Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Censorship is based on fear

TOP del.icio.us

Although I love music, I never used to think of it as a big thing until I interviewed a couple of local musicians when I was still a journalist for the national newspaper. They made such shocking revelations about the industry that they loved and had chosen for their careers. They gave testimonies of how they and their colleagues had been tortured, jailed, exiled and even killed, banned or denied airplay because of their music. I began to wonder why certain forms of music attract so much discomfort and therefore silenced. I recall even then that when I submitted their story to my editor, it was considered to be not newsworthy and never saw light of day on the broadsheet.

South African musician Johnny Clegg once said: “Censorship is based on fear.” Fear of what? Music is a free expression of the ideas that may express musicians’ hopes and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, or simply how they see things. However these expressions often conflict with those of people in power. One wonders whether they genuinely feel threatened by (healthy) criticism or they simply do not like or appreciate music at all? In Zimbabwe it seems more like some are threatened by the very nature of a free exchange of ideas. Musicians form a critical aspect of social commentary – what my lecturer used to call the social conscience. They, like everyone else, have rights to certain levels of freedom of speech. Music censorship is a threat to the future of music around the world.

Today, Monday, March 3rd is Music Freedom Day, an annual global event advocating freedom of musical expression. Musicians and broadcasters worldwide will focus on music censorship.

I bet most people, music lovers or not, have no idea what kind of hell most musicians go through. Often, when we talk about human rights defenders, only groups like WOZA, human rights organizations and other direct protesters come to mind. Protest musicians, with their subliminal, often subtle messages are often forgotten but constantly face the wrath of the powers that be for being too vocal.

It might open your eyes if somebody reminded you of how government has arrested, banned and harassed people for simply expressing themselves through art and music whilst trying to make a living as artists.

  • South African DJ Cleo has apparently been banned from ever performing in Zimbabwe because he uttered “bad things”. What DJ Cleo allegedly uttered was a critical comment about President Robert Mugabe’s economic mismanagement. According to DJ Cleo, the ban came after he made a joke on the radio about his trip to Zimbabwe.
  • Raymond Majongwe’s music has been banned from the Zimbabwean radio. The government has been uncomfortable with Majongwe’s music because it is too critical. Although he is still battling it out with the government, people distribute his music on the streets thus some play his music in the comfort (safety) of their cars or homes.
  • Thomas Mapfumo, of Chimurenga music style, exiled and most disliked by the Zim government, has made the US home after facing a complete blackout of his music in Zimbabwe.
  • Do you remember also, our childhood favorite DJ on the former Radio 2, Brenda Moyo, who suffered under Jonathan Moyo’s regime. She was forcibly retrenched after she had played two blacklisted songs and generally failing to play according to Moyo’s tune.
  • Maskiri, an urban grooves rapper with an explicit and cutting tongue has been forced to change the title of his upcoming album, ‘Vuka Vuka’- meaning ‘Aphrodisiac’ or a sexual enhancing drug- in order for him to get airplay from the state broadcaster. His music is considered explicit content.

There are many others- the likes of Chiwoniso Maraire, Hosiah Chipanga and Andy Brown who’ve rubbed certain people the wrong way with music considered either too critical or simply illicit.

Music censorship is a very real threat to most musicians’ careers and lives. This threat heightens especially towards elections- like this very period we are in. But as poet Chirikure Chirikure once said, “Elections come and go, but a poem or a song lasts a century.”

Some of the questions to ask ourselves are: should critical/protest musicians/ offensive content musicians be silenced even if they have specific audiences who would like to listen to them? Shouldn’t it be up to the individual to select and listen to particular content for themselves rather than have it censored on their behalf? Does censorship really work? For instance, in Zimbabwe, musicians manage to evade censorship by creating songs with double-meanings. And they often get away with it. Musicians like Oliver Mutukudzi, although well respected, have almost been in trouble with the government for songs perceived to indirectly refer to and mock the president. Although Mutukudzi himself never once said the song Bvuma Wasakara (loosely translated to mean, Admit it: You are now too old) referred to the president, his audiences deduced meaning for themselves. Well, a member of his stage team had initially beamed a light on the portrait of Mugabe while the song played amid cheers from the crowd. This is what set the ball rolling on the inquiry about the song which Mtukudzi defended by saying it had been derived from his personal family experiences and only talked about domestic issues – not anything political. That’s the beauty of music, people make sense of it in whichever way they like. The song is still blacklisted to this day.

Music can be banned but the voices of the singers will never be silenced. Above all, people will always be eager to listen to the banned music. Banned music, like pornography, always finds a way of circulating.

Let us know your thoughts. Should certain music be censored? Who should decide this? Tell us about some of the music/musician you’ve loved and why, but has been censored for some reason. Leave a comment here, or write to us on info [at] kubatana [dot] org [dot] zw or phone us on +263 4 776 008. Kubatana will put together and publish the various thoughts of our readers.

For ideas on how you can participate in advocacy for music rights and the right to freedom of expression in general, visit the Freemuse website. Freemuse is the World Forum on Music & Censorship, advocating freedom of expression for musicians worldwide.

And if you thought music wasn’t such a big thing, did you know that the Taliban in Afghanistan are trying so hard to stop everyone there from playing music, blowing up CD-shops with bombs, and giving fines to people who play music in their cars? Imagine the possibility of a music free generation, doesn’t that scare you?

Go ahead, play a controversial song, interview a censored musician, or dedicate your next song to freedom of musical expression on Monday, 3 March.

3 comments to “Censorship is based on fear”

  1. Comment by Censorship is based on fear-Download Music:

    [...] You_Want_A_Law_To_Dance wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptMusic can be banned but the voices of the singers will never be silenced. Above all, people will always be eager to listen to the banned music. Banned music, like pornography, always finds a way of circulating. … [...]

  2. Comment by Kubatana.net speaks out from Zimbabwe » Blog Archive » Toyi-Toying while others are lax:

    [...] Last week I also challenged our readers to partake in celebrating and commemorating this day, I also hoped some musicians would give us feedback. Zilch. Well, it’s kinda sad; I think musicians should be moved to help fight their own battles. Then the rest of us can just but lend in our support. It’s more saddening considering what other serious musicians go through in order to fight for the right to freedom of expression. They risk their lives and careers through protest music and social commentary. Yet other musicians have such a nauseatingly laid back approach to it all. [...]

  3. Comment by paul murima:

    wonderfull argument.!!!