Samm Farai Monro, better known as Comrade Fatso, is one of Zimbabwe's most popular and controversial poets. He performs Toyi Toyi Poetry, radical street poetry that mixes Shona with English and mbira with hip hop. It's an art form that is an uprising against the bloody ZANU (PF) regime.
If Robert Mugabe's secret police stopped turning up at his gigs, Comrade Fatso admits that he would begin to worry. "They're always there, monitoring what we do;" reports the militant rapper-poet. "Our music is a rebellious, pro-freedom riot so if we didn't attract their attention, we'd be doing something wrong;" he says defiantly. "What we sing is truth and words are our weapon. If they want to lock us up for that, then so be it. We're not scared and intimidation won't stop us"
Farai Monro, a white, dreadlocked underground rebel who sings in both English and Shona, has caused enormous controversy in Zimbabwe. Combining hiphop beats, African rhythms and highly-politicised lyrics criticising the rule of Mugabe; the music has been banned by Zimbabwe's state radio and television channels, forcing Fatso and his group to promote the album via unconventional methods. "We have it available in shops, cafes and independent stores," he says, "but at the same time we have our own guerrilla tactics of getting the word out into the townships. We have street teams of comrades who distribute hundreds of copies of the album into the kombis - public mini-buses used by ordinary Zimbabweans. So we create an alternative "people's radio" as the album gets played in hundreds of kombis.
Fatso began writing poetry when growing up in Zimbabwe in his teens, before travelling abroad to take a university course in the UK. "When I returned to Zimbabwe I knew I wanted to be part of the struggle for freedom and I wanted to create a new radical culture of performance poetry;" he says. The two came together in what he calls toyi toyi poetry, named after the spontaneous foot-stomping dance of protest that became a famous expression of resistance in apartheid-era South Africa. Mixing English and Shona with street slang, political sloganising and hip-hop rhythms, he cites dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, Fela Kuti and Thomas Mapfumo as his main sources of inspiration. "I always knew that I wanted to marry words with music and to create a new urban, African sound of struggle. Instead of music being used to turn African youth into passive consumers and obedient citizens, we need music that makes us move and dance against poverty and dictatorship. Chabvondoka means "it's a riot" and that's exactly what our music is
2008 has seen Comrade Fatso and Chabvondoka launch their much-acclaimed album, House of Hunger, banned in Zimbabwe but labelled by Agence France Presse as "the most revolutionary album since Thomas Mapfumo's music in the 1970s." Fatso and Chabvondoka have performed extensively at festivals in France, UK, Holland, Kenya, Reunion, Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland and South Africa. Fatso's poetry and music have appeared in print and broadcast media in over fifty countries around the world. "Word by word, song by song, we will build a new Zimbabwe;" Comrade Fatso insists.