky D for releasing Kasong Kejecha – a track perceived to back opposition politics, particularly MDC Alliance.
This was not his first time singing lyrics that are politically relatable, but a hostile reaction leading to the abortion of a show “for the first time”, according to Banda came as a surprise and a solid statement of the perturbing times we are in.
The nation is now effectively at a point of outright polarisation along political lines, a phenomenon that has not spared the musicians and their work.
Mainly affected by this is, arguably the two biggest music brands in the country, Winky D and Jah Prayzah, who have been grouped as opposition and pro-government, respectively.
For Jah Prayzah, the effects of this schism are more recent and have resulted in massive cyber-bullying as well as attempts to “mute” his music by a section of those that assume he is an agent of the Zanu PF government.
Despite the artistes’ teams being at pains to declare their apolitical status, armchair analysts appear to think there is a political message to be deduced from anything, including love punchlines.
“We are not political, I don’t know how many times Jah has said he is apolitical and never wants to be involved in politics,” reiterated Keen Mushapaidze, the singer’s manager, recently.
Banda has preached a similar gospel, but there are no takers as the imaginary musical standoff apparently tickles the fancy of a politically divided citizenry, mused in the belief that all things are now politically divided into two sides.
Equally, this has subsequently shaped an imagined fissure between the two artistes similar to the one created between Chimurenga musician Thomas Mapfumo and the late jazz crooner Oliver Mtukudzi, except that the latter’s beef was purely founded on musical grounds.
Competition may be a great stimulant for the industry to encourage production of exceptional work, but history proves that it is best kept clear of external forces, especially politics.
In the past, musicians’ careers, even those undoubtedly talented, have failed to outlive the toxicities of political configuration due to the potential abhorrence one could attract when aligning to a particular side.
Leonard Zhakata, the late Andy Brown and even Mapfumo are testament to this.
It is sheer sabotage because artistes’ clout is determined by fluid appeal across the spectrum and taking sides jeopardises the influence of their work.
The ripple effects are far reaching and go beyond local confines, where they would struggle to make impact without significant local followership, which also means stunted growth for the local industry.
Added to it, the current scrutiny of lyrics by politically inclined critics will surely make artistes, even beyond Winky D and Jah Prayzah, think twice before taking a song to the studio booth.
That renders a big blow, not only to freedom of expression, but artistic liberty and it signals the beginning of an era of self-censorship and suppression of ingenuity among the country’s creative community.
Essentially, comparing Jah Prayzah and Winky D may be a normal thing to do for many, as both of them are at the top of their game, but that debate is healthy if it remains confined to music and not politics, after all one is an art, yet the other is a dirty game of power retention.
Music lovers should snap out of politically branding artistes and appreciate music for its true worth. Comparing the two is yet another waste of time, because not only is their sound distinct, but the execution of their work is worlds apart.