Home » Arts & Culture » Zim Hip-Hop Kept Alive By Monkey Nuts

Whoever thought hip-hop as a music genre is dead is wrong. I bumped into The Monkey Nuts band at HIFA at the beginning of this month and the three lads were upbeat about their recent achievement. The Monkey Nuts are a Zimbabwean hip-hop group consisting of three members: Joshua Chiundiza on vocals, Tinotenda Tagwirei playing keyboards and Impi Maph on guitar and vocals. They have been known for introducing a new electronicrock sound on the scene in Harare since 2011, and are preparing to break out to the world as they got signed to renowned record label BBE (UK) for the release of their EP “Boombap Idiophonics”, which hit the shops at the beginning of this month.

According to Joshua, “Zimbabwe has been going through a bit of a tough time but Zimbabweans are quite a resilient bunch. And that’s how one has to be in such times, resolute. And it’s on the backdrop of such difficulties that we believe we can push through by offering something creative and innovative. The changes that our country has gone through have been good for us in a sense. They’ve challenged us to think and produce something we believe will be authentic and genuine.”

So why did the Harare born Monkey Nuts decide to play hip-hop instead of Zim dancehall or sungura?

According to Joshua, this was a deliberate move to be different. The trio spent years listening to American hip-hop and decided they could have their own version of Zim hip-hop and this is what has gone international. They began to get gigs through the support of organisations such as the Magamba Network, Zimbabwe German Society and Alliance Francais. They simply liked what The Monkey Nuts were doing and offered them support.

The Monkey Nuts band came into existence in March 2011. Just like their name, they surprised a lot of Zimbabweans who thought that their music was weird and had no commercial value like sungura, RampB or reggae. Yeah, the name is an interesting one. It seems to catch the attention of many Zimbabweans as they also seem to think that Monkey Nuts is a weird name for a band. To clarify things a bit, it’s actually The Monkey Nuts , like The Beatles or The Bhundu Boys, and not just Monkey Nuts. It’s a mere translation of the Shona terms nyimo or nzungu. Nyimo and nzungu are known as groundnuts or monkey nuts in English.

If you are a keen reader of James Hadley Chase novels, you would have come across one titled “The Paw in the Bottle” It talks about how they catch monkeys in Brazil. If you have not read it, let me tell you how the Brazilians do it. They put a nut in a bottle, and tie the bottle to a tree. The monkey grasps the nut, but the neck of the bottle is too narrow for the monkey to withdraw its paw and the nut. You would think the monkey would let go of the nut and escape, wouldn’t you? But it never does. It is so greedy it never releases the nut and is always captured.

I am certain this is how nzungu came to be called monkey nuts after the nuts were used to trap monkeys. But that is a transgression from the real story.

The story teaches us that greed is a dangerous thing. If you give way to it, sooner or later you will be caught.

“We basically do everything ourselves in terms of the creative process. We write our own songs, compose and produce the music. We do play instruments (guitar, bass, synth, keys, emcee, vocals), we are a band ultimately, and the fact that we are cousins contributes to that synergy. We spent a lot of time together and we know each other really well. It’s always mainly just the three of us when we are conceptualising a project and we usually bring in session players for live performancesrecordings (drums, mbira, marimba, bass).” Joshua says.

One Zimbabwean artiste whom I witnessed The Monkey Nuts perform with during HIFA 2014 was Hope Masike who also featured with Salif Keita at this year’s HIFA.

Hip-hop is a sub-culture of American rap music defined by four key stylistic elements: MC-ingrapping, DJ-ingscratching, sampling and beat-boxing. These elements now used in Zim hip-hop are borrowed from American and Jamaican street culture, although Zimbabwean hip-hop is mainly composed of Shona lyrics.

Hip-hop Music is a music genre which embraces rap music. It is a music genre consisting of a stylised rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rhythmic and rhyming lyrics that is chanted. In Jamaica the chanting is referred to as “toasting”.

The term hip-hop music is sometimes used synonymously with the term rap music. Although rapping is not a required component of hip-hop music the genre may also incorporate other elements of the hip hop, including DJ-ing and scratching, beat boxing, and just instrumental tracks.

The first American artistes to be associated with hip hop music were bands such as Africa Bambaata, Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash. It is believed that Keith Cowboy, lead singer with Grandmaster Flash created the term hip-hop while teasing a friend who had just joined the US Army by scat singing the words: “hip hop hip hop” to mimic the rhythmic cadence of soldiers marching and it became part of his stage performance.

The hip hop culture eventually spread to artistes like MC Hammer, Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg and later 50 Cent and Kanye West.

Prior to the 1980s, hip-hop music was largely confined within the context of the United States. However, during the 1980s, it began its spread and became a part of the music scene in dozens of countries. Zimbabwe was no exception. Zimbabwean musicians have always loved to imitate music coming from America starting with Rock from Deep Purple, Jethro Tull and Led Zepelin in the 1970’s, Soul music from Otis Redding, Arthur Conley and Percy Sledge to Rap music by modern day Hip Hop artistes such as Jay-Z.

So, The Monkey Nuts are no exception. They have even been recognised by an international record company in the United Kingdom, BBE Records.

Well done lads! Keep Zim Hip-Hop alive!

Source : The Herald