There was confusion on New Year’s Eve as social media was awash with news of the “ban” on Winky D’s album launch, which was scheduled for the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) the same night. At around 11am, a friend sent me a WhatsApp message with a letter which was purported to have come from the government. He asked me to confirm whether what he was reading was true.
The letter, purpotedly written by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, Censorship Entertainment and Control Unit dated December 31, 2019, read: “Dear Sir/Madam,
We write to you as to register our displeasure over the launch of an album by Wallace ‘Winky D’ Chirumiko titled Njema. It is understood by the general citizens of Zimbabwe that his music is now political for it carries political messages that are incitive (sic). The album launch seems to be an opener to a series of destabilization programmes as outlined by the enemies of this state. The song Ijipita among others are (sic) a clear attack on the authority as has been Kasong Kejecha.
We understand it is part of your obligation to censor such before it officially gets into the public. The album launch is set for 31st of December 2019.
Looking forward to your cooperation.”
As I was not sure how to respond to my friend, I telephoned Winky D’s manager Jonathan Banda to ask him if he had seen such a letter. Banda, who was obviously under a lot of pressure on that day, replied: “Elder, I will call you back.” He never did.
I became anxious and wanted to know more on what was happening around this album launch. I phoned one journalist who seemed to be knowledgeable about events in town and this is what he had to say:
“I understand Winky D and his team were summoned by the police and also by the Censorship Board under unclear circumstances, but I think it is to do with the album launch because even today, an interview scheduled with ZBC’s Power FM has been cancelled. They might even decide to cancel the launch.”
I asked him if that was the new requirement for album launches. Last year South Africa-based hip-hop star King 98, Hope Masike, Ammara Brown, St John’s Chikwaka Band, Baba Harare, the Adventist acappella group Firm Faith and many others launched their albums, but none of these were summoned to the police or Censorship Board. Soon Selmor Mtukudzi, whose father died on January 23 last year, will launch her album Dehwe Re Nzou, in honour of the first anniversary of Tuku’s death. I do not know if she will be summoned to the police.
The journalist did not seem to have an answer for that question.
However, reports that the government had ordered the State-run Power FM to cancel Winky D’s interview were dismissed by the Ministry of Information who issued out a statement denying this. Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage minister Kazembe Kazembe said government had not banned Winky D’s album launch.
Speaking to reporters in Harare, Kazembe condemned social media and people who are up to discrediting the government for spreading falsehoods. “This is the problem with social media and people who are up to discrediting government. Who has banned the show? Where is the evidence that the show has been banned and by who?” he said.
“Every time there is a huge gathering police have to be notified so that security measures are put in place to protect the public and property. This is not unique to this particular show. Police were just doing their duty. Government has no business banning musical shows. No show was banned by the Ministry of Home Affairs.”
Reports over the past couple of days had claimed that the Zimdancehall artiste’s much-anticipated album launch had been banned because it has some songs criticising the government.
The fact that a whole Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage minister, the Ministry of Information as well as the police got involved in an album launch of a Zimbabwean artiste shows that the government is beginning to pay attention to artistes, a cry which many artistes have made over the years. There has been lack of political will to recognise the arts as an industry. I am actually happy that if the arts are getting such attention, it either means that the government is now ready to develop the arts or is running scared.
Winky D has built his own fan base without the assistance of the state. His fan base has become so big now that whatever messages are portrayed through his songs frighten the government. Smaller artistes can write anything in song and no one bothers.
In my view, Njema has no political songs. Yes, there is social commentary which is what makes Winky D the popular star he is today. However, I have a feeling that Winky D’s troubles started after the release of Kasong Kejecha in 2018. This song was given political interpretations. Pro-government activists thought that the song had anti-government political undertones to the extent that they stopped Winky D from carrying out performances in Kwekwe and at Oliver Mtukudzi’s funeral.
I have listened to the album Njema over and over and in particular Ijipita. I do not hear any political undertones there. That is my interpretation of the album. Unless the ghetto youths who form the majority of Winky D’s fan base know more about the Egyptian revolution of 2011 which led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, or the protests against Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, then the reason to think the song Ijipita is political is justified. According to Winky D himself, his new album Njema, is meant to free the minds of society and it does not carry any hidden political messages. The artiste, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artiste is thus a solitary figure. As Banda puts it: “Winky D is one artiste who has never been aligned or seen with a political figure or at rallies, but sometimes there are misinterpretations and actions around our music.”
Despite the state’s intervention on New Year’s Eve, the launch went ahead and a 5 000-strong crowd attended the gig. The much revered artiste came to the show more than prepared for the launch as his delivery was mesmerising.
I have listened to three radio stations since the album launch and Ijipita is on many DJs’ playlists. Surely, if the government had an intention of banning airplay of this album, they must have changed their mind.
While this debacle can now be put to rest, none of the pertinent authorities who misinterpreted Winky D’s music were sufficiently knowledgeable about music to glimpse a second finding hiding in plain sight: Their reading of Winky D’s music was wildly inaccurate, and their pronouncements were formidably implausible. However, these mistakes of judgement are in retrospect explicable — and the explanations are fascinating and instructive.
If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artiste free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. In a free society, art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemics and ideology.
According to Stalin, artistes are not “engineers of the soul”. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society, the highest duty of the writer, the composer and the creative artiste is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. Thus, artistes should be allowed to let the society interpret the meaning behind each song as they see fit.
We know that a totalitarian society can promote the arts in its own way — it can make its own music to make society see things differently. But art means more than the resuscitation of the past: it means the free and unconfined search for new ways of expressing the experience of the present and the vision of the future. When the creative impulse cannot flourish freely, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs the root of art.