Zim dancehall sungura tensions: Real or imagined?

Bruce Ndlovu
The award shows Zimbabwe Music Awards (ZIMA) and the National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) held last month can be looked at as a reflection of how the country’s music genres line up in terms of popularity.

Besides Jah Prayzah, a majority of the winners came from the widely popular Zim dancehall genre, a type of music that many feel is still an infant and therefore hasn’t been yet tested by time.

The awards became a virtual shoot-out between Winky D and Killer T the two foremost Zim dancehall artistes as they came head to head in most of the categories they were nominated in.

Tellingly at the Namas where sungura has dominated the music categories in the past, the genre failed to score a single nomination, a first in the awards’ history.

The reason for this state of affairs, many believe, is that dancehall has eaten into sungura’s traditional fan base. This is something that sungura artistes have been at pains to deny.

“Dancehall has no staying power. Sungura is more deep long lasting music, that attracts a more mature crowd, that can also afford the kind of entrance fees that I charge for my shows, which is no less than US$5,” said Peter Moyo in an interview in South Africa a few weeks ago.

During a visit to Jabula Inn late last year, sungura king Alick Macheso also told B-Metro that the longevity of Zim dancehall was doubtful because of its lack of musicality.

“If you look at my performance tonight I had a full band which is not really required in dancehall. A dancehall artiste can have his band in his pocket because all he needs is a flash stick. As a sungura artiste you can’t do that because the crowd will beat you up,” he said after a marathon performance.

In typical Zim-Dancehall fashion, the genre’s young upstarts have themselves not been shy to take aim at their sungura rivals in their songs.

The question to ask therefore is whether the hostilities between artistes from the two genres exist or they are a mere figment of the imagination.

“I think the tension exists. The growth and impact of Zim-dancehall has shaken traditional sungura markets thereby affecting their bookings, show attendance and listenership. This is a result of failure by sungura musicians to adapt to changes and re-invent their sound and poor competition among the artists. Zim-dancehall faces the same predicament if it remains on the same path,” said Dancehall awards organiser Plot Mhako.

DJ Ndumiso “Skywalker” Dube said that the tensions would continue to grow and eventually boil over if the Zim-dancehall continued to elbow aside sungura.

“It’s only natural that this happens. Sungura has never faced this sort of challenge in its history and this changing of the guard will not go unchallenged by its stalwarts,” he said.