I have read and been introduced to so much great articles and content on this blog I feel honored to add my own. I’m Hillary Keni-Witsani, a musician and writer from the southern tip of the African continent.
Listen to the album while reading the text.
Alternative Without Knowing
To understand who I am and what I do I need to give a brief background of where I come from and the music that plays there. I was born, and partly raised, in a semi-desert area (Plumtree) that borders Zimbabwe and Botswana, and that is famed across Southern Africa for its fast-paced music that blends Russian metal lead guitar, DRC rhumba and East African kanindo with drums that hit very very light.
How it came to be is easy to explain. It was brought to our area by returning colonial era ZIPRA veterans who trained in Russia and Tanzania, and as such, we played and danced and loved and cried to alternative music before we knew that’s what the wider world called it.
Wild and Heartfelt
The area we grew up in is not only rural but is a reserve/reservation set up by the colonial government and maintained by the present one. It’s a hard earth to scratch out a living from so the music tends to be very wild and out of here and heartfelt at the same time. We learned how to play banjo at the same time we were learning how to make knives while out in the wild herding cattle.
And this is the tradition I take from, with a more overtly modern twist since I am a huge fan of music in general, from Miles Davis to Thomas Mapfumo to Fela Kuti to Mitski to AC/DC to Jay Electronica and Nas as well as the traditional chants I grew up taking part in.
Who’s Never Searching for a Home?
I have a recent EP, Chimurenga Files: The One Take Poverty Tape, a 13 minutes project that addresses Zimbabwe’s economic hardship and repressive political environment but to understand my work you have to go to my 2018 debut LP, File 51.
It looks at issues of displacement that you cannot avoid if you live in the environment that my people live in and the destruction of the family unit that is the result, added to feelings of alienation from having to scrounge for a living in neighboring countries ( South Africa and Botswana to be specific).
The following lyric from Get Up, one of the tracks off File 51, captures what I see in my generation perfectly:
…Who’s never searching for home?
A lot of people claim to live, all I see are shadows fighting to
I see my homies, on these boiling streets, clothing shiny: covering
A lot of fathers missing,
Loyalties: twisted, a thousand questions to God just fight to stand up,
These ways can get dark, before you get home
Caught in a maze
Getting lost in these ways…
It’s not all sad and mournful, though. When we do get down, which is more often, the hardest living rock stars on earth will probably tip their hats and leave us to it and come back the next day and find us still at it.
Going forward, my wish is to connect with like-minded artists from across the globe and bring an African voice to the table that honors my community’s stories and bring hell down.
You Cannot Be DIY and not Be Involved!
On a more technical note, unlike a lot of my peers, I’m more deeply involved in every aspect of the music making process from playing, directing the session guys I work with to the writing and mixing and mastering elements. You cannot be DIY and not be involved.
I’m lucky however to work with a circle of hugely talented and passionate individuals that include guitarists Richie Juma and Real Riddick, great Zimbabwean all round creative Tswarelo Mothobe, pianist and producer JustPercy, as well as writer/poet/rapper/photographer Sinkende Mashayangombane who also doubles as my A&R.
Love to all the musicians contributing on this site and you guys for giving us space to! You are family already.
Hillary Keni-Witsani, Category: Artist, Albums: File 51, Singles: ’76 AC/DC, Top Tracks: Bipolar, Far from Home, Mveli Baba, Pt. 2, Alt State, ’76 ACDC, Monthly Listeners: 4, Where People Listen: Nanaimo, Christchurch, Auckland, Holte