The Effect of Colonization on Music in Zimbabwe

Alice Dadirai Kwaramba, M. Phil.

Colonisation, a legacy shared by most African societies, was a significant turning point in their history. It introduced new social and political structures such as urbanisation, formal school education, the Christian religion, and more importantly new varieties of music such as Christian hymns. The traditional role of music as a medium of instruction was replaced by the introduction of a formal education system which was closely linked to the new Christian religion.

The introduction of the Christian religion on the other hand changed the people's religious songs and ritual music. Recognising the close relationship between the people's religion and music, Christian missionaries, ensured a fast decline in traditional culture and religion (Bender 1991: 54-5). Written church hymns replaced African religious songs, with a choral tyvpe of music comprising of four lines, namely soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. This type of music emphasised metre, a thing that was alien to African music which is based on rhythm and polyphony. It also came with certain dress codes, voice modulation rules, selected instruments and dancing styles that were alien to the religious performances of the people.2 For example, in Rhodesia, Catholic missionaries castigated the use of the mbira instrument in church ceremonies and dismissed it as unholy and heathen. Christian converts were usually forbidden to play traditional musical instruments (Bender 1991: 75). The mbira and the drum which had carried the tradition ofthe Shona people's music for a long time were often dismissed as unholy. One major change that the choir concept effected was to cut a clear division between those who were "gifted with voices" and those who were not, who consequently became the audience in a society where, before, virtually everyone was considered a singer in their own way.


[from Alice Dadirai Kwaramba, Popular Music and Society: The Language of Chiumurenga Music: The Case of Thomas Mapfumo in Zimbabwe. Oslo: University of Oslo, 1997, pages 3-4. Available from Department of Media and Communications [info@media.uio.no].


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