Chitungwiza's Stiiv Intellectually Relives Dambudzo Marechera's 'Letter To Samantha' In His Album

 By Takudzwa Kadzura 

…I think by now you have heard the album, provided you are an ardent fanatic of Zim Hip Hop albums.

(If not, click the links at the end of the article. )

That would have been the introduction to this review had Stiiv rapped about the actual Letter.


A research on Dambudzo Marechera reveals his dislike (with a passion) for prescribed course syllabi, which apparently is the first striking similarity between the two [Dambudzo & Stiiv]. 

Stiiv’s efforts to publicize the album were rather reactionary (keen fans on social media implored him to spread the album more); on the lowkey and exemplifying the stubbornness of underground rappers and how they routinely seem averse to  the mainstream marketing of art/creativity.  More commercialized hip hop artists in Zimbabwe and beyond borders invest tonnes of capital regarding promotional input, banking on the might of the U.S. dollar and the attendant favourable algorithms for audiences on. 

But Stiiv was more on that "those really interested will certainly play my album and recommend it to others" tip. And given the intellectual intricacy and depth of his Letter To Samantha LP, this is all understandable. Underground rap that still gets the attention it deserves. Cautious to use the word perfect,  Stiiv befittingly paid homage to Marechera and kept his legacy alive especially for Zimbabwe's post-colonial youth (Marechera was disillusioned with post-colonial Zimbabwe, and Stiiv dutifully narrates this ,but using the present context of the 21st century).   

In mimicking the everlasting artistic imprints of the iconoclastic writer (laden with ruthlessly visceral contradictions and rebellions), Stiiv also paints a harrowing picture of the individual suffering endured by the modern Zimbabwean artist who views Art as a calling, weighed against unaddressed colonial legacies and brutal capitalism (scarring citizens' psyche with the blunt trauma of poverty, pain and suffering) - bearing much resemblance to the late 70s/early 80s Dambudzo. From Rusape to London and Germany, and back to a nonchalant Harare.

To fight for a modicum bit of acceptance in the mercilessly volatile arts industry (what Dambudzo battled in Europe and on returning to the 263) Stiiv mounts a relevant battle to steer  clear from Dambudzo Marechera’s rather romanticized unconventional lifestyle - Stiiv is enviably well-composed and open to publicize his work; and we surmise this is because he told himself to handle the trauma of urban life with more dexterity. Artistic dexterity.

Stiiv is careful not to romanticize Dambudzo's colonial trauma which made him ungovernable at times, straining relations with loved ones and fellow writers. Hence the composure, and his moral warnings as he waxes lyrical on rap beats with soul. Conflicted but optimistic soul. 

Dambudzo Marechera (1952-1987) was a Rusape-born novelist and short-story specialist. He is mostly known for writing the seminal book House of Hunger - a visceral portrayal and narration of colonial violence on black Africans in Zimbabwe, and disillusionment with the permanently elusive meaning of life given all the mental scarring and degrading.

It is a compilation of short stories/events that are interlinked, but in a rather obscenely haphazard way, revealing his ever-troubled stream of consciousness - but one that birthed immortal art and resistance.  Racism, the futility of colonial education, struggles with political correctness, identity crises, hatred for Shona in self-expression, confrontations with authorities, colonial dispossession, urban moral decadence, the liberation struggle (patriots and sellouts), strained family relations - you name it. 

And that is precisely what 25-year-old Chitungwiza-based rapper Stivin Mugarisi [Stiiv] did, compiling stories and telling them raw as they happened. Except he carved his own trajectory of self-expression so that the album would be palatable and dodge ever-menacing reality of censoring (Dambudzos Black Sunlight was banned for profanity). 

The album features eminent Zim hip hop artists based in Chitungwiza namely R.Peels, Beav City and Mac Fox. The production was remarkably conveyed through the artful hands of Cleff Jones, and him singing on the track Moyo Uzere Rudo was an icing on the cake.

Stiiv talks about the innumerable complexities of life for young people in this present capitalist havoc (plus the moral debasement). He questions his life's purpose and religion, failed relationships, infidelity and abortion, failed academic endeavors, ominously unending drug abuse, police callousness and political hypocrisy, and most importantly, he rants about people not purchasing the music after all. 

