Pro-Mugabe musicians suffer crippling boycott

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The Independent Online

Some of Zimbabwe's most prominent musicians are paying a heavy price for supporting Robert Mugabe's drive to attract disenchanted voters before parliamentary elections on 31 March.

Some of Zimbabwe's most prominent musicians are paying a heavy price for supporting Robert Mugabe's drive to attract disenchanted voters before parliamentary elections on 31 March.

In a bid to woo the youth vote, Mr Mugabe has tried to recruit some popular musicians either to play at party events or produce songs in his praise.

For those who refuse, a regular berth on the country's state-sponsored radio station is unlikely. But the cost of creative collaboration with Zanu-PF is proving even more damaging. Disgruntled Zimbabweans are boycotting prominent artists for producing pro-Zanu-PF songs. The musicians, who rely on local record sales and sell-out tours, have suffered a crippling fall in income as a result.

Andy Brown, one of Zimbabwe's leading musicians, is the biggest casualty. The dreadlocked Brown was recruited by Mr Mugabe's former spin doctor Jonathan Moyo to produce songs supporting the President's seizures of white land. "Siyalima" (We are farming), was duly produced, but as the elections approach Brown's stock has never been lower among record-buyers. The singer has been shunned by his own fans and his career has gone into freefall. "Siyalima" is played frequently by the state-owned broadcaster, which enjoys a monopoly. But even Zanu-PF supporters seem to have shunned the record and only a few hundred copies have been sold. At his peak in the late 1990s, Brown was the nation's best-selling artist.

Chiyangwa, also known as Tambaoga, has suffered a similar fate after the release of a song attacking Tony Blair. The lyrics, including the line "the Blair I know is a Blair toilet", were penned in praise of Mr Mugabe's regular tirades against Mr Blair. It failed to sell and Chiyangwa's career languishes in the doldrums. Oliver Mtukudzi, another formerly popular singer, has been ostracised after playing at a Zanu-PF party bash in Harare last week and allowing one of his most popular songs, "Totutuma" (We are boiling), to be used in a Zanu-PF election advertisement. Mtukudzi's manager, described the move as "business suicide".

Expatriate Zimbabweans in South Africa and Botswana have pledged to boycott any future Mtukudzi concerts, which have traditionally been sell-outs. For the gospel artist Elias Musakwa, who has produced an entire album praising the Mugabe regime, sales have also been catastrophic.

Given the febrile atmosphere, it may not be long before some of Zimbabwe's biggest musical names seek to relaunch their careers by following the example of Thomas Mapfumo, whose songs became famous during the country's liberation struggle. After criticising the Mugabe regime, Mapfumo's songs were never played on the radio again. He recently emigrated to the US.

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