Voto Radio Station invites all protest singers whose work is banned in Zimbabwe to use it as a platform where they can musically voice their concerns without fear of repression
In 2008 Viomak found a way of evading censorship in her home country. On Zimbabwe's Independence Day, 18 April 2008, she and her team launched 'Voto Radio Station – Zimbabwe Protest Art' on the internet with the aim "to focus on the importance of freedom of musical expression in a country where opposing voices are severely oppressed."
"I'm convinced the music will now reach many of it's intended audiences," said Viomak.
It has been very difficult for Viomak to have her own music played on other Zimbabwean internet radio stations because they prefer to play and promote other music genres than protest music.
One other Ndebele Zimbabwean musician who last year released some protest songs suffered the same fate from 'independent' Zimbabwe radio stations which are not willing to play his protest songs. He explained how he contacted some Zimbabwean radio stations in the diaspora only to get unconvincing negative responses from the 'owners'.
Viomak was quick to mention that someone at Voice of America (Studio 7, Zimbabwe) said her music was too political and negative of Mugabe so they cannot play it on their station. In light of this, Voto Radio Station is calling all interested Zimbabwe protest artists to come forward and be part of the project.
"Instead of protest artists crying foul over the banning of their music and other protest art, they should uncensor themselves by coming up with ways of making themselves heard," said Viomak
Content of the programmes
The station offers a dualcast service which operates both on a 'on demand' and 'live streaming' basis, and it opens with an instrumental version of the Zimbabwe national anthem. Tomson Chauke, a well-known Zimbabwean musician, prepares some of the programmes which include 'Miscellaneous protest', a programme that showcases various Zimbabwe protest music.
The music is selected from a range of protest tracks done by artists like Thomas Mapfumo, Raymond Majongwe, Leornard Zhakata, Hosiah Chipanga, and Viomak. There are also a couple of new protest songs from Ndebele singers. Songs like 'Zimbabwe' and 'Freedom' by Sinini Ka Ngwenya.
Other interesting tracks that are aired include songs supposedly done by Zimbabwean white farmers, namely 'Mugabe repossessed my farm' which has lyrics that say:
"Tell me what happened to Zimbabwe
the lovely country that we all used to know
well, I don't know
but Mugabe must go"
and 'I'm a psychopath', that goes:
I'm a psychopath
My name is Bob Mugabe
I'm the number one banana in Zimbabwe
I haven't got a clue
so I blame everything on you
and the whiteys from London to Harare
No one goes to work today
because unemployment is high
Bob runs the country in his sleep
if only Bob Mugabe had not run for presidency
Mugabe, go to hell."
In-between the music, political speeches are aired. For instance, a five-second speech by Ian Douglas Smith, the prime minister of Rhodesia, in which he bets that a black president will never run Zimbabwe well. He said: "I don't believe in black majority rule ever in Rhodesia, not in a thousand years".
"Such kind of speeches remind listeners of Smith's speech where he boasted that he would rather put his coat on the presidential seat instead of putting a black leader, implying that his coat would do a better job than a black president," Viomak explained. The team behind the Voto Radio Station project strongly feels that every opposing voice matters.
Hundreds of listeners
"With time Voto Radio Station will strive to educate Zimbabweans on their political responsibilities which include their right to be heard. Other programmes in the pipeline include 'Prayers for Zimbabwe' where political gospel music will take centre stage," Viomak said.
The station has been well received, with an average of 770 clicks a day to date. With Zimbabwe on the 7th place in the top ten of the list of 68 countries that visit Viomak's website, she is convinced that Voto Radio Station is reaching it's intended audience.
In the 1970s, during Zimbabwe's chimurenga war, the 'Voice of Zimbabwe' radio was beamed from Maputo, Mozambique, and used by Zanu to educate, mobilize, and recruit supporters. During the same period Zapu's People's Voice radio was broadcasted from Dar es Salaam, Lusaka, Cairo and on Radio Moscow.
The 'Voice of Zimbabwe' included such programmes as The Chimurenga request programme which was dedicated to those involved in the struggle.
During that period Dorothy Masuka, Dr Thomas Mapfumo and ex-combatant Cde Chinx Chingaira were popular revolutionary musicians. The songs that were played in these programmes boosted the morale of the fighters, motivated and inspired others to take action, thus in Viomak's words, "in those trying times music was the best therapy. When utilized appropriately music can be a massive weapon during a struggle for emancipation since it keeps the oppressed informed and entertained. Songs of struggle are therefore a source of inspiration and hope."
