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The Edwin Hama discography and its inspired insights

12/10/2016 00:00:00
by Seewell Mashizha
 
Many Zimbabwe have turned to vending in order to survive
 
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BEFORE Zimbabwe’s political independence in 1980 Thomas Mapfumo did a song that resonated well with the feelings of oppressed but hopeful black Zimbabweans. In ‘Kuyaura Kweasina Musha’ Mapfumo poignantly lamented dispossession, subjugation and homelessness.

Mapfumo did several other songs in which hunger and deprivation were paramount. This was done with clever lyrics that no superficial listener could easily link with either militancy or agitation. Other musicians of the time also had their own songs that lauded the armed struggle and exhorted the masses to greater efforts: Zacks Manatsa and The Green Arrows, Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits as well as Tineyi Chikupo and The Heavy Duty Band.

After 1980 the popular music of Zimbabwe continued to blossom and grow in all sorts of interesting ways and there were many new kids on the block. Art was alive and kicking! While rock continued to hold sway and such bands as Baked Beans, Wells Fargo, Eye of Liberty and Dr. Footswitch ruled the roost, there was a hive of creativity and innovation going on with the likes of Kasongo and others championing what was to become Zimbabwe’s Sungura.

Then came Edwin Hama with his phenomenal song, ‘Todays Paper’. He took forward the tradition of conscious music that had evolved during the lead-up to independence. His analysis of Zimbabwe at a time when the euphoric bubble of independence was lively and effervescent was both brave and stunning. I doubt that he knew just how prophetic some of his lyrics would turn out to be well beyond his own life time.

In the early days most black Zimbabweans were quite ignorant of such forces as supply and demand. Let alone inflation! Yet, someone others might have regarded as a musical upstart took it all in his stride and tackled bread and butter issues with amazing aplomb, spot-on accuracy and outstanding creativity. Edwin Hama’s lyrics combined beautifully with his irresistibly epigrammatic melodies. And he did all that using an eclectic mix of English, Ndebele and Shona lines! His stanzas in Today’s Paper are quite revealing and instructive. Take the following lines for example:

Have you seen today’s paper?

Did you read the news?

Have you seen today’s paper?



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Have you read the news?

Cost of living is rising

Prices and taxes have gone up again

Increase in salaries not confirmed

Unemployment is doubling

With the population explosion

In this city ooh…yeah

In the song ‘Asila Mali’ (We have no money) Hama cries:

I’ve been counting the change from the dollar

After buying bread

The dollar is getting small

Day by day every day

We’ve got a problem

Some money problem

Some thirty or more years later who can deny the precision of Hama’s analysis? In what in boxing lingo would be a devastating uppercut, Hama then gave the country the deceptively subdued ‘Waiting for a new day’. Philosophically speaking, a new day is always coming. The symbolic death of the sun as it sets each day always brings the miracle of a new day next day. We then watch the day for signs to assure us of continuity. With characteristic clarity and lyricism Edwin Hama sings:

Waiting for a new day

Waiting for a new time

Hoping for a new life

Wishing better to come

Praying better to come

And, as they say, a cat may look at a king. So in ‘Dreams of a home’ Hama dares to dream of a sweet peaceful life accentuated by an idyllic pastoral existence where indigenous wild fruits are plentiful and you can quench your thirst at the many springs dotted around the countryside. After all, birds have their perch, fish swim in water and baboons have their rock ledges. Innocuous words perhaps, but quite incisive nevertheless.

Too bad, Edwin, that you left us rather too soon. Still, ‘Dreams of a home’ your last hit song makes everyone want to pack a bag and follow the trail as you ‘Talk of Gokwe’. How so very evocatively you extol the virtues of your homeland in Gokwe! Your wandering poet’s eye and wondering aesthetic mind lend a virtuous magnificence to the landscape that you traverse. And the pun on ‘Talk of Gokwe’ is reminiscent of that night club of the same name.

When I play your song I can’t help thinking of Neville Shute’s book called ‘A Town like Alice’. In this novel, Shute writes that there is an ice cream parlour in Alice and a girl can have her hair done. Gokwe town has surpassed the expectations of many, and yes there’s ice cream and yoghurt there and a girl can have her hair done too. She can dare to hope and to wait for a new day. This motif of a new day in Hama’s song is quite apt for this column and in the days that follow we shall try and look at the various ways in which people in Zimbabwe wait for a new day. And so in keeping with Hama’s song we shall go a-roaming across Zimbabwe’s vast experiential landscape, picking things here and there as we go along.

Dear Reader, since this is our entry into the column and because it’s never easy deciding how to start a new column, I have had to be expansive with the background thinking and detail. The challenge is to not only come up with a label for the column, but also to define and exemplify its scope and content. That, willy-nilly, influences the themes, content, language and tone of all subsequent articles. By the same token and with the same stroke of a pen, a specific type of audience chooses the column. So, dear readers, welcome aboard ‘The Waiting for a new day Train’ and let’s get ready to roll.

You may very well have been asking what we are talking about today. Pretty obvious by now, is the fact that there is a surfeit of things to talk about. But, let me at the outset disabuse us of any notion that our roving eye can only see football and things political. Everything will be fair game here and nothing will be sacrosanct.

Edwin are you there? I hear you chanting: I’ve been counting the change from the dollar, after buying bread. We are still doing that my friend, counting the change from the dollar after buying bread. The question is always whether or not we can stretch the dollar and make the change buy something else. So you see, we’re waiting for a new day, a day in which everyone’s dreams come true and they are masters of their own destinies, reaping what they sow and eating what they kill.

National pang of conscience

There is a new educational curriculum being touted. One hopes that this new curriculum will help build and enunciate new expectations and also develop skills to make the country go forward. Above all, one hopes that civic education and ethics will now have their day. That is the only way we can hope to diminish corruption and extortion, the two most sinister ills continuing to devastate our country before our very eyes.

It’s time for a national pang of conscience, and it’s time that we all begin to walk the talk. Let everyone be productive and let people never wilfully benefit from the blood and sweat of others. The book chain in Zimbabwe, for example, is still in a state of ennui and depression. Writers and publishers pour their brains out to bring out competitive products only to have their hard work subverted by book pirates who justify their nefarious activities by saying they have to survive somehow. They have no qualms cheating writers out of their hard-earned royalties and denying them security in their old age.

We need political will and direction to stamp out this piracy scourge wherever it may rear its ugly head. There used to be a circular known as the Chief Education Officer’s Circular. This circular had a statutory status and no school head dared go against its contents and specifications. We need that to come back so that it becomes a criminal offence for any school head to authorise the buying of pirated photocopies of schoolbooks.

We also need ZIMCOPY the country’s reprographic rights organization to embark upon an aggressive new licencing drive that will see all photocopying outlets paying a certain fraction of their takings to a central collecting point run by it. All pirate booksellers must be properly registered to become legitimate businesses who will pay taxes and help build the country’s fiscus. These and other things, properly done, would constitute a new day for the book chain. It follows that we are only using them here as an example and that each stakeholder group has its own conception of what the new day they wait for would or should be like.

As we build this column we will continue to look at the various new days.


 
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