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In conversation with Edith WeUtonga

  • Features
Sasha Patel, BA History and South Asian Studies (Hindi Pathway)

So, tell us a bit about yourself. What do you play, what’s your style?

I’m Edith Katiji, leader of Edith WeUtonga, a self-taught bassist. I started as part of an all female band from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, which was a project funded to train women musically. In most African bands back home, women are backing vocalists or dancers. My job in the band wasn’t to play the bass guitar but to be the lead vocalist and compose and arrange the music. The turning point for me was when we got stuck somewhere on our way back from Victoria Falls, and all we had were the instruments in the car. Whilst waiting for the emergency repair car to come, I started playing with the bass guitar to find the music I was singing. Fast forward to 2007, I managed to buy my own bass guitar, formed my own band in 2008, and recorded and released our first album in 2010. Then everything just blew up. I got so much recognition from the album. I got 5 stars in two reviews in big newspapers from our country. That was when I started getting invited to festivals. 

You’re chairperson of Zimbabwe’s Musicians Union, tell me more about the work of the Union. 

On the one hand you have promoters and venues that want you to come and perform but are not willing to pay. And your music is being played on the radio, with people raving over your name, but you have nothing to show for it. As a union, we are trying. How can it be that one is so popular, but when they get sick, they don’t have medical aid, when they pass on, you find out they didn’t even have a funeral. We still go on to shout these musicians and call them by their name, but no one is willing to pay for the music that they’re enjoying. This is the first time we’ve had a union led by young people and have actually been able to do to something. We carry out clinics on music entertainment law, music business, and on the wellbeing and mental health of musicians. We’ve done projects and campaigns on gender based violence, working with Doctors Without Borders. As a union, we realised the best way to get the message out is to work with musicians, the same as what we did with Doctors Without Borders and those that have gotten justice out of it. Given the current economic hardships in the state, we’ve used music as an agent to talking points and discussions, getting people to seek help when they need it. 

How is music being utilised to resist in the current economic-political situation in Zimbabwe?

You have people who use it more to resist, but also young artists that have left the country to find greener pastures elsewhere. Some have been in trouble with the state, because the inspiration is what surrounds you, so when you start questioning, you end up questioning the state. We’ve found artists who’ve been found beaten up and no-one can explain why, but you know what happened. I guess like in Zim Dancehall, the lyrics are used as a tool to air out what’s going on in their daily lives on the street. There’s so much to inspire musicians, but the question is how willing one is to exercise their freedom of expression, and you don’t know from whom and where the attack will come from.  

There’s so much to inspire musicians, but the question is how willing one is to exercise their freedom of expression, and you don’t know from whom and where the attack will come from.  

What’s been one of your most memorable musical experiences?

The only time I’ve had to stop performing was when I had to take my son to India for open-heart surgery. I just finished recording an album and I had to drop the marketing and everything to go. We were in Bangalore and the people there were amazing. I had to auction my guitars just to raise the money required for his surgery, but you know the corporate world came through. A mobile provider paid for his medical bill and another bank paid for his ticket, we had to fundraise the rest.. 

I remember someone reading about it. When you’re a performer, someone will always find you. An Indian reporter came to find me at the hospital, she googled and discovered I had auctioned a guitar. She was so hurt, why didn’t you tell me you’ve been going through all of this. Next thing it was front page.  The Indian people showed me so much love, Everyone had come to the hospital with flowers. And then you know a lady bought me a bass guitar in India. When I left India I had two guitars, and when I arrived, I came with none. And when I came home, the people that I had auctioned it off to gave me back my guitar! They had seen what happened, so they felt sorry for me and gave it back! You find that as a musician, when things are looking bad, it’s the people that genuinely love you for your music that come through for you. 

ig: @edithweutonga


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