What happened to urban grooves music?

The turn of the millennium saw the rise of a music genre that later came to be known as urban grooves, and those who were teenagers during those days can very well recall how the music, which was often about love, and sounded so much like western pop, became the soundtrack of the day.

Tapiwa Zivira

For the uninitiated, tracks like Royce and Royce’s Handirege, David Chifunyise’s Tauya Naye and Plaxedes Wenyika’s Tisaparadzane, among others, were some of the hits that heralded the urban grooves era.

A major contributory factor, perhaps, was that at the time, the then Information minister Jonathan Moyo imposed a 75% local content policy on the sole broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which had a monopoly on radio and TV.

With such a policy in place, at a time when music was not yet easily available in digital format, when people still relied so much on radio and audio cassettes, it was inescapable that urban grooves would become a huge success.

At its peak, musicians like Betty Makaya, Maskiri, Sanii Makhalima Ngoni Kambarami, and Extra Large released albums that went on to compete with the then dominant sungura genre.

While it is not certain if Innocent Utsiwegota’s music could be classified as urban grooves or dancehall, but he too, during that era, produced hit albums.

After the year 2010, however, with the emergence of a new brand of localised dancehall music originally from Jamaica — branded zimdancehall — urban grooves began to feel the hit and was slowly pushed into the background before finally taking a backseat.

But questions have remained as to what exactly went wrong? What is it that the urban groovers did not do which zimdancehall artistes are doing?

Called bubble gum music at the time, urban grooves, just like dancehall, was seen as music made by amateurs trying to make a name in the industry.

But, if one can go back to the songs today, some of them are actually classics that have stood the test of time.

This is because at the time, urban grooves music was made in professional studios, with professional standards being adhered to unlike the majority of zimdancehall musicians today, who heavily rely on ill-equipped backyard studios and can come up with a song in a few minutes.

This, perhaps, could have been one of the causes for its downfall, because a number of urban grooves musicians could have failed to keep up with the high production costs of their music, at a time when zimdancehall was emerging from makeshift studios in the ghetto.

To add to that, the lifting of the ban on international music later in the 2000s appeared to have exposed urban grooves artistes to harsh competition with international pop musicians.
A number of them, notably Makaya, Maskiri and Roy and Royce among others, left the country to pursue other interests and careers.

Notably, a number of the young people who pursued urban grooves music had professional careers to which they turned to after their music genre seemed to cave in.

Many of zimdancehall chanters today are unemployed youths, with no professional training and have never been formally employed following the collapse of the country’s economy.

Other urban groovers who have rode the storm and are still in the game, including Ngoni, Nox, and Sniper Storm, have tried to adjust to fit into the dancehall space and remain viable.

With such factors, it may be conclusive that the demise of urban grooves, just like that of the sungura era, was largely influenced by the fast production of local music in the form of zimdancehall.

And we might be having zimdancehall for a long time.

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