Cris Gera, a 36-year-old popular Afro-Jazz musician from Zimbabwe, sees jazz music as a unique way to connect with people. “Through jazz music, I realized that I could effectively put across issues that are at the heart of people’s day-to-day living,” he said. However, he never imagined the effect that his song Chema Zimbabwe (Cry Zimbabwe) would have when it was released on social media in 2016. Inspired by the deteriorating economic and political situation in Zimbabwe, Gera composed the song as a commentary on the difficulties Zimbabwean citizens were experiencing and dedicated it to the future generations of his country. The song was welcomed on many platforms nationwide but was also met with hostility and even threats.
“I considered composing this song towards the development of my collapsed beloved country on behalf of the voiceless. Through music, Zimbabwe will be set free, as this amplifies the voices that already exist. My music stands up against the negative; we should not continue under these tough conditions we are living in as Zimbabweans,” Gera expressed. Gera’s voice was not the first to raise up growing frustrations. Around the time the song came out, numerous protests sprang up in response to deteriorating socio-economic conditions.
A few weeks after releasing the song, Gera received an anonymous call and messages threatening to kill him because of his song. These messages said what he said in his song was out of bounds and that he was ‘biting more than he could chew.’ The anonymous callers told him that he would die young and leave his family alone to suffer. Still, he did not pay attention to these warnings at first, thinking they were harmless threats. However, once strangers posing as friends were started looking for him at his residence, Gera started to truly feel in danger.
Fearing for his life and the security of his family, Gera fled his home and family in Harare for Johannesburg, South Africa in December 2016. Concerned members of his family and friends had suggested that he return only after the situation had “cooled down.” By staying away, he hoped to avoid if other outspoken critics who faced torture, punishment or even abduction. Other artists have faced censorship of their work. The documentary Democrats was banned, while the veteran theater producer and actor Sylvanos Mudzvova was arrested outside the Parliament of Zimbabwe for performing his one-man play entitled Missing Diamonds, I Need My Share.
As of the beginning of January 2018, Gera is finally in a place where he is safe to continue creating music. The International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), an organization that relocates artists whose creative expression and lives, relocated Gera to the city of Piteå, Sweden. In the last year, he produced the new song "Pitea för alla" and performances at a concert at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern [LK1] in Stockholm.
Read more about Cris Gera’s residency here.
By Tom Speaker and Clarisse Taboy, January 2018, updated in January 2019.