By Lance Guma
It was on a cold Saturday evening in London and the venue was the Indigo at The O2. This ultra-modern 2,750 capacity arena was playing host to a sumptuous collection of prime Zimbabwean music talent. Tocky Vibes, Ammara Brown, Stunner, ExQ, Trevor Dongo and Charlie Kay were on the menu.
Even the last minute hiccup that saw Soul Jah Love being denied a UK visa over an outstanding debt to the UK National Health Service (NHS) was quickly cured by promoters moving fast to secure an emergency visa for Tocky Vibes who proved an able replacement on the night.
You could even argue that without sufficient days to rehearse Tocky ended up stealing the show. Back to that later. You got to hand it to David Matsekeza and the rest of the AfroKings team including the affable PR guru Danai Mavunga. A lot of advance hard work was put into making this show a success.
Zimbabwean music shows are notorious for dingy venues. In my conversations with Matsekeza he explained why they decided to go upmarket with their choice of venue;
“During my time at HP, we used a number of great music venues for artists such as Professor Green and Bastille. I wanted to use my previous experience to provide good value live music concerts for Zim music fans. If British artists and Afrobeats artists can perform at indigo at The O2 why can’t we?
The marketing by AfroKings was sleek, the venue upmarket and the lineup of musicians was varied and exciting. But still I worried that they would not be able to draw a good crowd. How wrong I was. The turnout was brilliant, the PA system on point. Did I mention the stage was beautifully setup?
The artists did not disappoint either. Ammara Brown’s energetic performance reminded me so much of Beyonce, Trevor Dongo was the soulful crooner, Charlie Kay did not even look like a rookie and held his own, Stunner was his usual confident self and wowed the crowd with brilliant storytelling.
I will reserve special praise for Tocky because you would not have believed he was a last-minute replacement. Consider also that many doomsday critics had already written his obituary claiming he was washed up. He performed last and was arguably the star of the show.
Even without adequate time for rehearsals he had the crowd eating from the palms of his hands. Many of the revellers were throwing money at Tocky on stage. I loved the ending when Stunner joined Tocky on stage and did an impromptu duet with him. The camaraderie was something to behold.
Let me not forget ExQ, yes the whole evening you could tell the crowd was waiting for his smash hit Nhema. That comes with its own drawbacks. You could tell the crowd was less interested in some of his other songs and were itching for Nhema. He did sing Bhachura but for some reason, despite indicating that Ammara (duet partner) would join him for Bhachura, she never came on stage with him.
This is me being fussy honestly, ExQ is a seasoned veteran on stage and knows how to deliver. And talking about delivering, AfroKings delivered on the big stage. The stage gets no bigger than the Indigo at The O2. A press conference a few days before the show and the artists being taken to the BBC by Danai for interviews does show that Zimbabwean music promotion is heading in the right direction.
Any corporates reading this article should seriously consider sponsoring these young visionaries at AfroKings. With more resources they can take Zimbabwean music promotion to the next level.
If you missed ZimConnect 18 in London, the artists are all performing in Birmingham on Saturday at the Art House (54-76 Bissell Street, Birmingham, Post Code: B5 7HP). Early Bird tickets £10, Advance tickets £20 and Standard tickets £25. Time is 10pm to 4am