Traditional Music in Zimbabwe

Alice Dadirai Kwaramba, M. Phil.

Music is tied to society . .. The function and place of music and musicians in society have been greatly modified in the course of time. As old forms disappeared, new ones were created. The modern musician is heir to all the musical traditions that existed before, and for the first time he utilises them fully, adapting them to the needs of the twentieth century (UNESCO Report, 1973: 10).

In Africa especially, songs have continuously played an important role in shaping social relationships. In early oral societies songs, dance and performance embodied the people's aspirations and expectations. Africans graced almost all occasions with songs and dance. They sang and danced for joy, grief, love, sorrow, hate and even during labour and work. For most African societies, rhythm was an inextricable part of their everyday existence. Songs were therefore an expression of a whole people's experiences and not an individual's property, hence the existence of Shona hunting songs, Nguni bridal songs, Zulu war songs, to cite but a few examples. The music summarised the experiences of a whole people and were communally owned and enjoyed. It was the music of the people, about the people and by the people themselves.

The "traditional" music of Zimbabwe reveals people's spiritual beliefs, their modes of expression, patterns of communication and forms of entertainment, in as much as their present day popular music reveals a lot about the people's present lives and past experiences. For example, traditional Shona songs were a medium of instruction through which young boys and girls were taught the values and expectations of adulthood. All social relationships were sealed, bonded and regulated through songs. Through songs, a daughter-in-law would express her bitterness against a horrible mother-in-law, a bitter wife against a greedy husband, and the whole community would protest against an unjust chief, hence there is a tradition of Shona protest songs." There were songs to praise, urge, ridicule and reprimand. Most communication strategies in the pre-literate and oral African societies were musical in one way or another.

[From Alice Dadirai Kwaramba, The Battle of the Mind: International New Media Elements of the New Religious Political Right in Zimbabwe. Oslo:University of Oslo, 1997, pages 1-2.. Available from Department of Media and Communications [].

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