Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Zimbabwe Women: Selective, But Effective Artistes

Women: Selective, but effective artistes

By Joyce Jenje Makwenda
Zimbabwe Herald

WOMEN musicians are more aligned, involved or have full control of certain music genres and styles than others because of certain factors that influence the particular genres and styles.

Women musicians are more into the following styles and genres — jazz, pop, rhumba, urban grooves and gospel music.

Not many women are associated with rock, pennywhistle music and omasiganda (one man band) and sungura music.

Women find it difficult to be associated with certain music genres because of how the genres and styles came into being, for instance jazz music — is seen to be decent music and is associated with African American music.

When it was transported back to Africa through different mediums — radio, records and film — it found its way in the hearts of Africans who had settled in urban centres and had left their traditional homes to look for jobs in this alien and newly-found cold city.

Gibson Mandishona, who grew up in the township, explained in his foreword for the Zimbabwe Township Music Book.

He wrote, "Over the years, Zimbabwe Township Music artists have experimented, improvised and sung their way with ecstatic tunes that proved irresistible and unforgettable.

"The music nurtured a new identity which outwitted urban boredom, ushered in family entertainment, and finally bridged the middle passage between the generations of jazz/blues lovers.

"Alike politicians during the colonial period, Zimbabwean musicians braved their way forward, despite being subjected to overt and covert racism, which was then a grim reality, but which nevertheless created an innovative and sleek idiom-jazz expression."

The similarities that African American and Black Zimbabweans had, contributed and encouraged Zimbabweans to use Negro Spirituals, jazz in their repertoire during their 1930s early urban music.

The music’s lyrics were translated into Shona or Ndebele to give it a local flavour.

Jazz music was associated with decent women and women who were part of the music still maintained their dignity. Women musicians who were associated with this type of music were Lina and Evelyn and had a strong church background.

Women musicians in the 1930s started to copy other women jazz musicians and also negro spirituals and came up with their own form of jazz; township jazz music, the women were seen as well-mannered and they became accepted by the society as civilised.

Jazz music was also used to air their grievances, it became the symbol of identity.

A musician like Dorothy Masuka sang township jazz music as protest music which resulted in her living in exile.

Although Dorothy Masuka is known for jazz music, one day she surprised many and sang a rock song when she performed at the Royal Order of Zimbabwe, where great statesmen were honoured.

I thought I was not seeing properly but it was her; Dorothy Masuka singing a rock song, it must have been always in her mind and one-day it was waiting to explode. Rock music came into mainstream music to challenge the status quo, and she was with her peers, the like of Kenneth Kaunda and she must have gone back in time, and rock music would express what she felt then.

Rock music was and it is still not associated with women musicians in Zimbabwe because of how it was formed.

Very few women could be said to have been associated with rock music; Susan Mapfumo and Laura Bezuidenhout.

Susan’s music borrowed a lot from rock music and other types of music and Laura was the only woman who belonged to a rock outfit in the 1970’s.

Rock music became popular in the 1970’s, although it can be traced from the 1950’s-60’s under different styles; rock in roll, rock, hard rock etc.

In the 1970’s, it was known as hard rock and was mostly challenging the status quo, from religion, education, dressing etc. It was protest music which did not have anything to do with diplomacy as jazz would, because it did not observe society’s structures as its main purpose was to change laid rules and thinking.

There were groups like Wells Fargo and Eye of Liberty in the 1970’s and internationally there were groups like Chicago, Lady Zepelin, Deep Purple, the list is endless. Internationally, not many women are involved in Rock music, some of them are Tina Turner, remember Night Bush City Limits it remains one of my most favourite song in my collection.

Rock music could be classified as radical music, and women found it difficult to be associated with this kind of music as this could make it even more difficult for them to be accepted by the community/society since being in music even through the genres that are associated with women, for instance jazz, gospel etc, women still have to trade consciously.

