Retro Reviews: The cultural resonance of ‘Storytellers of the Culture’ by Zazise


STORYTELLERS of the Culture (SOTC) is not merely a collection of tracks as one may be tempted to think; it is a profound, (in)valuable Zimbabwean Hip Hop cultural artifact that encapsulates the vast array of  experiences, aspirations, and creative expressions of a dynamic community of artists. For us, it is an enviable piece of quality hip-hop curation. 

It is a comprehensive cultural milestone that adequately captures—without leaving room for any doubt whatsoever—the essence of collaboration. And not just collaboration for the sake of it, but to tell hip-hop stories that sometimes do not get the light of day. 

SOTC aptly demonstrates that Zim Hip Hop can be an authoritative medium for unalloyed artistic expression and social commentary, thus encouraging young artists to freely pursue their creative ambitions; acutely aware of the power this holds. 

In the global mosaic of hip hop, each region infuses the genre with its own unique cultural narratives, sounds, and stylistic ornamentation. SOTC, a compilation album curated by Mukudzei Mlambo of Zazise Media and executive produced by Progisthename, is a testament to the vibrant and diverse Zimbabwean hip hop scene. We feel the name is strongly vindicated. 

The Genesis of ‘Storytellers of the Culture’

The inception of Storytellers of the Culture is rooted in a curious desire to provide a platform for Zimbabwean hip hop artists to narrate their stories authentically. Mukudzei Mlambo, a bona fide visionary curator with a deep appreciation for the nuances of Zimbabwean music culture, teamed up with Progisthename to bring this project to fruition. And it was a sign of masterful execution. 

Their collaboration accentuates the importance of curatorial expertise and executive oversight in producing an album that not only showcases musical talent but also aligns with the cultural and artistic vision of the community it represents. Very apt the first song on the tape is Malcom Mufunde's The Culture that went on to win Zimhiphop awards sweet 16 verse of the year at the 2023 Zim Hip Hop Awards.

Thematic and Sonic Diversity

One of the defining characteristics of the tape is its apparent thematic and sonic diversity. The album features a roster of artists, each bringing their unique perspective and sound to the compilation, while still conveying the original intended essence of the project. This laudable diversity is not merely a reflection of individual artistic identities but also an instructive portrayal of the multifaceted nature of Zimbabwean society.

Themes of Resilience and Aspiration

The themes of resilience and aspiration resonate throughout the album. Tracks like PaTowerlight and Ivai Nesu engender the stoic struggles and triumphs of ordinary, everyday Zimbabwean youth navigating biting economic hardships and excruciating social challenges. 

The lyrical content in these tracks is poignant, with artists drawing from personal experiences and broader societal issues. This thematic focus on resilience is particularly significant in the context of Zimbabwe, a nation that has faced considerable economic and political turbulence.

Celebrating Cultural Heritage

Another salient theme in the album is the celebration of cultural heritage. Produced by the legendary Take Fizzo, Ivai Nesu, a song inspired from Chiwoniso Maraire's immortal classic Ivai Nesu Mwari Baba creates a matchless sonic landscape but also serves as a vital cultural bridge, connecting the past with the present. The artists’ conscious effort to honour their rich heritage through music is a powerful statement of identity and pride. We love that. 

The song also delves into the lives of those living in Zimbabwe's urban areas, painting vivid pictures of daily struggles, hopes, and dreams. The ability to articulate these experiences with clarity and emotional depth makes the song a significant piece of social commentary.

Lyrical Excellence and Storytelling

At the heart of the album lies exceptional lyrical craftsmanship. It is this distinct feature that makes SOTC a worthy listen, and one that should make us anticipate more. The album lives up to its name by featuring artists who are adept storytellers. Soko Matemai, Mvpani, Malcom Mufunde, Kayflow, RayKaz and Outspoken weaving lyrics that are both compelling and thought-provoking.

Production Quality

The production quality of SOTC is a testament to the technical prowess of the team behind it. Executive producer Progisthename has ensured that the album meets high standards of production, resulting in a polished and cohesive, textured body of work. From the hard-hitting bass lines of Mvura to the melodic harmonies of Lights On each track is meticulously crafted to enhance the lyrical content. 

Collaborative Synergy

The collaborative synergy radiated between the artists is another standout feature of the album. Tracks featuring multiple artists, such as VOTY and Vancho showcase the chemistry and mutual respect among the musicians. These collaborations highlight the communal spirit of Zimbabwean hip hop, emphasizing solidarity and collective creativity.

In a world where mainstream narratives often dominate the media and airwaves, SOTC provides a refreshing and necessary perspective. 

It reminds us of the rich tapestry of human experience and the importance of giving voice to those who are often unheard. 

As Zimbabwean hip hop continues to evolve, this album will undoubtedly remain a cornerstone, inspiring artists and listeners alike to embrace their stories and share them with the world. And there is more interesting news: Storytellers of the Culture II is on its way. At least according to a post by Zazise on X (formerly Twitter). We can't wait. 

You can listen to SOTC by Zazise via the link below:

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