Wesley Chibambo, the Zambian pop star popularly known as Dandy Krazy, was arrested in March 2013 for the possession of marijuana. Under Zambia’s strict drug laws, he was charged and convicted for trafficking. However, in a development that raised eyebrows, he was quickly pardoned by the then president, the late Michael Sata, and was able to continue his music career.

Those who follow Zambia’s intermingling of the world of politics and entertainment were not surprised by this presidential pardon. It could all be traced back to Zambia’s 2011 elections, when the Patriotic Front (PF), then still an opposition party, adopted Dandy Krazy’s hit song ‘Donchi Kubeba’ (also known as ‘Don’t Kubeba’, meaning ‘don’t snitch’) in their election campaign. The tune became popular on the radio and dance floor. Some even say that it is possible that Sata and his party wouldn’t have come to power without the song.

What makes the marriage of politicians and musicians sweeter for many Zambians is that political rallies are the only events where they get to see some of our biggest local acts perform live and ‘for free’.

The Dandy Krazy and Sata bromance was cemented when, on Zambia’s 47th anniversary, the musician was awarded the Grand Commander of the Order of Freedom award, the country’s highest honour. The corporates were not going to pass up on the jamboree: Telecoms company Airtel wanted in and featured the musician on billboards and in radio adverts. Cue Dandy Krazy’s bulging pockets…

You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours

This election is no different. Chart-topping club bangers by some of our top musicians are being used by political parties to spread their message and beg for votes.

Photo: Mulonda Singongi
Photo: Mulonda Singongi

What makes the marriage of politicians and musicians sweeter for many Zambians is the fact that for many locals political rallies are the only events where they get to see some of our biggest local acts perform live and ‘for free’. Before the politicians go on stage to ask for votes, the musicians entertain the crowds.

This is so different from back in the day, when musicians would only sing political jingles that would get radio play during ad breaks. Now, whole songs are being done, which, when played, lead to mass outbreaks of fun and spontaneous dancing – a zombiefication, if you like, without the eating of brains.

When the popularity of ‘Donchi Kubeba’ waned a bit, and after the death of President Sata in 2014, Dandy Krazy had to go back into the studio because the PF needed a new soundtrack for their campaign. True to form, Dandy Krazy came up with a new hit song, ‘Kolopa Dot Com’ (a ‘kolopa’ is a mop in local lingo). The tune quickly went up the charts. Although ‘Kolopa’ was not as impactful as its predecessor, it moved many to dance – and to vote for the Patriotic Front, whose candidate, Edgar Lungu, won the tight election contest against Hakainde Hichilema.

Stabbing (and back-stabbing) at a gig

In an election campaign that close, it is to be expected that not everyone was dancing. At a gig in an opposition stronghold, there was an alleged attempt to stab Dandy Krazy while he was performing. The singer later made certain tribalist and disparaging remarks about one of the tribes from the opposition stronghold.

Even the walls of jails have ears: Somehow the powers that be heard his praise songs and considered General Kanene reformed.

In the 2016 presidential election campaign – yes, Zambia is having its third presidential election in five years – most assumed that Dandy Krazy would head for the studios to produce another hit political song. Sadly, his offering was not up to scratch; instead he found himself being arrested once more for marijuana possession. He blamed the main opposition party for planting the drugs on him but his former benefactors, the Patriotic Front, distanced themselves from him, saying that the law had to take its course.

PF Carnival Photo: Mulonda Singongi
PF Carnival Photo: Mulonda Singongi

Enter JK, one of Zambia’s foremost crooners, fresh from his experimentation with Naija-sounding Zambian music. He released the song ‘Dununa Reverse’, featuring a bevy of Zambian musicians. The song was commissioned by the PF and it has been a major hit, receiving massive airplay. Chi Dununa is a children’s game, in which they kick a ball as far as possible. The artists could not sing ‘Dununa Forward’, as it would have been confused with the opposition UPND slogan of ‘Zambia Forward’.

Some jokingly say that they were about to vote out the PF, but since ‘Dununa Reverse’ shook their dancing bones, they are not that sure any more.

Other political parties have also tried to create danceable political songs, but without the success of the PF.

The odious tale of General Kanene

General Kanene is (or was) one of Zambia’s top musicians. His particular type of ‘lecture rap’ saw him being featured in the songs of many other artists. He was much in demand, and his star was rising.

But then General Kanene was charged with having sex with an under-age girl. In Zambia, judges and lawyers call this crime ‘defilement’. During the trial, the rapper (pun intended) was contemptuous of the proceedings. He interfered with witnesses and even released a song that mocked the whole trial. The courts had their revenge: He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years.

In Mukobeko Maximum Prison, the prison officials found a use for him. He was roped in to the prison band, which sometimes performs at state functions. While in prison, General Kanene recorded and performed various songs in praise of our dear and very humble leader, President Edgar Lungu. General Kanene was somehow able to feature in many a song, all sung by male artists, with him ‘lecture rapping’ against crime and the evils of jele (jail).

Even the walls of jails have ears, it seems. Somehow the powers that be heard General Kanene’s praise songs and considered him reformed. He was soon given a presidential pardon and – shocking even by Zambian standards – made an Ambassador Against Gender-based Violence (GBV).

General Kanene wasn’t reformed, of course. He was soon accused of battering two women in rapid succession. This was too much for his friends at State House and eventually the president stripped him of his status as Ambassador Against GBV.

Rumours circulated that General Kanene was so pissed off with his ‘sacking’ that he was composing songs for the opposition. This has proven to be false, as General Kanene has been a headline act at the ruling Patriotic Front’s rallies.

The future for Zambian politainment

Sadly for Zambia’s musicians, the country will now be going to the polls only once every five years. The constitution was amended, and all the loopholes that made five elections in 10 years possible have been fixed. Perhaps with less frequent elections, politainment will wane.