African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe

African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe

African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe

African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe

Synopsis

In this new history of music in Zimbabwe, Mhoze Chikowero deftly uses African sources to interrogate the copious colonial archive, reading it as a confessional voice along and against the grain to write a complex history of music, colonialism, and African self-liberation. Chikowero's book begins in the 1890s with missionary crusades against African performative cultures and African students being inducted into mission bands, which contextualize the music of segregated urban and mining company dance halls in the 1930s, and he builds genealogies of the Chimurenga music later popularized by guerrilla artists like Dorothy Masuku, Zexie Manatsa, Thomas Mapfumo, and others in the 1970s. Chikowero shows how Africans deployed their music and indigenous knowledge systems to fight for their freedom from British colonial domination and to assert their cultural sovereignty.

Excerpt

Writing about her childhood in 1960s Buhera, in rural colonial Zimbabwe, Sekai Nzenza (Herald, December 11, 2012) reminisced about how, one Christmas Eve, her mother instructed her and her siblings to look out for a local Anglican priest, Baba Mutemarari. Once they spotted him coming, she instructed them to hide “everything that was unChristian around the village compound. We covered two big pots of the highly potent mhanga beer under sacks and blankets then closed the kitchen hut. My brother Charles dragged our famous drum [ngoma] called ‘Zino irema’ and hid that in the granary. My father reluctantly switched off his Mahlatini and the Mahotela Queens music and hid the gramophone in the bedroom.”

These were the dying days of the rebel British colonial state, Rhodesia, some seven decades after British settlers had invaded the country in 1890 and missionaries and the state had crusaded against African cultures unimpeded, seeking to supplant them with their Europeanized Christian doctrines. This late in the colonial era, African families that held onto their chivanhu—indigenous knowledges, cosmologies, and ways of being still endured continuing epistemicidal missionary crusades, campaigns to exterminate or subvert such knowledges and ways of being (Grosfoguel 2013, 74). Some deployed the time-tested, disingenuous smile to fool the bothersome village evangelist, the adoptive apostle of the foreign mission. Sekai’s family was wary of Baba Mutemarari’s condemnation of “beer, singing and dancing the way we did [as] unChristian and against civilised European behavior.”

In Madzimbabwe and related cultures, the musical context encapsulates the people’s shared cognitive forms and societal values, and their associated behaviors and underlying moral codes and concepts (Ngugi 1997, 11). Music is a vector of communication not only amongst the living, but also between the living and the world of the ancestors, nyikadzimu. This cosmological essence constitutes the music’s sacrality and power. It is therefore not surprising that music became deeply involved in the battle of cultures that characterized the colonial encounter, with the colonists seeking to conquer indigenous knowledge in order to disarm a people who had deployed their cultures not only to resist evangelization . . .

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