On a similar style and purpose, Voto Radio Station broadcasts worldwide, courtesy of the internet. President Robert Mugabe who at one time had a wild dream of banning the internet in an effort to censor his critics put the plan on hold after the idea hit a hard rock.
On 24 November 2007, Viomak was interviewed by Pamela Stitch of African Loft on the Story of political gospel, and when asked if she had faced any challenges in her brand of music she responded:
"Very big challenges. I live on verbal insults mainly from Zanu PF supporters, praises and salutations from my dedicated fans. Some Zimbabwean newspapers are not eager to write my stories for fear of reprisals. Some Zimbabwean internet radio stations are not eager to play my music for the same reason. My music is banned in Zimbabwe. Some people don't buy my music cause they fear for their lives. Most of those who buy the music play it secretly. My music is the first of its kind and a few others don't like my idea of mixing gospel with politics. So my music is very controversial but the good thing is I have more fans than enemies."
What then is the purpose of continuing to sing if you face all these challenges? I asked Viomak.
"You keep hoping that one day God will help us change the situation in Zimbabwe. Hope gives us the zeal to move on until we achieve our goals."
Viomak's CDs and cassettes are at times sold unclenched or labelled particularly in Zimbabwe, so they won't be noticed by her enemies. An idea that doesn't go down well with buyers who are not used to seeing such kind of music packaging. Viomak narrated how she was duped by some MDC high ranking officials in the UK and South Africa who crooked her when they offered to be selling agents of her music only to disappear for good with the music.
Zimbabwe protest musicians face such kind of challenges since they do most of the marketing and promoting on their own due to the sensitivity and the risks their music entails.
Viomak' manager also explained how he had tried in vain to place adverts in the Herald newspaper to market her first two albums. The adverts which were later accepted by independent newspapers, the Zimbabwe Standard and the Zimbabwe independent caused havoc after some suspicious men called him endlessly asking if they could meet up with him. The men later visited and threatened one Toendepi Shonhe a political activist who had personally offered to sell the music from his offices in Harare.
These are just a handful of the drawbacks and challenges that Viomak faces as a censored musician. Now that the goal of setting up an internet radio station has been achieved what is left is to work on it so that it becomes a bigger project that will rise from being an internet radio to an actual radio station that rises above the ground.
Moving with the times, Viomak's website boasts of a whole lot of free ringtones. She just finished doing the groundwork of her 10-track 'standby album' entitled 'Happy Deathday President R.G. Mugabe-Matibili (Death is certain)', to be published whenever that day comes, and she is now working on her fourth album, 'Happy 85th Birthday President R.G. Matibili (Little Tiny Dot)', due for release on 21 February 2009 as per the tradition.
The title was inspired by president Robert Mugabe's speech in which he referred to the prime minister of Britain Gordon Brown as a tiny little dot on this world. Tracks on the album include 'Gukurahundi', a song that chronicles what transpired during that controversial time in Zimbabwe's history, and 'Operation Mavhoterapapi', a song that moans the torture and beatings that Zimbabweans experienced after they placed their votes in front of the 'wrong' face during the so called harmonized elections on 29 March 2008, the results of which are yet to be confirmed.
Book about censored musician
Viomak is also working on a book titled, 'Rainbow Tears in a Throat Thunderstorm'. The book highlights the trials and tribulations of being a Zimbabwean censored musician, coupled with being an outspoken female in a society of politically irresponsible, good for nothing primitive leaders and confused citizens. It also highlights the musical struggles of operating underground inorder to expose issues on the surface, and a whole lot of political and cultural issues that make her "to be proud of who she is and regret about what she is", according to how she expresses it.
Zimbabwe protest artists are encouraged to get in touch with Voto Radio Station at either of these two email-addresses:
(please insert the proper @-sign yourself)
To open the radio player, follow one of the two links on Viomak's page.
NB: If the player is silent, it may be because the radio is only broadcast during certain hours of the day. In London on weekdays, the radio begins broadcasting at 5 PM and runs up til midnight. See schedule on the page:
Voto Radio Station - main page
Kubatana – 7 May 2008:
'Protest musician launched internet radio on Zimbabwe Independence Day'
Kubatana, Natasha Msonza – 3 March 2008:
'Censorship is based on fear'