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Zimbabwe's Singer-songwriter Comrade Fatso: Still Plenty to Protest

  • Cecily Hilleary

Zimbabwean Rapper Comrade Fatso

Zimbabwean Rapper Comrade Fatso

Zimbabwean singer, poet and activist Comrade Fatso still finds plenty to rap about

He is controversial, to say the very least. Part rapper, part poet, part activist, journalist and stand-up comedian, Samm "Farai" Monro, 30, is better known to fans and critics in Zimbabwe by his stage name, Comrade Fatso.

Monro was born in 1980 in Britain. His parents had left Zimbabwe--then, Rhodesia--during the liberation war of the 1970s--to protest conscription into the white Rhodesian army. After independence, his family returned to Zimbabwe, where Monro attended primary and secondary school. His black classmates dubbed him "Farai"--it's a Shona word that means "joyful"; and it is also Shona slang for "fatso."

Given his family life, it was inevitable that Monro take an interest in social activism. “My Dad was always involved with rural community development and environmental work,” Monro says. “My mother was working with street kids' communities and working-class single mothers' communities, so I was surrounded by it growing up.”

By 17, Monro got his first taste of active activism. “Yeah,” he laughs. “I was writing for one of the leading socio-political magazines here. Also, I think 17 was the age of my first demonstration against Mugabe. I think I was still in my school uniform and joined a kind of demonstration outside parliament, and also ended up getting tear-gassed.”

Monro describes his lyrics as toyi-toyi poetry – after the South African dance and chanting that were integral to apartheid-era protests. With his band Chambvondoka, Monro has worked to combine Western hip hop and jazz with Afro beat and other traditional African music music forms to create a unique sound which he describes as "urban African music of struggle.

“My belief in the struggle and my poetry is very much propelled by the belief in the struggle for social justice and the strength of people to win that freedom and to win that social justice, be it within Zimbabwe or on the continent,” he says. "I don't side with political parties. Of course, my poetry is definitely quite anti-Mugabe, because they are the oppressive ruling class at the moment."

Comrade Fatso’s 2008 album, House of Hunger, was timed to coincide with 2008 Zimbabwe presidential election. The songs describe what he believed to be the worst of life under the Mugabe regime: elitist politics, homelessness, hunger, police violence and government oppression. House of Hunger received strong praise from international critics. However, the Zimbabwean government banned the album from all radio and television and has fought to marginalize the group.

Comrade Fatso, still performs publically, for example at the House of Hunger Slam, which he co-founded. The Slam is a poetry reading event which takes place monthly at Harare's famous Mannenberg Jazz Club.

With the coming of a unity government, Monro says, the economy has improved. “Levels of oppression are that much lower than they were under a ZANU-PF-exclusive government.”

However, that doesn't mean there aren't still plenty of issues to rap about. He and Chambvondoka are at work on a new album, which will cover a wide variety of social issues. For example, says Monro, “the diamonds that have been found in the Marague district here and how the poor community whose lands the diamonds are on have been seriously affected by oppression by those trying to loot the diamonds.”

Among his other concerns is climate change, which Monro calls the important struggle of our generation.