Pop culture, tradition’s biggest enemy

Andrew Moyo
“GUIDED by nothing but pop culture values, many children no longer learn how to think about morality and virtue or to think of them at all. They grow up with no shared moral framework, believing that the highest values are diversity, tolerance and non-judgmentalism.”

These were the words of American politician and activist, Gary Bauer, a prominent advocate for the equipping of children with conservative values. If truth be told, this is basically what the world has come to, with traditions being sideswiped by the so-called pop culture. This modern popular culture transmitted via the mass media and aimed particularly at younger people has been spreading like wildfire at a rate like never before.

The advent of satellite television, internet and social media penetration has brought about vast generational changes as the majority of youths are hungrily consuming the pop culture that is being mass produced by the West. The nation recently celebrated local cultural heritage with various activities taking centre stage across the country during the Culture Week.

While local culture is important as it allows individuals to connect and identify with social values, religious beliefs and customs of the land, the sad reality is that it is now under threat. From religion to the arts, global trends have taken over, which leaves one wondering how long local culture will survive the onslaught. Traditional music and dance among other local artistic expressions might just become a thing of the past if nothing is done to safeguard Zimbabwean cultural values.

The penetration of Zim dancehall or just dancehall in general is a clear testament of the changes that are transpiring at the moment, a genre that openly celebrates drugs, sex and alcoholism. Dancehall music used to be restricted to urban areas but of late even the most remote areas in the country are now hooked with many young people actually shunning genres like sungura and mbira, as they are now seen as ‘backward.’

Thanks to rural electrification and internet accessibility, the rural setup has not been spared of this global culture, which is slowly reshaping society into a universal sort of image. There was once a time when there were many artistes who rose to prominence while promoting local tradition with their music. Musicians and groups that include Thomas Mapfumo, the late Chiwoniso Maraire, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe, Mbira Dzenharira, Maungira Enharira and Ephat Mujuru to name just a few, became household names with their various sounds that were based on traditional music.

Mbira artistes have found the going tough with very limited spaces offering them slots to perform as proprietors opt to promote more popular genres that bring in profits. Of late, most artistes who have taken up the traditional music path rarely get significant recognition on the local entertainment scene with all of the newer household names coming through the ranks of modern genres.

The few success stories are being told by artistes who have managed to sell their brands abroad, otherwise the local market is not as welcoming. The Sunday Mail Society spoke to cultural experts who shared their views on how pop culture has impacted local traditions and values.

Zimbabwe National Traditional Dance Association president Kennedy Kachuruka said parents were responsible for safeguarding local cultural values. “We understand that most kids these days have become addicted and are trying to emulate the Hollywood lifestyle and culture while shunning our own values,” said Kachuruka. “As parents we should try our best to indoctrinate our children with our own cultural norms and values from an early age so that even if they end up being swallowed by all these current trends they will still be able to identify with their roots. “Fashion comes and goes but the values and traditions that make us who we are as Zimbabweans will always remain the same.”

He added that the issue of cultural preservation has been subject of discussion within numerous organisations. “There have been discussions with The Ministry of Rural Development, Promotion and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage, National Arts Council and National Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee among other traditional organisations with the aim of mapping the way forward in terms of how best we can promote and preserve our culture. “I am happy that the changes in the school curriculum are set to also accommodate cultural elements in the syllabus but there is still more that has to be done.”

Initiatives like the Chibuku Neshamwari Dance Festival have played a big role in the promotion of traditional dance but Kachuruka believes that more still needs to be done. “We should be having more cultural festivals around the country all year round so that our traditional arts, food, religion and other practices remain visible.”

Veteran arts manager Mathias Bangure said that measures needed to be put in place for the preservation of local culture in the arts. “There is no doubt that pop culture has become dominant and if nothing is done to preserve our own values, they will definitely suffer,” said Bangure. “Responsible authorities and institutions should promote cultural initiatives in schools, radio and television programming should accommodate traditional artistes while promoters also play their part if our national heritage is to be persevered. “When we were growing up marimba bands and traditional dance were very popular in schools but I am not sure if that is still the case these days.”

He added that adoption of popular culture in the local arts industry was not a bad thing as it created diversity but there was also a need to keep it in check. “We are not saying everyone should sing or listen to traditional music but I think we should have a balance. Adoption of foreign genres or pop music sound is not a bad thing but it would also be great if our artistes incorporated traditional elements into the music so that while we move with the times, we also get to preserve our own heritage in the process and the same also applies to dance.”

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