Few musical artists have an aura and persona as powerful as that of Vimbai Zimuto. In a career spanning over 15 years, the 36-year old singer, actress, dancer and choreographer has persistently pushed barriers with her art. Her unique fusion of various artistic expressions with traditional music and sounds has set her apart from her peers and garnered much criticism. Now with two albums to her name, she’s shared the stage with such legends as the late Oliver Mtukudzi and performed in front of the Queen of Belgium. Vimbai lives with her two children in The Netherlands where she performs and teaches dance.
Rodney Rumbidzai Chawota
Tell us a little about your early childhood and upbringing in Zimbabwe.
I grew up and went to school in Chitungwiza, Zengeza. Music – playing percussion, singing and dancing – and sports were a big part of my life in primary school. My parents died when I was ten so I was raised by my grandmother. Though she trained as a teacher, she
worked as a maid for a white man for 16 years. I was raised by a community because my grandmother was always working. I really respect the people in my neighbourhood as a result.
My grandmother was one of the few people who were teachers in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s but because of marriage she had to leave her teaching job and just be a parent. Those are some of the things we need to change.
You studied ethnomusicology. How has it helped you in shaping your craft and your image?
Ethnomusicology is studying music from a social and cultural aspect. It’s very important to learn your own music and understand your musical culture.
What’s music in the Shona, the Ndebele, the Karanga and all of Zimbabwe?
It’s the ethnic part of it. For me it’s been central to my career. I learnt to appreciate my own culture. I started to understand ‘Zimbabwean-ism’ and through that I learnt patriotism. That made it easier for me to grow from just being a singer, to being a musician and an artist. The talent comes naturally right but when you take it further with education I think it helps you to grow. If I hadn’t done ethnomusicology I wouldn’t have met the likes of Oliver Mtukudzi, Fred Zindi and Clayton Ndlovu. I even met Fortune Muparutsa. I’m one of the few people who actually had the experience of working with big artists like Bothwell Nyamhondera and Isaac Chirwa when I was in form 4 because I was studying music at Zengeza High School.
You are extremely bold and confident. You’ve often been criticised for your nude artwork. Where did you get these qualities from? What don’t people get?
You don’t just wake up bold. It’s a process. You’re raised by a society, you grow up, you take in the soci-etal norms, you figure out where you sit with those norms, you take them in and then you see how you can bring about change where change is needed. And so for me, as I went through that process, I realised that there were a lot of things in our backyards that I didn’t like. I didn’t want to live by those norms but still wanted to be a part of that society. I had to get out of my shell to articulate that and strike
a balance. Though I am a go-getter, and am fearless when it comes to things that I want, I’m not as bold as I look! I do move with caution when necessary because I realise that I can’t just give people a narrative that they aren’t used to; it sometimes has to be done
gradually. It’s a matter of finding your voice and then speaking clearly. When people talk about being bold I think they mean strength and I think that’s cool.
Nude art is one of the most powerful art forms in the whole world. After World War I, a painting of a naked woman lying on the ground holding her head mourning was released. If she was dressed I don’t know if it would have made such an impact. So I think nudity is powerful; if you want to say something and people don’t hear you, you can lay yourself bare and then people will if not listen, at least stop. There are different types of nudity and people in Zimbabwe haven’t fully grasped that. We do it even in funerals and ukaona amai vachinzi varwadziwa zvekurwadziwa zviya vanokatanura hembe. She takes off her clothes to bare her emotions.When you lose somebody that’s so important to do. Likewise, when you have been violated so much and you have nothing left, the best way to show that is through your nudity.
Nudity can be for protest, nudity can be about culture. In some cultures it’s still the norm. In others it’s used as a form of punishment where walking naked after committing adultery or something else is a shameful thing. So nudity speaks volumes. I don’t know if my society will ever understand all this. We’ve abandoned that part of our culture and grabbed other people’s interpretation that we don’t even understand. Having said that, since late last year, people are beginning to understand what I’m talking about. I’ve been hearing things like, ‘Oh my God I see the story you are trying to portray’ or ‘I see the story behind the story’. People are asking more questions, so I’ve managed to capture the attention
of those that actually understand. Not everyone will and that’s fine, but they should leave those that want to!
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a businesswoman and how do you handle them?
