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“THIS business of womanhood is a heavy burden,” moans Tsitsi Dangarembga as she examines the struggle of the fairer sex in a patriarchal world. It is indeed burdensome to be a woman, when everything seems to be skewed in her disfavour, as she is alienated from a society that expects her to lick its wounds at the same time spewing in her open palms. Motherhood is a kind of imprisonment that a woman finds herself trapped in as she juggles between societal whimsicality and individual satiation. The tug-of-war between societal expectations and individual aspirations pit the woman at the deep end, because the whirlwind that swirls at the marital base as a culmination of patriarchal pressure rocks her.

However, instead of sinking as society expects, her motherly instincts refuse to be suffocated as she is all too aware that she will not only be letting herself down, but her sex and offspring. She knows that society will never give her an ear if she shouts, and that screaming is an indication of defeat so she finds a vent out of her predicament through song.

Music is neither provocative nor defeatist, for it tells a tale in many ways through its evocation of the sensuous neurons it appeals to the heart.

Since time immemorial women have managed to keep their heads above the rising tornadoes of their existence through song.

They have made it possible for their feelings to be discernible, even to a society that seemed to be impenetrable as a product of their realisation that a story does not die because it is not told, but dies if it is told to deaf ears the heart listens.

It is against this backdrop that the reading of “Women Musicians of Zimbabwe: A Celebration of Women’s Struggle for Voice and Artistic Expression: 1930s-2013” (2013) by Joyce Jenje Makwenda becomes apt. The book is not only evocative and refreshing, but it is also informative and historically appropriate as it captures more than 75 years of the musical expression of women’s travails.

Historically, the book taps into folklore which has always been used to express feelings, impart on societal mores and values from generation to generation and instil a sense of responsibility. The story-teller who was usually a woman past child-bearing age (Hove, 2002) effectively engrossed her young audience through song as a preclude and during the story.

Song was not only used as a parenting and educational tool, but it was also “used to alleviate stress and make tasks simpler”. It helped them cope with their daily tribulations and question the injustices which pervaded their lives. A woman could express her sexual drought or disaffection to her husband’s relatives through song, and their problems were always solved amicably.

Jenje Makwenda, who is an archivist-historian, researcher, author, producer, lecturer and ethnomusicologist, combines entertainment and didacticism in her book to explore the historical link between music and the struggle against colonialism, and the role that women played and still play for the total emancipation and freedom of the feeble and vulnerable. It is a struggle which also obtains in her other book “Zimbabwe Township Music” (2005).

The struggle against colonial subjugation, displacement and Western hegemony cannot be complete without reference to the names Lozikeyi Dlodlo, Lobengula’s first wife, and Nehanda Nyakasikana, the heroines of the First Chimurenga who inspired the liberation war which gave birth to independent Zimbabwe. “Like with the Zanla forces (mainly Shona) were inspired by Nehanda, the Zipra forces were also inspired by Lozikeyi’s spirit she inspired her people to lay down the pen and pick up the guns again,” (Clarke: 2006, cited in Jenje Makwenda, 2013:24).

Colonialism robbed women of their expressive voice through song and dance by outlining what is moral or immoral. African traditional dances, like Mbende (Jerusalem) which expresses fertility, regeneration and vitality, were considered sexually provocative and barbaric expression of sexual dissatisfaction on the part of women was said to be unChristian. Playing the drum and mbira, especially by women, was considered barbaric and unChristian. Thus, the women’s vent of expression was closed and today’s couples find it difficult to talk about intimate issues, not only to their relatives but within the confines of their own bedrooms, and it is this that the writer pokes at through her exploration of the essence of music.

The informative book takes the reader on a voyage of intrigue and novelty of horizons through well researched topics on women who shaped and continue to chisel the musical landscape of the Motherland.

The 1930s belonged to Laina Mattaka and Evelyn Juba, who “were reported as the pioneers of township jazz music by the African Daily News”. Their music was a fusion of negro spirituals, gospel and traditional music.

The 1940s and 50s saw the rise of Reni Nyamundanda and the De Black Evening Follies, Faith Dauti with the Milton Brothers and the Gay Gaieties and Dorothy Masuka. Dorothy Masuka rode on the crest of a new wave of expansion and investment in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which created opportunities for entertainment.

Township music suffered a temporary glitch in the 1960s and 70s which saw new genres of music dominating. Susan Chenjerai and Susan Mapfumo rose to prominence around this period. The liberation struggle inspired songstresses like The Two Singing Nuns, the Chataika Sisters, who sang mostly gospel songs with their brother, Jordan, and Virginia Sillah.

As the flame of Independence illuminated the airwaves in 1980, more opportunities opened up for musical expression and women rose to the occasion. Traditional instruments like the mbira and ngoma were on a rebound with the likes of Beaulah Dyoko, Stella Chiweshe, Elizabeth Ncube, Francisca Muchena, Irene Chigamba, Taruwona Mushore and Chiwoniso Maraire taking mbira music to the international stage.

The 80s saw the appreciation of gospel music as Shuvai Wutaunashe made her mark. Busi Ncube and Rozalla Miller, the Queen of Rave, of the “Everyone is Free” fame became household names. Township jazz made a rebound around this period and its flame continues to glow in the hands of Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana, Dudu Manhenga, Patience Musa, Rute Mbangwa, Nomsa Mhlanga and Hope Masike.

Jenje Makwenda reiterates how Independence revolutionarised the airwaves to create space for local artists. She notes how urban grooves popularised by Memory Zaranyika, Plaxedes Wenyika, Betty Makaya, Pauline Gundidza, Portia Njazi aka Tia, Tambudzayi Hwaramba and Kudzai Sevenzo, benefited from the Government’s 75 percent local content directive to local stations.

She cites Selmor Mutukudzi, one of the beneficiaries of the initiative: “The 75 percent introduced by Professor Jonathan Moyo meant that we could get to listen to my music, people would get to hear of me, even though I hadn’t recorded, then it gave me hope that in the event that I want to record and do something, I would have a listenership, because then our music was not played much. We used to hear musicians like Beyonce and everyone else, but ours was not played.”

Although Government’s directive is commendable, and society has been forthcoming in giving an ear to women’s plight highlighted through music, a lot still needs to be done for that musical appreciation to be fully articulated. The music industry still remains the preserve of men to a great extent because of stereotypical inclinations steeped in patriarchal societies.

Women musicians do not only suffer financial barricades, but are considered morally bankrupt. A woman may rise to the apex before she marries, but once matrimony comes, her decline also becomes inevitable. The challenges that come with wifehood and motherhood may be baneful to her career and as a result the suffering and oppression of her ilk will continue un- abated, as the voice that should come to the defence of their toil is stifled.

Laina Gumboreshumba, whose musical career started at an early age and is working on a PhD in Music at Rhodes University, says: “I think the demands of a musical career and the demands of marriage for a woman as expected by the husband and the society at large clash … As a result many men are not comfortable with their wives tackling the heavy schedule and working odd hours. The demands of the family weigh down on the woman and in the end she has to make a choice and drop the other.”

Social, political and economic challenges which burden the “business of womanhood” need a platform upon which they can be exposed, yet the victims’ voices are gagged through the designs of both culture and religion, and it is this that Joyce Jenje Makwenda takes a swipe at in “Women Musicians of Zimbabwe: A Celebration of Women’s Struggle for Voice and Artistic Expression: 1930s-2013” (2013). It is indeed an evocative, informative and captivating read.

Source : The Herald