As Zimbabweans continue to chew bubbles and swallow air in anticipation of a quick and successful resolution to the sleazy political crisis ravaging the country, protest singer Viomak continues to call a spade a spade, and if her music is to be played at a political rally all the political clowns in Zimbabwe will hide their faces in shame. Viomak only started experimenting with protest music in 2005, but her determination, versatility and imagination have seen her turning up to be the sole woman protest singer in Zimbabwe.
Thanks be to the woman who has stood against many gender and political odds to give protest music a chance in a bid to bring about leadership sanity in Zimbabwe. The album sleeve that she designed tells a hidden story of her face looking like a circus clown. This she says exposes the circus of the situation in Zimbabwe and how Zimbabwean political leaders have become clowns. This could be the most relevant political music album of this time. It’s very unfortunate that such kind of music is banned in Zimbabwe otherwise this must to listen album was going to give solace to many deranged Zimbabweans who are unwillingly embroiled in the Zimbabwe circus politics, if only they could afford to listen to it in the comfort of their freedom.
With a picture of an MDC membership card in her right hand and the picture of a Zanu pf membership card in her left hand Viomak compares Mugabe and Tsvangirai to 6 and 9. Don’t ask me where she got both membership cards from. All I know is she is non partisan, and the picture works very well with the title. Her songs operate as a mouth piece of other silent voices. The title of the album sounds promising enough. Of course it will take a while before some people appreciate her type of music but the good thing is starters always shape the way forward and at the end of it all the crown goes to them .Whilst many people were busy making arrangements for a great Christmas holiday, Viomak was busy in and about the studio doing some touches to her album which was officially released on 25 December 2008.Viomak’s music remains in a style of its own. Its truthful nature is becoming a beacon of strength to wannabe protest singers.
This is another step towards something truly special. Some political singers have avoided mentioning names. Some have remained silent on criticizing the MDC. ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ certainly inspires confidence that “freedom of expression is the backbone to a democratic society” to quote her words. With this album Viomak has not only reinvented the musical wheel in Zimbabwe, but has shown that music is a great art that can be utilized in various ways to free one’s voice and feelings. In its uniqueness the album is packed with well thought out lyrics that blend well with awesome guitar chords, exciting drum beats, marimbas and soulful vocals that rub up against well- adapted organs and neatly tailored basslines completing the package .Her music talks and her voice sings. If you are the type of person who is not bothered about the politics of Zimbabwe this album will not interest you. However, the good thing is you can ignore the lyrics and dance to the sizzling Zimbabwean beat (as she calls it) that cushion the lyrics. The album is one kind of a companion that can lead you through trying times without causing harm to anyone, as long as you play it in the absence of narrow minded people. If you are the sort of person who likes meaningful and inspirational songs that speak on behalf of the oppressed then ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ is a must for you, as it carries the type of music that speaks for your oppressed soul in a way that will make you applaud Viomak for the great work which most of us have failed to achieve. The album is politically charged and is sung in a gentle way that might also put you off if you are the type of person who is into the aggressive and harsh type of voices.
Viomak’s seriousness about the political situation in Zimbabwe takes toll through her vocals and lyrics. One can only imagine how emotional she was as she recorded the music .The lyrics are written in a jocular manner and that could have eased up her mood. It is up to you to judge too. I have done my part.The choice of instruments that accompany all the songs is superb too. Viomak who had to sing the rough lyrics of her songs to her producer in Zimbabwe on the phone to produce instruments of which she then added her vocals in a studio in Britain, says she faced a terrible time dealing with ‘telemusic production’, but her perseverance made her to pull through successfully. The Zimbabwean producers’ expertise with instruments matched with Viomak’s soft-to-loud vocal style to add depth to an album that is pleasant all the way through.‘Zimbabwe Circus’ announces Viomak’s candidacy for a big post in Zimbabwe’s protest movement. Maybe I can now safely claim with all the confidence that Viomak has now assumed the role of the queen of Zimbabwe protest music. I am confident too that music matchers will not find a match for her since her music resides in a genre of its own, and it is something no known singer in Zimbabwe has embarked on.
On previous albums she would on some songs borrow some tunes and come up with great matching lyrics like what many other musicians do. I thought that was where her strength in music rested. I now stand corrected by her ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ album, in which she has proved with no doubt that she is a great composer and fantastic songwriter. It might take a while for her to get where she is supposed to end up at due to the fact that she is out of Zimbabwe .More to that, her protest music touches on unsaid issues and speaks volumes about even those who she is supposed to work with. To her artistic truth is the remedy for a dead democracy. Her courage coupled with intelligent lyrics gave birth to ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ ,a cool and complex album, as also reflected in the song titles which range from funny themes to thoughtful laments echoing the chaos of Zimbabwe in the post independence era.
