The future of African music: Jiti 101

The future of African music: Jiti 101

 Friedrich Nietzsche, the often misquoted and wildly misread German philosopher famously observed that; “without music life would be a mistake”. This line, though overused, remains relevant today and we can all agree it will be relevant 200 years from now.

When we find new love, welcome new life to the world and celebrate life in all its forms, we turn to music as the medium for celebration. In the event of a sad occurrence, it might be a tough break-up, the loss of a loved one or we are generally sad and have no idea why, we turn to music.

Music is used to maintain, build and create new cultures. How a society chooses to preserve some forms of culture and destroys others is a sign of its approach to change and understanding of progress.

The other day, after rummaging through my twitter, Facebook and Instagram feed, and, finding no better medium for procrastination, I turned to you-tube. My goal was to find the song “Only You” by Kiss Daniel and Sugarboy, a song my cousin had played during a weekend family get together. I couldn’t get it out of my head and needed to find and overplay it.

As most youtubers know, one can initially search for videos of Diamond Platinumz’s new music and end up watching Japanese movie trailers or Russian dash cam fail two hours later.

Youtube recommended I play “Chisungo” by Vabati Vevhangeri, a deep sombre Zimbabwean Christian hymn.

Vabati Vevhangeri is a gospel group with a sound that comes from the fusion of voices and hand clapping that is addictive even to the least religious. Now this is pure Christian song. It talks about strengthening individual belief. It is possible for one who does not understand the song to enjoy it.

I then landed on this song written by unknown and sang by unknown.

This type of music is called Jiti and it is uniquely Zimbabwean.

I know from personal experience that if given the opportunity to, most people would do away or dissociate from Jiti. I understand why some would want to it to become extinct. Unlike Vabati Vevhangeri, Jiti is haunting in both good and bad ways. It reminds us of our humble origins, of our spiritual fights and inasmuch as it is uplifting, it is laden with sadness, especially for those in the diaspora. But, even those blind to the complexity of culture and history would agree that there is something inherently beautiful in it. Something ungraspable that warrants saving it not only from the scourge of unbridled modernization but saving it from itself.

The jiti video was hidden in a treasure trove of a huge gospel collection. If I am to make assumptions, I would say the owner of the youtube account is a devoted Christian but something forced him to include a Jiti video in his gospel collection. Or maybe he is just like me, indifferent to underlying beliefs but moved by the beat.

Most cultures have managed to market and benefit from elements of their culture that make them unique. I watched “Ada Ada” by Flavor the other day. The video is a celebration of love and marriage expressly done with the fusion of the traditional and the modern. To sound a bit pretentious, one would say it has a certain appeal – not Flavor’s shirtless body – that makes it pleasant.

The future of music lies in modernizing the sound and instruments. Appealing to a global audience wouldn’t hurt as well. But, it also lies in the celebration of stuff that make a people unique. Debates can be made about the relationship this music has with elements of the dark world. I am of the idea that the lack of promotion of such music is not driven by just the fear that it is attached to evil traditional cultural practices but also to the desire to separate from history.

Now, my call is not for the celebration of what would think are remnants of ages that need to be forgotten. I just think there is something to salvage. Maybe one day we will argue what that thing is. Oh, one day I would like to decipher the meaning of this Jiti song. What “bhurama mombe isina mwana” mean.

As for why it is critical that music like Jiti be preserved, I will give the last word to Nelson Mandela;“I enjoy all types of music, but the music of my own flesh and blood goes right to my heart. The curious beauty of African music is that it uplifts even as it tells a sad tale. You may be poor, you may have only a ramshackle house, you may have lost your job, but that song gives you hope. African music is often about the aspirations of the African people, and it can ignite the political resolve of those who might otherwise be indifferent to politics. One merely has to witness the infectious singing at African rallies. Politics can be strengthened by music, but music has a potency that defies politics.”


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not reflect the view of Beauty of Africa.

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