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Peter Moore: African Revolutions

Power To The People  


Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has a lot to answer for.  


After seizing power in 1980 he ran his country into the ground, amassed a vast personal fortune and issued the world's first trillion-dollar bank note.  


He also killed off the Zimbabwean heavy rock scene. 


Inspired by hippie ideals and the music of Hendrix and Deep Purple, the Zim heavy rock scene was the soundtrack of the bitter War of Independence that raged through the country during the '70s.  


While guerillas waged war against the white minority government from bases in neighbouring Zambia and Mozambique, bands were picking up guitars and creating their own brand of politically charged rock. 


The kids in the scene called it "heavy" because they could physically feel its impact. They loved the way it battered its way inside their heads and shoved aside any fear or uncertainty. Many of the rebels said that the music gave them the courage and strength to resist.  


The live scene was thriving too. Bands like Wells Fargo and Eye Q gigged furiously, playing all-night shows in the townships, flouting police curfews. Fans grappled with cops that tried to enforce the rules. The bands held their own version of Woodstock, an event that made national headlines and stomped on racial taboos, uniting fans from all of Rhodesia's ethnic and racial communities. 


There were some records – limited run 7-inchers released by Afropop and Afrosoul – but they were never heard outside of southern Africa. 


LA-based Now-Again Records have changed all that.  


A couple of years ago they teamed up with celebrated Zimbabwean poet and musician Albert Nyathi to create a vinyl testament to the ZimRock scene. They gathered together the best tracks from the scene's most seminal bands and released them as albums, together with extensive liner notes and never-seen-before photos from the period. 


Watch Out! by Wells Fargo and Please The Nation by Eye Q finally have the worldwide release they deserve. 


Now-Again Records also released a digital-only taster called Power To The People. It featured tracks from Wells Fargo, Eye Q and Gypsy Caravan and gave a tantalizing blast of what to expect. From the heavy political message of the title track to the scuzzy psychedelia of Eye Q's "I Am Selfish", it's a rare treat. It's hard to find, but if Deep Purple stylings with a touch of James Brown Funk and Zimbabwean folk is your bag, you'll want to track it down. 


So how did Mugabe kill off this seemingly irresistible scene?  


Well, with the war won in 1980, the '70s revolutionary rock scene lost its urgency. Mugabe decided that Chimurenga should be the musical style of the new nation, ironically named after the Shona word for revolution. It was based on traditional Zimbabwean music with just enough electronic instruments and a solid drum beat to keep the kids happy.  


Sadly, the likes of Wells Fargo, Eye Q and Stars Of Liberty were left to simply fade away. 


Back in 2000, I snuck into Mugabe's 76th birthday party, held in a stadium in Chinotimba, the nearest township to Victoria Falls. They didn't play any Zim rock classics at the event. But they didn't play any Chimurenga either.  


The only music I heard that day was played by a brass band on hand to welcome the Presidential cavalcade. 


What is it with dictators and brass bands? A question for another day, perhaps. 


Peter Moore is the author of six travel books, including The Wrong Way Home, Swahili for the Broken-Hearted and The Full Montezuma. He is also the editor of The Vagabond Imperative, which you can find here.


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