There are many reflective songs which make the album special with underlying vibes holding noble songs that bring listeners back to unexpected reality. The album’s gentle and mournful vocals which are a great combination of simultaneous musical notes are matched by hard hitting melodies that echo the all time disaster in the politics of Zimbabwe. Of course no English translation is provided yet for the lyrics but from her passionate voice and coherent instruments one can easily tell that whatever she is singing about is coming from her heart .Her innocent and patient voice is not pushy, but it is full of questions that allow the listener moments to meditate whilst querying the political status quo. The lyrics of the songs are as humorous as ever and this gives the burdened Zimbabweans seventy minutes of serious thinking and serious laughter.
The album is an exciting bundle that connects Viomak and her music to an unforgettable historical perspective. Gone are the days when Viomak would resort her lyrics to despise Zanu pf only. ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ is on the move with lyrics that despise all bad politics in the country. The tracks on this album are an entertaining mix that caters for all those who want to listen to music with a difference. It is a well coordinated album that results from a lousy political story destroying Zimbabwe, and its people. Viomak, who made this album with a producer in Zimbabwe and another in Britain looks at current issues of unity talks in many of the songs. The Zimbabwean producer who worked on the instruments did a credible job in compiling the pack which was done in the presence of Viomak’s rough voices. Viomak cannot be in Zimbabwe and if Tsvangirai happens to get into power and start behaving like a mad oppressor too, then Viomak will again find it hard to reside in Zimbabwe.
The album is introduced by the song Memorandum of Misunderstanding which opens through a sorrowful, infectious and danceable flute beat, with a warm saxophone and a tight bass played as though by the Zimbabwe police band at the Harare show grounds with a bevy of drum majorettes completing the marching sequence. One can only imagine the song being played at Rainbow towers, the centre for the MOU talks if the circus clowns decide to meet there once again for the almost failed talks. Whilst repeating the chorus which is typical of her music, Viomak showers those who signed the MOU agreement with unanswerable questions. The song is not in a hurry, for she sings in a rhetorical yet demanding manner in a bid to get answers for the same questions that are worrying many Zimbabweans at the moment. As the song spreads out Viomak refuses and rubbishes the MOU agreement as an unreasonable move that is but a waste of time and resources. Through the use of the Manyika dialect spoken in Manicaland where she hails from she expresses sorrow through impressive language clichés that are used in Manicaland. Her refusal to accept MOU as a viable solution is also supported by a variety of other instruments like ngoma, and pressing kicks which tightly hold the song and escort it to its sad and unexpected ending. The length of the song has no bearing on the listening ear due to the fact that the song makes you gather enough curiosity to get you up to nine minutes.
As the music plays on to the second song Viomak takes a swipe at the reserve bank governor, Gideon Gono. The song Gonoriya is embraced by distinct rolls with a heavy duty bass that scaffolds all the other baby instruments like marimba and hosho to give them their well deserving positions in the mix. Every bit is packed in a carton of well polished vocals. The song is set to be a most favorite hit on this album even though Viomak’s most favorite song is 6 na9. Although Gonoriya is an obvious gem it is the type of song one would not even expect to hear play in Zimbabwe even though it is very relevant at this moment in time when Zimbabwe’s inflation is only awaiting its entrance into the Guinness world records. The naming of the song which equates Gideon Gono to gonorrhea makes the song a prohibited item in Zimbabwe even though Viomak doesn’t include anything to that effect in her lyrics. Her lyrics are always very clean. The other reason why the song will never be allowed is singing that the disastrous governor is a deviant who doesn’t listen to advice, and telling him that the Zimbabwean dollar is now just as good as tissue paper. Although Viomak doesn’t mention that the fallen dollar is now as good as toilet tissue paper, I’m sure anyone who knows about the economic chaos in Zimbabwe will think otherwise. Loud brass accompanied by a ‘talking’ organ grabs Viomak’s resentment of the way Dr Gonoriya is dealing with the monetary issues in Zimbabwe. The rest of the harmonies agree with the theme of the song in a style that captures one’s attention in a moving way. The song is most suited to public open air gatherings which give revelers enough space to engage in various forms of dancing styles whilst celebrating the governor’s new catchy rhyming nickname. In other words, the song is for serious dancers and those with a high degree of laughter. Although Gonoriya is an easy to sing along tune one wonders how it was composed. It is an epic song that tallies very well with every bit in it. To add on to its uniqueness, the composition gives one the impression that Viomak was singing with a backing group. That’s not it. She takes it up on her own in the studio.
