What happened to urban grooves music?

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SOUNDTRACK:Tapiwa Zivira

The turn of the millennium saw a rise in a music genre that later came to be known as urban grooves, and those who were teenagers those days can very well recall how the music, which was often about love, and sounded so much like western pop, became the soundtrack of the day.

For the uninitiated, tracks like Royce and Royce’s Handirege, David Chifunyise’s Tauya Naye and Plaxedes Wenyika’s Tisaparadzane, among others, were some of the hits which opened the urban grooves era.

A major factor, perhaps, was that at the time, the then Information minister Jonathan Moyo imposed a 100% local content policy on the sole broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which had a monopoly on radio and television.

With such a policy in place, at a time music was not yet easily available in digital formats, when people still relied so much on radio and audio cassettes, it was natural that urban grooves became a huge success.

At its peak, musicians like Betty Makaya, Maskiri, Sani Makhalima, Ngoni Kambarami and Extra Large released albums that went on to compete with the then dominant sungura genre.

While it is not certain if Innocent Utsiwegota’s music could be classified as urban grooves or dancehall, he too, during that era, produced hit albums.

After the year 2010, however, with the emergence of new brand of localised dancehall music originally from Jamaica — branded zimdancehall — urban grooves seemed to feel the heat and was slowly pushed into the background.

But questions have remained what exactly went wrong? What is it that urban groovers did not do which zimdancehall artistes are doing? Called bubble gum music at the time, urban grooves, just like dancehall, was seen as music made by amateurs trying to make a name in the industry.

But, if one can go back to the songs today, some of them are actually classics that have stood the test of time.

This is because at the time, urban grooves music was made in professional studios, with professional standards being adhered to, unlike the majority of zimdancehall musicians today who heavily rely on ill-equipped backyard studios and can come up with a song in a few minutes.

This, perhaps, could have been one of the causes for its downfall, because a number of urban grooves musicians could have failed to keep up with the high production costs of their music at a time zimdancehall was emerging from makeshift studios in the ghetto.

To add to that, the lifting of the ban on international music later in the 2000s appeared to have exposed urban grooves artistes to harsh competition with international pop musicians.

A number of them, notably Makaya, Maskiri and Roy and Royce, among others, left the country to pursue other interests and careers.

Notably, a number of the young people who pursued urban grooves music had professional careers to which they turned after their music genre seemed to cave in.

Many of zimdancehall chanters today are unemployed, many of them with no professional training and have never worked anyway in the wake of a collapsing economy.

Other urban groovers who have rode the storm and are still in the game, including Ngoni, Nox and Sniper Storm, have tried to adjust to fit into the dancehall space and remain viable.

With such factors, it may be conclusive that the demise of urban grooves, just like that of the sungura era, was largely influenced by the fast production of local music in the form of zimdancehall.
And we might be having zimdancehll for quite sometime.

NEWSDAY

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