CHIMURENGA FILES: THE ONE TAKE POVERTY TAPE by Hillary Keni-Witsani
Faced with the colossal task of doing a review on what I can easily and confidently describe as one of the most politically vocal and conscious pieces I have ever come across, I kept on procrastinating on working on this write up, not because of writers block or anything like that, I kept thinking to myself what can I possibly say about this work of art I just listened to without taking anything away from the hardcore truths that Hillary has fixedly laid out in 10 power packed tracks that make up this explosive tape?
In his words, “This is a tape made out of desperation at the state of Zimbabwe’s economy and repression… The tape is inspired by the events of August 1 2018, when civilians were shot and killed in the full glare of the world’s eyes. That event also reminds one of the Gukurahundi genocide that the Zimbabwean government is still to apologise for as well as the disappearance of countless citizens, prominent of which is Itai Dzamara.”
Noticeably, this is not your usual tape or album. Other than the issues addressed in this magnum opus, what makes this tape particularly sturdily conspicuous is how Hillary disregards all the rules as far as music is concerned. The shortest song in the tape is 31 seconds and the longest, 2 minutes 27 seconds.
He mentions that he was not interested in the usual recording or music rules and did not even bother to master the tape.
“I just wanted to say something. In the shortest way possible: 10 pieces, 13 minutes to be exact.”
“When you live in the country that I live in, you have no time to waste on rules and you definitely have no money to waste on polishing anything; you just want your words to be heard and you want something to be done,” Hillary adds.
This makes the tape raw, sincere and enhances its impact as time was not wasted on aesthetics that usually decorate almost all commercial products.
In Hillary’s spirit of defying rules, allow me to break a few rules as far as writing is concerned, scratch the ethics and laws, I will deal with the consequences later!
The moment I am done listening to the tape, I am quickly reminded of a quote by one of my favourite musicians. Lady Gaga once said, “When you make music or write or create, it’s really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time.”
This is precisely what Hillary has done in this tape, he has taken all the injustices that are experienced by ordinary Zimbabweans day in and day out and ran with them without looking back, without fear and definitely without sugar coating anything.
A closer look at the tape.
Chimurenga Files opens with a very short but power packed tune titled Military Arrangement, and as the title suggests, I would say this is a war cry by every Zimbabwean who dares to acknowledge what is going on in the country.
The song makes reference to Itai Dzamara’s disappearance and touches on how Zimbabweans on the ground are ‘drowning in debt’ owing to the fraying economy that in turn owes to the governance system.
Another song that quickly stands out for me is Where is the love? the 3rd song in the tape. A rhetoric question I presume as Hillary drops how lavishly some of those in power are living through the cars they drive, the linen they use and generally the lifestyles they lead.
Fast forward to track 5, Hillary touches on the almost taboo topic of Gukurahundi. With the song titled Gukurahundi babies, he shares on some of the injustices that were taking place during that era such as mass killings, mass rapings and other atrocities.
Sinkende, one of the featured artists in the tape, takes over on track 6 and comes through with what remains as one of the biggest problems in the economy to date, money. He shares how the ordinary Zimbabwean works all year round only to be restricted access to their hard-earned cash, a heart-breaking reality on the ground.
From there on, the next 3 songs; Heart, Free Gigs and Living had me closing my eyes and drifting away. The impeccable acoustics of the piano, guitar and vocals in these songs come together beautifully and it is at this point that I actually am reminded that I am listening to music as I had immensely lost myself to the profound subject matter of this tape.
As far as favourites go, Living has to be my favourite song in the entire tape. It dwells on how we keep on living even though life as Zimbabweans is not easy. It left me longing for more, had me wishing it were a healthy 13-minute song just like one song that has been trending lately.
He signs off the tape with a chant, Mad Men, a song that appeals to everyone to seek the help of supreme beings as something has to be done immediately immediate before the situation is further worsened.
Hillary, together with the other creatives he features in this project that include Sinkende, Richie Juma and Mvelo Nyana kaNtu, are very unapologetic in their deliveries and this comes across through their lyrical content and the tone used in the songs, you can almost touch their frustrations, that’s how heavy it is!
This is a tape that will move even those who usually shy away from political issues. It is a journey through the current situation in the country through music, Hillary creatively sums up the status qou in just 13 minutes, talk about mad story-telling skills!
I am again quickly reminded of the likes of Owen Maseko and others who have boldly made their opinions heard.
“This is the part I’m playing towards the struggle, play yours!” Hillary says.
Kudos to Hillary and everyone featured in this project, they are without a shred of doubt the struggle personified.
Chimurenga Files: The One Take Poverty Tape is available for streaming and download at https://hillarykeniwitsani.bandcamp.com/album/chimurenga-files-the-one-take-poverty-tape