On the third song 6 na 9, which is her most favorite, she builds up confidence with the courage of a desperate and impatient woman who expects MDC and Zanupf to understand that whilst the two parties are dawdling on power sharing disagreements ordinary masses are suffering, making the two heads to resemble 6 and 9.In a worried and fed up voice she starts the song by mentioning that “Zimbabwe circus iyi taneta nayo” (We are tired of this Zimbabwe circus)”. This method of artistic execution or mode of presentation is characteristic of a well thought out song .The two leaders’ dillydallying and some other issues make the two men similar. ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ takes the trophy , for being a hive of terror not only for political leaders but also for some of their supporters who Viomak blames for being crooks and narrow minded. The song is arranged around jumpy and juicy organ and rhythm beats that somehow signify the leaders’ failure to resolve issues amicably, through the way they are combined as Viomak’s vocals pave their way through the instruments complaining that Zimbabweans are now tired of the political circus. As she repeats that 6 and 9 look alike she asks the two leaders to understand that people are starving, are in darkness, are thirsty and are sick. The song ends with an array of impressive instruments blending well with a short interjection of her vocals in English as she leaves more space for listeners to sing along and bring the song to a rousing ending selflessly allowing time for more body shaking. Of course 6 na 9 is definitely deemed to be another favorite hit for some listeners. Mark my words, apart from reviews and personal comments music remains a subjective entity.
There are moments of great jubilation in the fourth song Mabhinya (thugs), when the high sounding rolls come to the fore as if signaling the thugs to be aware that they are being exposed. The vigorous rolls are immediately joined and overshadowed by a variety of other rhumba like sounds bringing the listener to a mini chimurenga mood .Viomak’s voice awakens to the extraordinary sounds and figures her starting point when her patient and soft voice is heard coming in between the hard drumbeats, in a lively and interesting manner giving the break instruments time to take her to the next verse. She repeatedly advises Zanupf and MDC to control their thugs and thieves .Come to think of it. Who ever imagined that a Zimbabwean artist would ever highlight these issues in a song? As if worn down and irritated she explores the song in hidden anger showing her resentment of the two leaders’ leadership qualities. Mabhinya is most enthralling when Viomak is direct and fiery in her lyrics as the bass and brass remain solid to the end. The song will definitely provoke some people’s anger especially for the fact that Zimbabwean politicians and many of their supporters don’t accept criticism.
A happy and gripping track Johnnie Walker cruises as a radio friendly track that will make her fans wayward as they chant the vivacious chorus that repeats itself with flammable consistency,“Memorandum yacho MOU yacho makasainira aniko” (Who did you sign the MOU for?)The song is smothered with inquisitive vocals that are laced with impressive harmonies befitting an energetic audience at a political gathering. As the song starts with marimba ,the whistling of the airy flute, coupled with a staccato style and a wonderful lead bring the song to a junior reggae beat, but maintains its preferred Zimbabwean beat .Johnnie walker is a sure case of Viomak’s music writing skills exhibited especially on this whole album. Blessed with a rich vocal range, the song is pleasing and a pleasure to listen to. The lyrics get people to a contagious dance and yes, they are appealing. Her marvelous duality as an artist, who combines her expertise as an educationist and singer could be one of the reasons why her music composition is awesome. She really is an interesting and passionate individual as she sounds in her songs, and her lyrics are a reflection of those qualities that distinguish her from others. Certain sections of the Zimbabwean society may think of her as a pain in the nerve or even a failed singer because she doesn’t fit into any of their expectations and interests , but there’s nothing awkward about the quality and style of her music and the depth of her passion and competence for what she does.
As Viomak insists on defying the norm, she laments Tsvangirai’s failures in the song ‘Dutch embassy’. Many photos come to mind when you listen to this tune. The photos of the purported MDC injured supporters who thronged the MDC headquarters at Harvest house and the American embassy during the Zanupf mavhoterapapi reign of terror .What crosses one’s mind is that the MDC leader Tsvangirai was hiding in the Dutch embassy whilst his supporters like ill treated refugees squattered helplessly as zanupf police officers tormented them. In the song Viomak sees the MDC leader as a father figure who should have been there for his children in their time of need. As the song commences she advises Tsvangirai to remember that as he signed the MOU agreement his supporters were beaten up, tortured and burnt. He should therefore be careful of dining with an unrepentant Mugabe who fooled Joshua Nkomo (Umdala Wethu) into signing a unity accord that never materialized. She chooses words like ‘kudzurudzuta mabhuku (scribbling books) to show that the MOU agreement is a non event that Tsvangirai should not have taken seriously, just like the scribbling of a young chap in sand. The song is written and sung in such a fascinating tone that the adamant Tsvangirai will think twice about what he is doing if he gets the chance to listen to it.Tipeiwo (May you give us) is another winner, with its joyful, percussion loaded fairy tale lyrics. It is the urgent, down to earth but persuasive religious vocals that hit the listener hard as the song portrays the desperate situation in Zimbabwe. The song shows that Viomak has no faith in men of this world to assist Zimbabweans, but has faith that God will answer if people call out His name for help.
