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REPORTER: Eugene Ullman

In Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, live music has always been the most popular form of entertainment.

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With few exceptions, musicians have generally steered clear of politics, and concerts were one space where all Zimbabweans could agree. But all that changed during last year’s election campaign. The Mugabe ZANU-PF Government had become deeply unpopular in the cities, especially Harare. Urgent measures were needed to stem this loss of support in the capital. The government began with a media crackdown. All radio and TV stations were banned, except the state-owned ZBC. Then, ZBC was instructed to ban musicians who were known to be critical of the government.

TAURAI CHIBUWE, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR: It was a propaganda gimmick to stop people from knowing the truth, and the way it was rushed through parliament, you can see it was like a desperate move to get it sailed through. But in the end, it didn’t achieve much.

The first musician to be banned was Andy Brown. Throughout the ’90s, Andy Brown with his band, The Storm, were the rising stars of Zimbabwean music, touring all over Africa, Europe, and the US. Many of the most talented and creative musicians in Harare passed through its ranks. To many people, The Storm was Harare. Andy Brown was clearly no friend of the government. When interviewed by a Danish website, focusing on musicians and censorship, he had this to say:

VOICE OF ANDY BROWN, AUGUST 2000: “The media in Zimbabwe is controlled by the government. They also realised that what we were saying was actually, you know, making people aware of what’s going on and they didn’t like it. Which was generally, ‘Government, watch out! The people, one of these days, will turn against you.’ And I also said, if anyone is hungry then catch the President and cook him. Then we can all eat, because he’s eaten so much money.”

But less than a year after his music was banned, the people of Harare were stunned to hear a very different message from Andy Brown.

ANDY BROWN, MUSICIAN: As a musician, I stand behind the government. I support the land distribution program because I think it is right and just.

Andy’s turnaround followed the announcement of a new strategy by the Ministry of Information. Having banned numerous songs from the airwaves, the Ministry decided to fund and record its own productions to make sure its message reached the people. The Ministry of Information was now officially in show business. And its first project was the ‘More Fire’ album, produced and arranged by Andy Brown and promoted as a showcase for some of Zimbabwe’s rising stars. It was part of a series of CDs and videos called the Third Chimurenga Series – ‘Chimurenga’ meaning ‘struggle’ – the first being against British colonialism and the second against Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. According to the government, the third Chimurenga was about land reform. Andy Brown says it was this battle that won him over to ZANU.

ANDY BROWN: The Zimbabwe Government decided they’re going to take the land, whether they like it or not and give it back to the people, which was the main idea in the first place. And then that doesn’t go down very well with the Western world, with the British, it doesn’t go down very well. Now all of a sudden, Zimbabwe is no more democratic. Zimbabwe now must suffer the economic, you know, sanctions and a whole lot of media demonisation, and all that.

The person who brought Andy Brown and the government together was music promoter Rhoda Mandaza – Andy Brown’s new manager and an active member of ZANU-PF.

RHODA MANDAZA, CO-PRODUCER “MORE FIRE”: This is Zimbabwe and this is what we’re doing and this is the way we’re going. There’s no turning back.

The message of ‘More Fire’ was very clear – the musicians were taking a stand in support of the ruling party. For Rhoda, it was a chance to build the nation and the careers of its artists – a perfect opportunity to bring together her two major interests in one project.

RHODA MANDAZA: I am just so excited about being part of a whole process, being a soldier in this Chimurenga where I am determined to somehow make a mark, yeah, through the things that we do. You know, for me it’s got to be the music and the film and us being able to tell those stories. Because we’ve seen the pattern, you know? And I think for artists in Zimbabwe now, it’s really great. I mean, so many things have opened up for artists to be able to really empower themselves and not to exploited anymore. You know? Because people have realised that, you know, through the music and the theatre and the dance, we can get the message to the people. Music is doing it.

Some of the musicians in the ‘More Fire’ project preferred to remain anonymous. But for singer Fortunate Matenga, this was a big break.

FORTUNATE MATENGA, MUSICIAN: People think it’s politically motivated, but to me music has no boundaries and it’s got nothing to do with politics. Music is just music. And from the way the album makes me feel, it’s our celebrating actually that we’ve got what so many people died for. And that’s the reason why you and me, and people around me, are free today to do whatever we want. So I was just celebrating.

But the target audience of all these efforts, the people of Harare, saw it differently. They had just voted in a mayor from the opposition MDC Party. Anything the government did to bolster support was automatically rejected. Within days of the ‘More-Fire’ launch, things began to change for Andy Brown. His popularity began to evaporate.

TAURAI CHIBUWE: People don’t attend his shows anymore. They don’t want to touch him with a broomstick.

