FOLLOWERS of local showbiz would agree that dancehall music is the genre of the moment, surpassing even sungura and urban grooves which have in recent past won the hearts of the country’s young people.
By Winstone Antonio
The new genre of music, borrowed from the Caribbean island of Jamaica, has made significant inroads in the country, particularly in high-density suburbs, otherwise known as ghettos. Such suburbs are believed to be hotbeds of violence and other social ills, apart from being traditionally populated by society’s poor.
Dancehall music, in terms of content, is deliberately crafted to resonate with the urban poor and their day-to-day struggle for survival. For this reason, observers note that many of the young artistes in this genre are emerging from ghettos such as Mbare, Dzivarasekwa, Chitungwiza and Highfields.
The late American gangster rapper, Tupac Amaru Shakur, was gunned down in September 1996 in a gangster feud believed to have been part and parcel of the hip hop culture.
While there has not been any murders in Zimbabwe related to fights between musicians, fights have become commonplace these days.
In December during the Zim Dancehall Shut-down gig held at Harare Gardens Partson Chimbodza of Chipaz Promotions, erected a fence to shield the artistes from missiles during their performances.
On Saturday the much hyped engagement of dancehall couple Soul Jah Love and Bounty was marred by violence involving chanters who had come to perform in the couple’s honour at the Harare Gardens.
Qounfuzed (Mcdonald Sheldon) and Mbare-bred chanter, Seh Calaz, were involved in a fistfight. The former was arrested for assault but charges were however later withdrawn at court.
The Ndakusuwa hit maker allegedly assaulted Seh Calaz in a suspected love wrangle involving a fellow female chanter identified only as Vanessa.
Violent conduct disappoints stakeholders
Local music promoters, fans and fellow dancehall chanters who spoke to The Standard expressed concern of the violent clashes, which they said did not augur well for the future of the burgeoning music genre on the local scene.
In many of the dancehall songs, chanters could be heard “dissing” their music rivals using obscene language, with observers saying there was no guarantee that such vendettas would not be settled off-stage, with likely serious repercussions.
There have been widespread reports that most dancehall shows witnessed violence, which is a fairly new phenomenon in the local music pantheon. Accusations have been levelled against the fans of Mbare chanters such as Killer T, Soul Jah Love, Kinnah and She Calaz. The fans stand accused of throwing missiles on the stage whenever musicians who do not hail from Mbare are on stage.
A gig held at Gwanzura Stadium in October last year was rocked by violence as fans threw missiles on stage when Freeman of the Joina City fame was performing, forcing him off-stage prematurely.
Two months later, another dancehall show held at Harare Gardens was characterised by violent scenes with rowdy fans throwing missiles onto the stage were upcoming dancehall artistes were performing.
In January 2014, a gig held at Stodart Hall in Mbare was also marred by chaos that resulted in police officers armed with batons beating up youths who were trying to gate-crash into the gig.
Dancehall artist Dadza D (real name Darlington Zhanje) from Warren Park condemned the violence spreading in dancehall circles and called on artistes to be united so that the fans will also be united, closing all opportunities for hate speech and violence.
“Artistes must be united for the growth of dancehall genre and the sector at large as a way to try and cab violence caused by our divided fans,” Dadza D said.
“The issues of beefs among artistes must be water under the bridge. The moment we create these beefs we will be creating hatred between fans which I believe is perpetrating violence.”
The Magetsi Aenda singer added it was only through such unity that the dancehall genre would grow and bury the emergent violence.
Jonathan Banda, Winky D’s manager, said it was unfortunate that there were camps being created within dancehall, with chanters from different neighbourhoods such as Dzivarasekwa (Danger Zone), Mbare (Mbare Massive) and Chitungwiza perceiving themselves as rival camps.
“It is sad for the dancehall genre to be carrying such a violent tag. From a sociological view, it appears there is popularity within dancehall allied by certain people,” Banda said.
He dismissed rumours that Winky D has also established a “Ninja mafia” that was also involved in throwing missiles onto the stage during shows.
“From the genesis of dancehall we never assembled a group as alleged by some people in the industry. It is only the message from Winky D that tells the ghetto lives of the youths,” he said.
“We had always taken time to denounce violence during our performances. Calling ourselves the Ninjas is because we have survived the bullet of poverty through music and beyond that we still have the energy to stand things in life and thus being a Ninja contrary to what some people put it across.”
Banda said dancehall artistes needed grooming and discipline so that they did not have to resort to violence as part of the popular culture associated with local dancehall.
Another chanter who said promoters should not organise shows in which different groups such as Danger Zone and Mbare Massive would clash as that was bound to excite the fans to violence.
In December 2013, Red Rose Entertainment organised the King of Dancehall Clash show which featured Jamaican dancehall star Turbulence, where different dancehall artistes were lined up to “clash”.
Top chanter like Winky D and Freeman however turned down the offer to perform at the show arguing that there no longer participated in dancehall clashes.
Mbare Massive, which accepted the invitation, went on to win the show amid reports that it was their fans who judged the performances (i.e by public demand) as there was no panel of selected judges.
The chanters had learnt their lessons well in 2012 during a clash dubbed the Winter Warmer Concert headlined by Jamaican artiste Agent Sasco which spawned hatred among the different dancehall outfits and their fans.
Promoters call for ceasefire
Award-winning music promoter Biggie Chinoperekwei said violence at dancehall gigs was an emerging culture that should be nipped in the bud and called on the law enforcement agents to act.
“Continuous violence cases at dancehall show are disturbing. I urge artistes to preach the gospel of denouncing violence during their live shows,” Chinoperekwei said. “This genre has great potential of growing, but unruly elements are trying to destabilise it.”
Chinoperekwei said the issue of sprouting stables was contributing to the problem but there was need for promoters join hands and ensure that the different dancehall groups were united.
“Producers of different riddims must not allow artistes to be on their projects if they are to sing lyrics those diss fellow chanters,” he said.
Simbarashe Chakare of Bodyslam Entertainment in Highfields said dancehall artistes must be disciplined.
“Many of the artistes lacks professionalism as evident by their acts of double booking shows, absconding paid shows which must come to any end,” Chakare said.
Jamaican dancehall chanter Turbulence speaking to journalists when he visited Zimbabwe last year for the King of Dancehall show said rival groups in Zimbabwe must understand that battles are never a solution in dancehall, but communication is the key to unite.
The Real Warrior singer said singing uplifting music and telling people that unity is better than hate, segregation and bloodshed.
The relationship between music promoters and musicians has also courted controversy as some promoters were advertising popular artistes for their shows without their consent in order to woo large crowds.
The failure of these artistes to come for the advertised shows has seen provoked fans causing violence as they feel short changed by the promoter.
Despite the violence scenes characterizing the genre, Zim Dancehall has continued to get recognition with Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) organisers giving dancehall artistes the platform to showcase their talent on the final day of the festival which commence on April 29.