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Facing the Music in Zambia: From the Pro-Sata 'Don't Kubeba' to Anti-Sata 'Bufi'

A pop song that went viral helped bring the Patriotic Front to power. Now music is being used to voice discontent with its rule.
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Crowds wait outside Sata's inauguration ceremony in 2011. Photo by Commonwealth Secretariat.

Lusaka, Zambia:

2011 will be remembered in Zambia as the year that the Patriotic Front (PF) and the slogan Don't Kubeba won out. In September's elections, the PF's Michael Sata defeated incumbent president Rupiah Banda's Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) at the polls, ending their 20-year dominance.

While Banda's better-funded campaign followed a well-troden path across the continent – Westernised political messaging for foreign consumption, crafted in the expensive offices of London- or Washington-based public relations firms, and boosted by local bribery – the PF relied upon a two word maxim and song that captured the imagination of the population: Don't Kubeba.

This strategy, which proved particularly popular amongst the youth in the capital Lusaka and the Copperbelt region, was "innovative and very effective" according to Zambia-focused academic Alastair Fraser.

Don't Kubeba, a slightly clumsy mix of English and Bemba, which translates as ‘don’t tell them’, was popularised by the Bemba language hit single Donchi Kubeba by Dandy Krazy. It came to define the animosity with the ruling MMD and mobilise support for the PF.

But now, just two years on, a new political song, Bufi, has exploded in popularity and music is once again the medium being used to voice discontent.

Don’t Kubeba! and the PF’s 2011 election campaign

Senior PF politician and current Vice President Guy Scott originally coined the potent slogan Don't Kubeba. It made reference to the barely-disguised bribery taking place at MMD rallies – in the form of beer, lollipops, mealie meal, t-shirts, and wraps, amongst others – that were allegedly procured using public funds. And Scott's message to the public was clear: accept MMD’s gifts in good faith – gifts which were ultimately the fruits of their own labour – but on the day of the election, vote for the PF – just ‘don’t tell them’.

Dandy Krazy was inspired by the slogan to write his song, which “really spoke to many people’s lives” in its portrayal of the everyday hardships, according to Mutuna Chanda, BBC World Service’s Zambia correspondent. It captured how jaded people had become about the failures of the MMD to usher in an age of development in the face of seemingly positive news: aggregate economic growth, rising copper prices and external debt cancellation.

Dandy Krazy pointed to the inability of young people to find jobs, the poor pay of public sector workers, inadequate infrastructure, environmental degradation in the Copperbelt, and corrupt rural chiefs. Mimicking the message of the campaign slogan, “the song was telling them that when [the MMD] come to you and give those things, get those things, but don’t forget where you’re coming from, don’t forget your circumstances or standard of living", Chanda explained. "Vote for someone who is going to bring improvements."

Speaking the language of the youth

Dandy Krazy was himself part of the youth that the PF sought to mobilise. Lennon Shinde, DJ for Radio Phoenix, a popular Zambian radio station, commented that “he is a guy that comes just from there, so he literally speaks their language”.

Viewed as a role model amongst the Zambian youth that the PF sought to mobilise, particularly in urban areas such as Lusaka, his words carried weight. Shinde added, “Dandy Krazy has got his own following, mostly the same young people, people that are jobless, they are what we call 'call boys, marketers and the like'".

Given problems of unemployment and a lack of development, Shinde noted that the song allowed the youth to identify with the PF’s policy platform: “In that song they talked about the same oppression, corruption...through this language in Don’t Kubeba, everybody was able to understand them”.

Far more than the PF’s written slogan, the song was to reach non-political settings – and do so in a vibrant and catchy way. The song went viral as it was played in bars, clubs, and on commuter mini-vans, as more and more people decided to buy into the PF’s campaign promises. Sata commemorated Dandy’s contribution with a medal on the 47th anniversary of Zambia’s independence.

Bufi and broken promises

But since then, Dandy Krazy’s position has changed. Recently, he has spoken openly of his regret at helping the PF, lamented the country’s lack of improvement, and signalled his intent to write a new, anti-Sata anthem.

At the start of his tenure, Sata’s set himself ambitious and lofty goals. However, his now famous 90 days promise – in which he claimed that he could transform the country’s fortunes and meet key developmental goals in just 90 days – has long expired. And the youth feel that the PF has let them down.

Once again, these sentiments are being expressed and popularised through music. Released at the start of May, Bufi, by local musicians Peterson and Pilato, questions the PF’s credibility and ability to deliver on its promises.

Peterson is a dance hall artist, whose songs have often caused controversy. Pilato’s lyrics lean more towards poetry. Each of them has a sizeable fan base in Zambia. Bufi has become extremely popular in a short space of time, becoming one of the most talked about songs on the Zambian music scene.

Shinde explains the title: “Bufi is a Bemba word, meaning a lie”. Peterson and Pilato use the metaphor of a stepfather taken to task by his stepchildren, after not honouring the promises he made when courting their mother. The artists mimic the same vocabularies PF stalwarts used in the 2011 election campaign – words like ‘boza’, ‘bufi’, ‘ulabeja’ and ‘wenye’. And like Dandy Krazy, Peterson and Pilato sing in ChiBemba.

Radios are more accessible and therefore can be more influential than television or print media. Songs are able to easily articulate commonly grievances, to set the agenda for political debate and discussion in a wide range of arenas. 

It is no surprise that the release of Bufi coincides with the government’s recent removal of fuel and maize subsidies. Chanda explains that it “comes at a time of the rising cost of living, high fuel and other commodity prices”. As Shinde explains, it “is a huge hit with opposition political parties already trying to use the song in the by-elections that the country is currently going through”. It will be interesting to see how music further evolves as a form of protest, and a how a government well aware of this potential will react.

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