The current state of Hip-Hop in the world has led many who are not fans of it to believe it is nothing but mumbling over beats and ad-libs. One of the founding elements of Hip Hop, when it started in the late 70s; MCing has of late taken the back seat and Hip Hop has become more about the vibe and not the art of storytelling. In the Zimbabwean context, Hip Hop has always been looked at as a foreign element with it being labeled as “Madhudhucha” in the 90s when it first gained mainstream relevance, and to this day it has never really found its place in the hearts and minds of the youth.
Once in a generation there comes a song that speaks to the ills of society, and you don’t have to be a Hip Hop fan to appreciate the message of the song. When you listen to 2 Pac Shakur’s, Changes, you feel the struggle of a young black man in America, and even though the song will be 22 years old in October this year. Its message is still relevant to modern-day America. Three weeks ago I listened to a song in the Zimbabwean context that gave me that same feeling. A song that couldn’t have come at a better time. As the world struggles with a global pandemic, in Zimbabwe the global pandemic comes at a time when there is skyrocketing inflation, a collapse in the health system, massive unemployment, and an under-reported drug problem amongst the youth. Holy Ten presented to us Ndaremerwa. Ndaremerwa means that this is too heavy for me.
The song opens with ten-seconds of a melancholic beat that sets the scene for a conversation that many of the youths have had in the country. In the opening line, Ten tells us that he is going to tell us the story just as he knows it. Ten rhymes back and forth as he conversates with Bra Jecha asking him how things are going and where he has been spending time lately. The conversation discusses how hard things are in the country, and it reflects the lack of employment opportunities as they describe how graduates have had to hide their gowns and have to hustle doing whatever they can to make money. The line “Seiko madhiri, Seiko” expresses how things are in a never-ending loop of uncertainty even though they are trying. They accept the situation by saying “Ndoyacho,” it is what it is. Mind over metal is used to describe how the situation needs you to overcome all the psychological barriers and realize you need to do whatever you need to do to survive. You have to dress up every day and show up. The conversation is left by putting it in God’s hands, which is the end of many a conversations when no solutions are in sight. In an amazing use of wordplay, he called Jesus, Jesu, which is how you tell Jesus in Shona and used Amen, Gemenzi which is Garments and Emergency to show the urgency of the matter. Garments are white clothes worn by members of the Christian community called the Apostolic Faith. In Zimbabwe, many who have struggled with issues have turned to this church as their leaders are believed to have the power to cast out bad luck and evil spirits.
The second verse opens with the lines “To anyone still in Form 2 everything you learn is not true. If anything you learn has no proof, then anything you learn has no use.” When you are in Form 2 you are in the second year of high school, and that is when the dreams of the life you want for yourself start to take shape. Ten is showing the lack of hope that is within the society he lives in that there is no space to dream. One can only deal with what he or she sees, and that is his or her reality. In the second line, he then goes deeper to stress his point of the lack of hope. He describes how he went to school with geniuses “shasha” but they all ended up in the same place “padhaza” which is the bottom because they realized that there was no hope. He uses the analogy of removing a jacket. This can be viewed as having to get your hands dirty to survive as well as to describe the lack of white-collar jobs as well as they are the ones who would go to work jackets and suits.
The song then turns onto the dark side of living in such a society, crime. The way he describes how no one will question where you got money from shows the desperation levels that society has reached that even if you have robbed you won’t have to explain it because no one is going to ask as long as they see food on the table. He uses sugar as the basic element in a household that is missing. This is to show how bad things are that his actions are not out of want but need. He describes how he would just say it was a deal “njuga” he did because that’s how people have been surviving. The use of the word “njuga” is important because it means gambling or taking chances. Normally this would be frowned upon, but the way things have been hard, certain things are now not a serious issue anymore. As a young man who can’t live with his actions, he turns to drugs and describes how he struggles to wake up in the morning after smoking cannabis and sniffing glue as a coping mechanism to get away from his struggles. He knows this is a road to destruction and asks for a grave to be dug as he feels that’s his only end. Again in this verse, he turns to call a prophet, prophets are also known to provide miracles, and for them it’s money. The turning to a prophet also plays on how he sees this as an emergency, he needs immediate help and only believes a miracle will save him. He asks that the prophet help him not to lose money in his life by stitching his pockets.
In a Zimbabwean context where inflation is high, the loss in value of the money you have can make you feel as if you have holes in your pocket losing your money. He then goes on to describe the dreams he has for his life, he wants to move out of the cottage, which is the common accommodation for a young man living in the city and hustling, he also wants to have sausages for breakfast something that is considered a luxury but used to be a basic in the English breakfast which is what Zimbabweans know very well as a former British colony. He asks again for a grave to be dug for him as he sees it as his only way out as he has lost all hope.
The song closes out with a melancholic beat fading, leaving you with a feeling of reflection. You are either in this situation or you know someone in this situation. That is the story of the young Zimbabwean man. Our country and our youth deserve a better future. A future that has hope that you can be who you want to be and fairly get rewarded for it.
This is the power of Hip Hop and its message.