Women would want to air their grievances in a civilised manner and also to entertain in a way that would make society accept them; jazz music is one genre that has provided them with that and gives them "dignity".

Most women are not wired for rock music in Zimbabwe and yet the way women used music in pasichigare could be in a way associated with rock music were women would really express themselves, and vent out their feelings in a song, just like the way Susan Mapfumo used to.

Women in the olden days would complain to their husbands’ families about their husband non performance in the main room and about their broken cooking sticks and backs and the family would attend to the problem so that the couple would have a happy life.

This was taken seriously as it was the corner stone of a happy marriage.

In today’s "civilised" world women’s expression is controlled by many factors which make it difficult for them to express themselves.

Omasiganda music, which is loosely known as one-man band music as the musician singing also plays the guitar, has not really found its way to women musicians.

There are few women who are into one woman musician’s music and one who really made her mark in this genre was Patricia Matongo.

The solo or one-man band musicians sang and entertained township folk in the streets since the 1940’s.

"Omasiganda" is derived from an Afrikaans word for musician "musiciaant".

Because they performed mostly in the open, patrons paid very little for the entertainment.

Token money was often thrown to them by the enthusiastic audience.

Josaya Hadebe was one of the most famous "masiganda", his favourite tunes tended to be derogatory or vulgar in meaning.

A song like, Pendeka (Prostitute), is typical of Josaya’s compositions.

Some tunes were satirical on women, although nevertheless, he was popular with females.

Although Patricia Matongo became popular as a one woman band musician her music was laid back and was not blue like Josaya Hadebe’s.

Sungura is also a music genre which seems not to attract women musicians, this could be as a result of how the music originated.

Of late we have seen some female dancing groups like Amavithikazi, Mambokadzi and Girls La Musica, the women dancing groups enjoy their autonomy as women and do not necessarily belong to any male group.

By so doing they are able to have control of the genre and are independent as women.

They sometimes back up the sungura groups but on hired basis, which gives them autonomy of the music and their creativity, unlike if they were permanently part of the band.

Women who are into sungura music have not recorded the music as men have done, but are more into performing the music.

"Kwela" or Pennywhistle music is one music genre which has not really been associated with women playing the instrument except providing dancing as backing.

The way the music started also makes it not attractive to women playing the pennywhistle instrument which produces what can be loosely called kwela music.

"Kwela" music once had a big following in Zimbabwe from the 1950’s-1960’s.

It was originally played on penny whistles, (wind instrument)and it can be traced from the black South African Townships.

The pioneers of Kwela would play in city street corners attracting both black and white passersby. The police disliked such gatherings in the city, which soon put the audience on the alert.

The sight of police automatically triggered the dispersal of the audience. "Kwela" was originally associated with social outcasts who played cards on street corners, where crowds would gather around.

At the sight of police people shouted "Kwela — Kwela", which in Zulu means "climb".

The policemen would order those arrested to "climb" into police trucks, shouting "Kwela — Kwela".

The word subsequently became a warning signal at the sight of police vans, for people to flee to safety.

"Kwela" music did not initially appeal to township jazz musicians, who felt superior to pennywhistlers.

That is also how women in jazz music viewed Kwela music as unsophisticated music and they did not want to be part of it.

Kwela music was revived in the 1980’s just like jazz music but it still remained a male domain, Kwela musicians are performing on a small scale, but it is still a domain for male musicians.

A project is underway to encourage young women musicians to play the penywhistle (kwela music), and other wind instruments.

Women were not part of the movement that was associated with pennywhistle music that is why up to this day the music has remained male music.

Despite not being part of some of the music genres/styles, women musicians have done well in the particular genres/styles that they have decided to be associated or be part of or take full control of.

Joyce Jenje- Makwenda is a researcher, archivist, author, producer, her forthcoming book is; Women Musicians of Zimbabwe 1930’s-2010. She can be contacted on: joyce.jenje@gmail.com

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