‘Dem Loot’: Chin’ono’s viral protest song resonates with downtrodden Zimbabweans

By Taona Denhere

Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono

The great African-American novelist, poet and essayist James Baldwin once philosophically said: “Music, is our witness, and our ally. The “beat” is confession which recognizes, changes and conquers time. Music itself must act upon time, not lose itself to it; must stem itself against the empty flood”.

The philosophical and pedagogical significance of this excerpt brings us to the politics of  the rhythm as embodied in the currently trending  “”Dem Loot” soundtrack. In the late hours of the last Sunday of January 2021, Hopewell Chin`ono in the “solitary confinement” of his book laden study, echoed with a deep throated booming vocal, a 55-second song, “Dem Loot”.

The soaring pyrotechnics of his voice was infused with the old Dancehall chanting style accompanied and scaffolded with Shabba Rankin’ flavour in the yesteryear hit ” Dem Bow”. This is in many ways instructive, given Hopewell’s deep reggae roots. He has rubbed shoulders and interviewed some great Reggae artists like Luciano, “Jah Messenger”. Add to this the fact that demographically, the biggest consumers of music in Zimbabwe are the youths who are also sometimes known as the Zim Dancehall generation, the millennials or the post 1995 generation.

“Dem Loot” is an expression of rebel art and, thus, follows in the rebellious and provocative sonic art steps of the likes of Fela Kuti, Thomas Mapfumo, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and others. “Dem Loot” reignited the rebellious spirit in anti-corruption songs like “Corruption” by Thomas Mapfumo, “Perambulator” by Fela Kuti, and “Them Belly Full” by Bob Marley. This is an art form which verbalizes the socioeconomic concerns and the political desires of the downtrodden subalterns who are preyed upon by the parasitic and vulturistic ruling elite.

“Dem Loot” casts focus on the unanswered questions of the dubious ways in which funds earmarked for management of the COVID-19 pandemic are being abused and misused by the Zanu-PF government. It is politically attuned to the prevailing social realities of Zimbabwean citizens. It possesses an obvious bearing on the urgent need for collective agency amongst citizens in holding the government to account. Daddy Hope, Chin’ono’s moniker on Twitter, provides credible musical lessons to the experienced music practitioners on the political power of the microphone in holding the government to account in delivery of its constitutional obligations to citizens.

After its initial trial and error release on those late hours of last Sunday of January, “Dem Loot” has since gone viral and spread like a wildfire in the dry savannah. Consequently, it has spawned various remixes and versions which include mbira, acapella Ladysmith Mambazo style, and Shona versions. Moreover, techno savvy Zimbabwean netizens have also creatively produced video imagery of the song that sought to lampoon the filthy corrupt ruling elites.

“Dem Loot” is a socially conscious and politically charged song. The song is acting as a promethean fiery searchlight spotlighting the endemic corruption and cancerous venality that has decimated the socioeconomic and moral fabric of Zimbabwe. The lyrics indict the Zanu-PF misleadership and bureaucratic elites, whose insatiable piratical brigandage has bankrupted the nation and pauperised the masses.

“Dem Loot” speaks about the runaway institutionalised lootocracy that has been plaguing the nation since the so-called second republic was born on the ashes of the November 2017 coup d’état. “Dem Loot” literally translated means there are looting. However, metaphorically and politically it means the ruling elites are engaging in unrestrained and wanton pillaging and plunder of taxpayers’ money, national coffers and the nation`s resources.

The song and its consciousness arousing lyrics has been timely, because it comes out at a time when the nation is in apocalyptic death throes of man -made disaster epitomised by the  mishandling of the second surge of Covid-19 pandemic by the Zanu-PF mis-leadership elites. Thus, the upsurge in the number of Covid-19 deaths and infections are directly interlinked with the grand theft and rapacious sleaze of Covid-19 funds by the ruling elite and their accomplices. The incestuous looting sprees of Covid-19 funds by the disgraced former health minister Obadiah Moyo in cahoots with bogus entities like Drax International and others has led to these avoidable deaths and infections.

“Dem Loot” is saying that, through these open seasons of avaricious insatiable looting of state funds, the frontline workers like nurses, doctors, teachers and civil servants don’t have PPE, Covid-19 testing kits and social safety nets. Therefore, being asked to report for duty by the callous Zanu-PF government is tantamount to being sent on a suicidal mission which will put them in harm’s way.

Furthermore, the song traces the levels of  the high levels of unemployment and underemployment among the ghettoized youths occasioned by the obscene pilfering and looting of state resources by the ruling elite.  The song also details the state of hopelessness and despair which is translating the current generation of the youth into a “lost” generation without looking at the intertwined endemic corruption and plunder of national coffers.

The voices of musicians can act as critical enablers in solidifying the communication of lost possibilities and clarification of citizens’ contestations with mal-administrative practices endemic within the Zimbabwean state. If musicians feign ignorance of broader state political issues, they could at least engage with the recent announcement of the cessation of online music concerts, but even this material dispossession and shortchanging of their sole source of livelihood has failed to generate a voice of dissent from musicians.

Evidently pronouncement of the ban was premised on a distortion and bias which deems entertainment as non-essential for locked down masses. To make a bad situation worse, recently released on bail Chill Spot Producers have even extended their gestures of compliance to the regime as sung in their “Ed Pfee’ riddim. These uncharted and uncontested terrains provided a worthy background for Hopewell Chin’ono to produce the scorcher ” Dem Loot”.

In the increasingly tyrannised socioeconomic, politico and cultural ecosystem of Zimbabwe, it is not surprising that “Dem Loot” was muted and rendered invisible on the public-funded and state-controlled media platforms. This is despite the constant requests by Zimbabweans via media personality Misred to have it played on the local radio station Zifm.

Moreover, its underlining message resonates with most long-suffering Zimbabweans and other foreign radio station have already sampled the tune. This conspicuous absence of “Dem Loot” from the national airwaves is testament to the fact that, its socially conscious lyrics and politically potent message is an anathema to the extractive and overaccumulation cronyism of the Zanu-PF establishmentarians.

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