Harare’s independent press attacked with glee. Andy Brown was accused of selling out to the ruling party, of threatening people with guns, of stealing money from his musicians, even of beating his wife. The nightclubs in Harare and the second city, Bulawayo, began to cancel his shows. The Storm would now only perform in the rural areas at events sponsored by the government. Andy Brown’s fans had deserted him.

TAURAI CHIBUWE: Well, he dug his own grave. Because once people don’t attend your shows in Harare, Bulawayo will follow suit. Remember, Andy Brown went to Bulawayo and they threw stones at his instruments. It was only, what? last month. But in Harare there is plenty where people can go and enjoy themselves without being subjected to government-praising songs. People have no sympathy for people like that. You know? Whether he goes bankrupt or not, people actually think he deserves it. Because, you know, if you sleep with dogs, as we say, you end up with fleas.

Losing his audience has only made Brown more defiant.

ANDY BROWN: You know how the media works. So the people actually on the ground in Europe don’t actually know what’s going on here for real. So I don’t understand why everybody…, because I’ve been told wrong things, I made my statement and I stand by that statement. But obviously the opposition isn’t in good books with me. They cartoon me. They do all sorts of things and write me, whatever I play these days, they are no more listening to music. It’s like “The ZANU-PF musician”. So I have become the ZANU-PF musician. It is not actually the point. I’m beyond politics. I am a musician at heart at the end of the day, you know. I just take a stand for the right things for justice.

Although Andy and Rhoda have now parted company professionally, Rhoda has not been deterred and is busy producing more albums and more music festivals – all with funding from the government. And she’s certainly not making any excuses for it.

RHODA MANDAZA: And yes, some of us have benefited from that kind of funding. And you know what? We’ve done some kick-arse work. And you know, what’s so wrong with being funded by my government to do work for my country? I’m not going to apologise for that. You know what I’m saying? And yes, you know, a lot of us have been – I mean a lot of artists have had to take a beating, you know? Andy Brown, one of those, you know, the Chimbetus, the Chinxes. I mean, I know I’ve had to take some of it. You know, where the minute they see you, you know, hey, even my own family call me “ZANU’s daughter” kind of thing, you know?

But not everyone was prepared to take the beating. Edwin Nyaruke, better known as ‘Potato’ is a singer and rapper and one of the rising stars of The Storm and the ‘More Fire’ project. ‘Potato’s neighbourhood, Glenview, is a stronghold of the opposition. And ‘Potato’ quickly realised that his credibility was on the line. If he wanted to be a voice of the people, he couldn’t be a voice of the ruling party.

EDWIN ‘POTATO’ NYARUKE, MUSICIAN”: Now if you take this side, at the end of the day, since you are still learning also other things to put in your art, you are going to see something that is wrong about them. But since you’ll be taking sides, you can’t say it. You know what I’m saying? Because that’s your side, so you can’t say anything bad about your side, can you? You can’t do that.

‘Potato’ was faced with a choice – making money on the government’s payroll or taking a chance on his own. He announced to the press that he was quitting the project.

EDWIN ‘POTATO’ NYARUKE: Oh, yes. Oh, yes I did. Yeah, I did.

REPORTER: Tell me about that.

EDWIN ‘POTATO’ NYARUKE: Well, you see what happened was, like, I was working with Andy Brown, right? OK, we did the ‘More Fire’ project. We supported the land issue. But at the end of the day, it turned out that there was now other people getting money from this person and squashing it in their pockets whilst they were supposed to be sharing the monies. And this one is going, saying this to that one because of this one is doing that. And we had a commotion there. So I decided to leave them and this guy alone, you know?

The third Chimurenga CDs didn’t sell and shows were often cancelled. The ‘More-Fire’ album had failed to get the urban youth excited. Rhoda has now changed strategy. Her latest concerts often have no mention of Chimurenga, ZANU or politics at all. Artists who have so far avoided working for the government are now encouraged to get involved.

RHODA MANDAZA: People need to get in there, you know, because those that are in there doing it are trying. Because, you know, the environment has been changed to make it accessible for us to negotiate and say, you know, “If this is what I’m doing as an artist, this is my work.”

One by one, Andy Brown’s musicians have left the band, but he’s not about to give up his music. This is the first rehearsal of the new Storm. They are talented but inexperienced, excited to be part of a legendary band, and their once dissident leader now accepts that he is known as the voice of the government’s third Chimurenga.

ANDY BROWN: Politics have always affected all of us and they have always affected me. And I think if that is happening, I can also now contribute more chance to other younger musicians because maybe we can now talk to ministers about programs that can now carry on, you know, in a positive way, which is what exactly I’m doing now. I have suffered a support base, you know but it’s just a passing phase. Anyone who supports that people must get their land gets demonised. Hah. Fine. So I got my land anyway. So that’s fine.

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