Global hit: Rainbow Warriors

The World

The sound of protest, a plea for change – this is music banned by Robert Mugabe’s government. In a nation with a rich history of powerful, politically charged music, these singers are the newest stars.

They call themselves Dread Reckless, Sister Fearless and the Rainbow Warriors – and all seven members believe they are now in danger because of their music.

�There’s that guy will the cellphone standing by that corner there, the guy in the suit. When this choir got into the truck, he went into his car so we’re just trying to figure out just what he’s really trying to do. But he had been there before this choir came��

They went into hiding two nights ago. We had to meet them secretly – and even then there were worries we were being followed.

Eventually, they arrived – fear on the faces of the youngest members of the group. The lead singer Dread Reckless – his real name is Yepson Handson Mabika fiddles nervously with the silver bangles on his wrist as he talks. Their first CD came out just a few months ago – he suddenly smiles when asked how it sold.

They don’t hide their political agenda – every song is charged with a message either praising opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai or condemning Robert Mugabe.

Mabika may look the part of a star with his dreadlocks and cool demeanor – but the music is his mission. I think we’re trying to get the message reach out to the people in a different way to how it is preached in rallies. We thought it could be received better when it was on a song.

Their popularity has been their undoing. Late in February as they were on their way to sing at an opposition campaign rally, they were arrested – 600 copies of their CD were destroyed. The first day, Mabika says police treated them well. Then it all changed.

�The following morning we were beaten from dawn to dusk. We were made to sing those songs we were made to march, we were made to explain what we meant on every song.�

Two days later, after police had searched their homes, they were released, says Mabika – and given a warning.

�When they released us they said we mustn’t perform whenever we have a rally. But as it is our duty our national duty we had to sacrifice.�

And so on this night they perform again – for us, in the living room of a house. This is their most popular song and the one that got them into the most trouble. Saddam is gone, they sing, and Mugabe is next.

They perform without their instruments. Those too were taken by police when they were arrested. As they sing, they begin to sway in time to the music. The five young women who looked terrified moments before begin to smile. But this ordeal isn’t over.

They believe the police are looking for them so for now, they cannot go home. Sister Fearless – her real name is Patience Takaona – believes there’s a price to be paid for their defiance.

�This time I think we might be killed. I’m not going to stop. Why not? I think I will stop that is if we manage to score our goal.�

In this moment, they are musicians, singing from their hearts. But now, they are also fugitives – uncertain where they will sleep from one night to the next. The day after the election, several people were arrested – police said it was because they were playing the group’s music.

They slip away into the night, but their music plays on in people’s cars and homes – keeping their message alive even as they are silenced and on the run.

The World Listener Survey 2024

We’d love to hear your thoughts on The World. Please take our 5-min. survey.