Tipeiwo is like honey in a cup of bitter tea, a remedy to comfort and heal the broken hearts in Zimbabwe. It leaves you in a poetic mood too. The song makes you feel like the heavens will open for God’s angels to touch down in Zimbabwe and assure Zimbabweans that the desires of their hearts will be accorded .The lively chorus sung in a cool, velvety voice is introduced through the use of rolls that transport the sing along chorus to the jovial instrument break .It looks like Viomak was again set to show that she is still heavily inclined to her Manyika dialect even after having lived in the diaspora for close to seven years. Tipeiwo appeals more to poor souls, Zimbabweans in solitary confinement, the neglected victims of torture and not forgetting the illegally imprisoned activists and all opposing voices that are silenced. For those who want to listen to music for it to fill their soul, to speak to their souls the song Tipeiwo is captivating and spiritual enough to respect their inner demands. The song is different and makes an interesting listen. She doesn’t add comedy to the lyrics most likely because she was talking to God.
The closing song Zimbabwe circus which is the title song is a simple narration of how Mugabe-Matibili, Tsvangirai, Mutambara, Makoni and Towungana all cross the circus bridge as political clowns. The song brings the album to a satisfying conclusion and unbelievable experience. Viomak is true to herself and sticks to what she dreams to achieve. She takes pride in the fact that she is doing what she thinks is right .She reminds me of a forwarded email that landed in my inbox sometime back that was encouraging people to Aspire to Inspire before they Expire. That’s what she does. The choral song is so straight forward but very deep in message. It sort of conceals Mugabe’s evilness by blaming his political rivals too, giving the Zanu pf troubled leader a seven minute glassy break from criticism targeted at him. Obviously some listeners might start worrying about the lyrical content of this track and would like to question why Viomak says all Zimbabwe political leaders are a circus .She can be contacted through her website for those who are interested in knowing .It is not yet popular to be critical of the MDC artistically, but I’m sure in a couple of years to come it will be as common as despising Mugabe.
Probably some of the best things musically about the whole album is how it captures one’s imagination and captivates the mind. One gets caught up in the moment no matter their political affiliation. Chances are the album was composed to evoke an emotional reaction from the listener, and from the look of it all, it is capable of doing this with far more success than her previous albums.Over the course of eight tracks the album gives you a very good idea of what it must be like to be a protest singer .Of course the other thing it does is give you an idea of what they are like musically.
There can be no doubt that ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ would be of phenomenal popularity in Zimbabwe if all available means are used to have it get there. Viomak who said she composed all the songs at once, said she wanted the production to be much simpler and extremely relevant to the circumstances surrounding the dead but living talks. The honesty heard in her voice is a great inspiration. Her emotion is real. The names of the songs are not disappointing as she sings what they mean, and then there are the songs themselves and what the lyrics talk about.The album is a unique entity. Even on her own Viomak is able to combine the gentleness of each voice into a virtual choir. Even though the tunes are presented in a choral manner the subtle textures of their voices create layers of sound that are a delight to the mind. You quickly forget that there is no backing group in support. ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ is one of the most unusual protest releases. The album outdoes her previous ones making it a better treat. It presents the spirit of the masses in an enormous and convincing way and would make a fine addition to anyone’s collection. If people are to face the truth the album is without question one of the most interesting Zimbabwe protest albums to date making Viomak a pleasant protest sensation. What we have here is an album geared more towards recapturing the spirit of unbiased non partisan protest music in a male dominated territory .Again, the album will make her many new enemies but I think it’s only fair to appreciate what it is for now.
Viomak is going to be very busy again soon, as aside from promoting her new album, she is preparing to release her traditional Happy birthday album .The album that will feature renowned poet and writer, John Eppel’s lyrics on the song Broken- buttock blues is out 21 February 2009 to mark Mugabe’s 85th birthday. She did ‘Zimbabwe Circus’ out of her norm as there seemed to be no one singing about the Zimbabwe political circus, otherwise she specializes on Mugabe‘s birthday albums.
More about her is at www.viomakcharitymusic.com
Harriet Chigege is Viomak’s publicity officer and she can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org