Public perception of young hip-hop artists, suspected associating with drunken behavior and drugs, has changed immensely nowadays as the youths tackle burning socio-political issues in quite a brave manner using poetry as a tool for positive social change.
The young artists are not only providing a platform for free expression but are earning a living too from hip-hop and staying away from trouble in the streets.
For the past four days the artists organized themselves into a high profile festival in Harare attracting international hip-hop poets from as far as Germany, and the United Kingdom, Kenya, Malawi, Botswana and South Africa and performed in between conferences and workshops fully sponsored by local and international development agencies and well-wishers.
The conferences debated the critical role of artists in the struggle for social justice which on its own is a contentious issue in Zimbabwe while the hip-hop and poetry slam delivered the message to bad rulers, sexists and racists through the spoken word performances in a frank and objective way.
Today hip-hop is the music and way of free expression for youths around the world and a celebration of positive urban culture. It is, in other words, a laboratory for social change and justice.
Farai Munro a youthful hip-hop artist who adopted a stage name Comrade Fatso is credited for championing hip-hop and organising his peers into a formidable artistic force.
Only 10 years ago the hip-hop artists were ragtag but have since evolved into an organised outfit that tours the world performing at international festivals. Comrade Fatso is the brainchild behind the just ended and inaugural Shoko International Spoken Word and Hip-Hop Festival.
“There is huge growth of conscious hip-hop over the last decade of economic and political turmoil and the poets are reflecting on the hardships of the people. We are creating the space for free expression for youths using the spoken word for social justice. We are also involving social media to fight repression and create democratic space in Zimbabwe,” Comrade Fatso told Radio VOP in an interview.
“Our idea is to involve as many youths as possible from the ghettos in hip-hop and poetry blogging and Twitting events as a way of reaching out to the people. Social change is about fighting political repression, bad rulers, sexism, racism and other forms of injustices.”
Judging by their critical voices there is certainly less fear now, amongst the young artists, of the brutal Zimbabwe police and dreaded secret State agents as compared to say 10 years back when the artists were brutalized for their hard-hitting lyrics.
“I am not afraid but I am aware of the risks. I don’t self-censor myself as Comrade Fatso in my poetry and hip-hop. We are forthright about the issues.”
Paul Brickhill the artistic director of Book Café and The Mannenberg has been brave enough to host the festival having been previously banned under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and forced to close the Book Café for three months for giving artists a platform for free speech.
“We have seen a threat in terms of freedom of expression and in terms of artistic and creative expression. We have seen efforts to threaten, harass and intimidate us. Some of our artists here have been beaten up and severely threatened.
“I don’t want to hide that, its fact and its reality and has continued up to today. But on the other hand 60 000 people per year attend approximately 900 events on both sides of the Book Café and The Mannenberg.
“By far the majority of the political personalities have supported us sincerely and throughout because they have seen the progressive work that we do,” Brickhill told Radio VOP in an interview.