Rejection is the biggest one and probably is for most women. Sometimes you’re not even given a chance to show up. But there is no work without challenges. For me, I just made a decision that nothing or no one will stop me from getting what I want. I’m going to go, and go, and go, and go deeper and deeper until people hear me. We have pythons and alligators in the industry that don’t want to see you succeed because you’re a woman.
But I’ve got news for them – we’re going to change that. It’s the 21st century. We’re a different breed and we want to conquer and rule the world of course!
You received a lot of praise for the way you congratulated Tamy Moyo when she won at the NAMAs earlier this year. What made you give her that shoutout? Do you think that Zimbabwean women in the music industry are supportive of each other?
Tamy really worked hard in 2019, doing a lot of things that people didn’t think she would and I think everyone could see that. She was on platforms that many Zimbabweans have probably never been on and she was on top of her game, so I think she deserved the award. As for women in the music industry supporting each other it can be tough. We support each other but there is a fair share of pretence. Some just want to act as if they do because it looks right but it’s not genuine. None in Zimbabwe shares the work of other
female artists. That’s how bad it is. There is so much scrutiny between us. I blame the way our society is structured but that’s another story. I wish we could support each other more, I really do.
How did you settle into life in The Netherlands?
I moved here in 2011 and it took me many years to find myself, because of the environment, because I had to learn the language, because it was a new culture and because I had to learn how to relate with people on a different level. You know it wasn’t like moving to the UK where life is almost the same because the British are like us. The Dutch have a completely different approach to life. I had to learn that and I struggled for a couple years but I’ve got it now. The Dutch feel it’s important for everyone who moves here to be part of and contribute to society. A lot happens of course, but I think it’s really beautiful and now I love it. I love being here.
As a mother the most important life lesson you want your children to hold dear is…
To be yourself. Don’t try to be anybody else. Don’t live by other people’s expectations. Be considerate but don’t lose yourself in being considerate. There’s no better you than you. I think Oliver Mtukudzi used to say that. If you wanna be a lawyer, be that. If you wanna be a dancer, be that. If you wanna be an architect, be that. Try to just stick to your
grind. Stick to your own thing.
What’s your perspective on relationships?
I think relationships are kunzungu nekunyimo. There are those where people are cool to just stick to one partner for the rest of their lives and then there’s another side which says ‘small house forever’. Those are two ends of the spectrum but there is a lot in between.
You can be straight up with your partner, be in love and all is well though we know things aren’t always going to be well, but you have a relationship that you respect. You can be married but unhappy because you got into it for the wrong reasons and now you’ve got two or three ma small house. So I think we could do better. Even though for me, it’s more cool to stick to one partner, I’m also a person that is not against polygamy because I’m an African. Polygamy is part of us which is why ma small house ariko. Maybe we should legalise it then there is less worry, because at least you know where he’s at. Relationships
are 50/50…it’s always tough.
2020…where do you start with this year?
2020 has been disrupted by Coronavirus and we don’t know where it’s going to go. It started well – in the music industry that is – with all the award ceremonies, you know, breaking the red carpet…we did everything. It was really beautiful and then ‘corona’ came and destroyed the whole world. Now we are at a standstill. But I think we just need to be optimistic but we must know the world will never be the same again.
What are your thoughts on Zimbabwe as it turns 40 this year?
Well, 40-year-old Zimbabwe is a sad situation. It’s like that man who didn’t evolve, that didn’t do much with his life and you know…yah. I’m really unhappy about 40-year-old Zimbabwe. I just pray that life will really start at 40 and in style. I just hope we can get
out of this misery, this poverty, this suffering and start a new page where we can grow economically and mentally. I’m just…I’m just a sad person when I think about us at 40 and going nowhere. But we all know that it’s never too late to start afresh. If Colonel Sanders started KFC at 65 and still made it then it’s never too late.
What’s next for you?
When 2020 started I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had my whole plan and even 2021 sorted. You know I have a five year plan that’s solid but right now as you can imagine with corona it’s very tough to tell where I’m going to be. I’m really keeping my fingers
crossed and of course I’m still pursuing all the things I wanted to do. I’m still keeping at it.
A lot of things that had been booked even in July have already been cancelled. Things in August have been cancelled. No one wants to sell tickets for a show you know is probably not gonna happen. 2020 is at a standstill and it’s difficult to tell you what my 2021 or
2022 will look like. We just have to remain hopeful that all will go well.
Follow Vimbai here:
Facebook: VimZee Zimuto
Cover pic photocredit-Hein Solomon