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Shoko: a groundbreaking new festival in Zimbabwe

Feb, 08, 2012 - Kate Declerck

Fear and intimidation are powerful weapons used against artists and cultural activists worldwide, in the attempt to silence alternative voices. Amnesty International and Freemuse have it well documented – the numerous cases of intellectuals around the world suffering harassment, assault, and false arrests. Artists who continue producing genuine and uncensored work within oppressive environments have often been referred to as ‘underground’. In recent years however, these previously isolated local underground scenes have become interconnected, largely thanks to social and digital media, to constitute a global movement of socially conscious artists.

Each country has it’s leadership - I do not speak of government here – but rather a handful of young urban music artists who not only, through their work, dare to speak the minds of their generation, but who undertake the development of grassroots community projects, organizations and events that serve as safe spaces for other marginalized free-thinkers to come together and express – whether through rap, spoken word, graffiti, breakdance, slam, film or other art forms, and to ensure that a new generation of socially conscious artists is ripe to take over where they leave off in the struggle.

In Zimbabwe, it’s two young spoken word artists - Comrade Fatso and Outspoken ThaHumbleNeophyte (pictured above) who stepped up to the challenge to create spaces for free expression, initially through the founding of the legendary House of Hunger Poetry Slam and the monthly Mashoko spoken word and hip hop events, and most recently, in co-founding the organization Magamba, which means ‘Heroes’ or ‘Freedom Fighters’ and establishing Zimbabwe’s first-ever festival of poetry, hip hop and urban culture - Shoko! International Spoken Word And Hip Hop Festival.

The first edition, held in September 2011, featured artists from 8 countries including international artists Akala (UK), Tumi & the Volume (SA) and Hired Gun (USA) and leading local acts. An impressive achievement that required of Comrade Fatso and Outspoken ThaHumbleNeophyte to step up not only to the tasks of fundraising, marketing, logistics and infrastructure development, but to the challenge of navigating administrative procedures to obtain the necessary ‘clearance’ from 6 different government agencies.

Inspired and curious, we asked Festival Director Comrade Fatso how he dealt with these challenges, he shares “you need a mix of experience and passion… we had our experienced organisers and staff assigned with different roles working with our youth members so that the youth can learn and take over soon. You also need a diversity of skills. So you need people who are creative and can design the look of the festival. You need those who can market and produce it… and you need those with admin skills to do all the logistical stuff like contracts, booking rooms, handling cash and the like”.

A worthwhile effort, he assures us “the experience was rewarding because we built a festival that has a real movement behind it. The festival was a celebration of the spoken word and hip movement here that uses its art in the struggle for a just society. I feel that the artists here really appreciated such an event that gave respect to what they do in the face of fear, censorship and state harassment. It was also great to build links and share skills between cultural activists from across Africa and from across the globe”.

Any tips for others going into community organizing? Comrade Fatso shares “I think the most important thing is believe in what you do. Your art can change the world. Start small. Organise your monthly event, concert or gathering. Build your team, build your name and spread your message. After a year or two take it further and run new events and hit different crowds. Soon you will have a team you can work with and a movement that supports you. It’s all about small steps towards big victories”.

For those taught to be unseen, unheard, silent, such platforms mean everything. As the young Zimbabwean artist Flo Child expressed “I thank you, for spinning vinyls, and turning tables, for MCs spitting on higher levels (…) for beatboxers booming, for spray cans bombing, for the lyrical battles, the street hustles, the Babylon struggles, for in your movement, I was reborn”.

Needless to say, the festival wasn’t broadcast on radio and TV, but the Nomadic Wax video team was there to record it all – from press conference to concerts to panel discussions – for you to enjoy on Magamba’s YouTube channel.

Video: Comrade Fatso & Chabvondoka ft. OutSpoken & Lassane Diabate - 'Korokoza'

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