By Vasco Chaya
Artist in Zimbabwe have been the hardest hit as the country’s economic meltdown continues unabated.
With ordinary Zimbabweans struggling to meet day-to-day basics as prices skyrocket, most of them have been left with no disposable incomes which they can spare for showbiz and entertainment.
It never rains but pours for the musicians who are also finding it difficult to source fuel to embark on outside performances.
For instance, Chimurenga music guru Thomas Mapfumo’s promoters had a torrid time during the singer’s December Peace Tour as they failed to fulfil certain engagements because of fuel shortage; at times arriving late with the instruments while cancelling some of the shows completely. Attendance at shows has thus plummeted.
Nama award-winning promoter Biggie Chinoperekwei whose Devine Promotions used to hold the weekly Monday Jam Session at City Sports in Harare said they had for now shelved the popular programme because it wasn’t making business sense.
“We used to contract 20 to 30 bands on a single night but we were no longer able to pay them and coupled to that is the fact that we are having erratic supply of drinks. Revellers who come to watch bands perform live also want their drinks to be available; without their drinks they simply walk out.
“The gate takings had also dwindled to alarming proportions but we had to pay the musicians nevertheless,” said Chinoperekwei.
He said while they have shelved the Monday Jam Session, the club still holds one or two musical concerts every week apart from dance events.
“We hope things improve and once the economy recovers we will start engaging musicians more regularly again. We feel for the musicians and dancers because we are in a way their employer, but unfortunately things are tight for us as well as we risk shutting down completely,” said Chinoperekwei.
Big events have also not been spared.
Just recently, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa) announced the cancellation of this year’s instalment due to the prevailing situation in the country.
Guitarist and music producer Mono Mukundu said the economic challenges have hit the music industry very badly more than any other industry.
“We have recently witnessed an upsurge in the disbanding of bands as members migrate to the Diaspora. At times it is the whole band leaving the country to settle in other countries as economic migrants; for example Appointed, Jeduthun and CCAP Voice of Mbare among others,” said Mukundu.
He said due to piracy most record labels stopped operating or are operating as makeshift labels.
“This has contributed to the downward trend of the quality of music being released since record labels scouted for talent and nurtured it to perfection.
“They also recorded artists for free so they could recoup their money from sales which have been hit by piracy. Piracy itself is a result of economic hardships because naturally there are people who prefer to buy original music but because of the economic hardships it seems everybody is buying the cheap pirated copied thereby rendering record shops and record labels out of business,” said Mono.
The famed guitarist said attendances at gigs have gone down and even the money charged at the gates has also gone down affecting the artists’ revenue.
Songstress Cindy Munyavi said the present environment is very difficult for artists as most of their fans are experiencing economic hardships.
Said Cindy: “Disposable income has dwindled significantly, hence only a few big brands with serious corporate investors will sail through.”
Writer Virginia Phiri said while in the first world including some smart third world countries the arts industry contributes up to 9,78 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), in Zimbabwe it is underperforming because no one supports it.
“The only way that arts can survive in this country is through collaborations and partnerships with other practitioners here at home, regionally and globally. Networks are also very helpful.
Poet Albert Nyathi believes the arts normally respond to situation.
“For that reason as artists we must be innovative and learn to thrive and survive in such difficulty situations,” he said.
Singer Victor Kunonga said if the truth may be said; artists cannot survive in these trying times.
Kunonga said: “We rely on people that are adversely affected by the economic situation and the effect trickles down to us.”
Curator and artist Mthabisi Phili for arts and craft there are clearly no tourists or people backpacking and passing through Zimbabwe.
“The influx of tourists we had when Robert Mugabe was overthrown quickly dissipated after the August 1 shootings and also after the January 14 disturbances.”
He said weavers in Lupane and craft producers at Great Zimbabwe are suffering as sales dried up because tourists are not coming.
“I understand Hifa 2019 has been cancelled because of the economic chaos in the country and this is another platform gone for artists.”
Sungura musician Romeo Gasa said there is no money in circulation, no beer in bars even the prices are too high. “We are failing to attract better numbers because there is no money; fuel is another big issue if you have out of Harare shows. It is a nightmare.”
Sungura musician Peter Moyo said with the shrinking of the economy, they are not spared and he is grateful to his loyal following who attend his shows.
“Things are tough and we are not spared and 60 percent of our income is covering expenses and we have to share the remainder.
“The numbers are telling us a story and I’m thankful to all the Utakataka Express family who through thick and thin attend our shows,” he said.
Singer Goodchild said the arts sector has indeed been greatly affected in many different ways.
“General citizenry do not have disposable income to buy music hence perpetuation of piracy. Also people do not have money to attend shows.
“There just a few artists that are lucky to still have fans attending their shows otherwise the rest are finding the going very tough.”
He believes as musicians they should have full houses even for the not so popular artists as long as the show is well marketed and the concepts are good.
“To thrive one need enough money for good recording studios, most good producers are expensive, videos call for high budgets beyond the reach of many. And this what helps the artists grow.
“Good graphic designers are expensive, good choreographers, good photographers, wardrobe; it is a whole chain and this has a negative impact on the quality of both the music being produced and the artist’s brand.”
Goodchild said since radio stations are not making much from advertisers they in turn are finding it hard to pay artists royalties. Daily News.