He complains about his music career [that predictable motif of underground rap, yet it always elicits some sympathy from the ardent hip-hop head] and how Zimbabweans do not prioritize buying music - yet are quick to judge the wealth/material possessions of artist. He candidly addresses gender based violence (not with the graphic details that Marechera used), suicide and fighting  inner demons. Essentially, all the problems of a failed post-colonial society that Dambudzo prophesied upon his disappointment with the lack of fundamental structural changes when Zimbabwe had a new flag in 1980.

The Letter opens with a heartfelt lash – ndaneta nevanhu vakandivenga vachinditi ndinopenga ndaneta nekuvafadza pamasong avasiri kutenga. In this song Stiiv draws us into the persona behind the bars. He goes on – Mwari ndeve munhu wese mapostori nevemasese – proving his daring, unfiltered lyricism.

Like a true literati, Stiiv’s social commentary is not only excellent but it furnishes curious listeners with an insight into his creative process, which may seem to some as enigmatic. Stiiv’s Letter To Samantha LP is today one of the most important urban cultural products on the Zimbabwean hip hop front. Without doubt, Stiiv blessed Zim Hip Hop with an album overflowing with contextual substance. Over hype, of course. 

Asked about the relationship between the LP and the actual 'Letter To Samantha,' Stiiv revealed how he almost named the project House Of Hunger and from our presumption, the latter has been overemphasized and lacks that eye-catching artistic and intellectual appeal especially when most Dambudzo fanatics have tried also to recreate it. And we know this is the crux of the album. Letter to Samantha would be a unique title and one agrees how almost every verse is laced by messages that could as well be delivered as letters.

To serve some justice, Amai is a song that any mother would get lost into as the son creates a platform to share an introspection, appreciate and testify about life’s fulfilling prophecies. This is a song that depicts gratitude as Stiiv logs off from maternal guardianship despite needing the prayers. 

Senzenina is a coldly awakening tale of families in disintegration, about mothers marrying again, men who would become monsters and this was well articulated. You see, society is broken from micro stages creating a vicious cycle, and in the process, the children end up engaging in drugs to dodge tortuous realities. 

Stiiv acknowledged that the track is centrally about his life experiences. The "House of Hunger" is Stiiv’s prototype family as regards his depiction of the current socio-economic landscape in the urban areas. The untimely death of Murder Arts is one which he vividly remembers and he confessed how it touched him during the time he penned this album. Note, the Letter is not talking about himself, at least not himself alone. 

Stiiv's technical abilities as a rapper, storyteller and songwriter are powerful enough to vindicate his usage of Dambudzo  Marechera as his alter ego. 

In his book House of Hunger, Dambudzo was speaking to, and for a postwar generation scarred by colonial prejudices - poverty, pain, degraded existences, dehumanization, crushed dreams, hatred, decadence, spiritual emptiness; and the uselessness of political authority/leadership. He obviously did not want Zimbabwe to turn into another stereotypica "failed" postcolonial state (as per Western perceptions). 

And as we reflect on our independence daily, both Stiiv and Dambudzo preach similar messages. Dambudzo's audience, then and now, comprise(d) of the young who cared little about hero-worshipping liberation war leaders, but about racial equality and economic advancement based on egalitarian policies. 

Stiiv expresses how he longed to be there when Joshua Nkomo was valorized via the Father Zimbabwe title. Neshani (Track 2) and Take No Less (Track 9) are songs about drugs, prison and alcohol; these were perennial features in Dambudzo's works since he grew up in abject poverty, where he faced these symbols of dysfunction, hate, angst, and fear as if eternally damned. He reacted against his upbringing and adopted an increasingly self-destructive lifestyle to deal with all that baggage. Such a struggle. Misunderstood. Romanticized. Immortal and enigmatic paradox. 

And while Marechera intensely and helplessly struggled with political correctness and raw obscenity because of the intellectual pain, Stiiv only reiterates the socioeconomic and political prophecies that Dambudzo made.

This LP is a music album conflated with intellectually piercing literature via the ever-lasting artistic imprints of Dambudzo Marechera. 

It does not fail to impress the sonical senses. At the same time, it inspires evocative mental stimulation. Which is what helps. 

Such art will not impress all and sundry (cardinal rule of creative affairs) but it helps.

You can listen to the Letter To Samantha LP by Stivin 'Stiiv' Mugarisi (prod. by Cleff  Jones) via this Soundcloud link. 

Or via this Audiomack link

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