Bridging Harare and Lisbon With Raps: Synik Shares a Healing 'Travel Guide For The Broken'

By Brandon Mwanza & Takudzwa Hillary Chiwanza 

Top-notch rapper/emcee and spoken-word artist Synik – Gerald Mugwenhi – had gone for a lengthy run without blessing his super-loyal listeners with a full-length album/Long Play; only focusing on EPs, singles, and the production side. But 2022 has seemed to be the right year for rewarding patience.  

album cover art/artwork for synik new album a travel guide for the broken zim hip hop album review

In March of this year, the Syn City rapper released his second studio album, A Travel Guide for the Broken, sharing his life experiences after he relocated to Lisbon (Portugal).

The 12-track offering comes years after his first album, the critically-acclaimed Syn City (released in 2012 under the visionary and enterprising guidance of Begotten Sun), which some consider to be one of the best albums to come out of this teapot-shaped country.

A Travel Guide For The Broken comes more as a soulful, riveting, empathetic, empowering, and solidaristic experience told by a veteran rapper who connects two cities – one in the Global South (Harare) and another in the Global North (Lisbon) – by telling the story of a black African man from Zimbabwe who, compelled by circumstances, finds himself in a society that is deeply unsettled by people who have more melanin.

A society caught in racist storms of right-wing populism sweeping across Europe. A society whose political economy is unkind to the human soul – worse still if you’re a migrant from the reviled Global South.

Synik tells the stories of financial hardships and upsets that he became familiar with upon moving to Portugal.

The journey from Syn City to A Travel Guide For The Broken saw us being blessed with a couple of lovely EPs and singles that showed a Synik whose pen got mightier, and whose ear for impeccable production got refined.  A Travel Guide for the Broken is the culmination of this inevitable artistic maturity and bold resolve.

But I wonder if the ancestors hear us when we call, cause we strayed from the lands where they died to be recalled far from the shrines where the elders would speak to God, far from the lines that they left us when we were robbed, and the drums where we danced and our spirits were warmed, And the soils where they planted our umbilical cords.

Above is an apt quote from Rukuvhute, a song featuring Vusa Mkhaya, as Synik speaks about the journey to distant lands unknown and lands far away from his ancestors – lands alien to his soul; lands completely detached from his ancestors.

Although these lands are remote from each other, they share a common historical thread that is still attributable to all the concerns and struggles that Synik passionately airs out in A Travel Guide For The Broken – imperial and colonial conquests. Unequal power relations in the dynamics of global relations. And this is the source of mass alienation, despondency, and angst; this is why people are broken – personal pain is public pain.

Synik new album A Travel Guide For The Broken tracklist zimhiphop album review
Tracklist for Synik's new album 'A Travel Guide For The Broken' released on 10 March, 2022.

The new album by Synik comes with an alluring potpourri of refreshing global features: Debbie with a T, Vusa Mkhaya, Biko Emcee, Vivalda Ndula and Mukamuri.

The guide is packed with priceless lessons from his diaspora experience – an experience that comes with its fair share of existential crises for the individual’s pysche and mental balance. Synik shares the journey to the Global North and his arrival there.

He chronicles the heavy crown the family and friends back home put on one’s head once that individual moves out of the country; and the expectations that come with that responsibility.

Arriving in the city, that's when he discovered the cost required to cross was thrice what was stuffed in his socks and now he had to find work under hellish conditions. Hardly ate, he put away every cent he was given found encouragement from a brother who was also from his village promised to find each other, when they both their journeys were finished

The project is laced with a cleverly innovative infusion of traditional instrumental beats (Syn City is replete with  inclinations towards indigenous sounds), with production from different producers across the spectrum of authentic sonic bursts that are easy on the ear and blend perfectly with Synik’s inimitable pen. The best bit is that Synik immerses himself in the production processes. Conflated with his contextual diction, the album is on a whole an authoritative feel.

Synik conveys to the listener that he is not rushing anywhere – and he takes his precious time in a beautifully magnificent yet evocative manner to spread his [social] message.

While Syn City cemented Synik's position within Zim Hip Hop circles as an intelligent, street-conscious, and recalcitrant rapper, A Travel For The Broken rides on a tad contemplative tone throughout – almost as a call to action, “at least open your eyes to these circumstances that break people”, he seems to say. 

Syn City put Harare’s postcolonial urban landscape – exclusionary, crime-ridden, straining familial bonds, power cuts, and political/economic repression, disease, manipulation – as one of institutional and moral decay; and its placement in the global context of African exploitation by foreign and local elites. It’s a localized cosmopolitan cry for help. 

A Travel Guide For The Broken on the other hand puts the global citizen – because of neoliberal globalization – into focus; and Synik takes this chance to highlight his status as the purveyor of the underground where socially-conscious messages are a mainstay.

 To him, the only vehicle to rap what's truthful and pertinent (thus healing the broken) is loyalty to the underground. It's a theme that comes out without much sonic and subject-theme contortions.

A Travel Guide For The Broken is certainly thee travel guide for the broken it was intended to be. 

 You can listen to A Travel Guide For The Broken by Synik via the Distrokid &  Bandcamp links below

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