Online discussion puts Zim music industry into perspective

By Ano Shumba

A FACEBOOK post by UK-based Zimbabwean radio personality Pelagia Mutake has laid bare some of the challenges facing musicians in the southern African country. In her post, which has gathered a number of thought-provoking responses from her colleagues, fans and critics, Mutake asked three questions which were all seemingly hatched to reflect how the once vibrant Zimbabwean music industry is failing to support its own. 

Why is it so hard for a musician in Zimbabwe to buy a house with all the shows they do and also the airplay they get?

Musician Edith WeUtonga cried foul and described the proceeds musicians get from promoters as a drop in an ocean. “Most gigs that musicians perform in Zimbabwe don’t pay much,” she wrote. “Only few bands are paid above $1 000 or what they feel they are worth. I’m waiting to see the logbooks and see if what musicians are paid is what was logged in. I’m praying for a day the local musicians will be paid at least a quarter of those huge performance fees given to artistes that come and perform for 45 minutes and they respect their standard yet ours will be demanded to play for over two hours with very little.

“I’m waiting for the day that our locals will be paid $20,000 and see if they will not invest and buy a house. I’m waiting to see a corporate that will endorse a local and indeed spend what they tell the media they have signed on with the artiste. I’m waiting for the day the talk stations will pay what is respectable as royalties.”

UK-based gospel musician and radio presenter Obert Mazivisa echoed WeUtonga’s sentiments. “Because most shows they get nothing, most of the money they get paid if any, it goes to musicians, backing vocals, rehearsals, transport, food and an artiste is left with nothing.”

Speaking to Music In Africa, hip hop artiste Mudiwa Hood seemed to disagree with everyone. “It’s not hard and it’s not in all situations that musicians are at liberty to disclose properties they own,” he said. “A house is a great achievement not only for any musician but any citizen in Zimbabwe.

In South Africa, for instance, if you can prove how you earn your monthly income, they can give you a house at zero deposit. In Zimbabwe, you pay cash if not 60 percent. I am into properties; though still small, I have invested in two or three properties. So I believe other musicians have done the same or even better.”

Music In Africa also spoke to Clive ‘Mono’ Mukundu, who attributed the failure to purchase real estate to Zimbabwe’s economic challenges. “Music is a very low income profession in Zimbabwe; the population in Zimbabwe is very small compared to places like South Africa and Nigeria where music pays a lot,” Mukundu said.

“The situation was worsened with the economic downturn, so the majority of musicians are surviving on a hand-to-mouth basis. The situation was further worsened with the government’s refusal to intervene in the music piracy issue. CD sales was one good revenue avenue for musicians but all the benefits are being ripped off by music pirates.”

Do they (musicians) even get

royalties for their hard work?

Since 2009, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has defaulted to recompense the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association (ZIMURA) composers’ fees for music it plays on the state broadcaster’s TV and radio stations. The ZBC recently resumed paying some royalties but musicians say the rates are low.

In March, Trace Africa was caught in a royalties storm when it failed to pay Zimbabwean musicians for the music it had played since the TV channel’s launch in September last year. It is in line with this scenario that Zimbabwe has found itself struggling with an increase in the number of cases involving royalties.

On royalties, WeUtonga wrote: “Yes, musicians get royalties once a year but those don’t amount to much because only one station (ZBC) pays over $1,81 per play. The rest are paying 0,20 US cents if at all. The new stations have not even started to pay royalties. Others claim they’re talk stations and even when they get to play music they don’t play local.” The ‘Kwacha’ hitmaker also said some local broadcaster were playing foreign music to dodge paying royalties to local artistes.

Mukundu concurred with WeUtonga and called for the creation of more music rights associations. “Artiste now only have one royalty avenue, which is ZIMURA once a year for royalties from airplay, but its money given to the composer only,” he said.

Mudiwa disagreed. “Yes we (artistes) do get royalties from all airplay. iTunes, Spotify, ZBC, Trace, MTV Base, and all local radio stations, they pay us for every play. Locally, ZIMURA is taking care of us very well all stations pay ZIMURA and they pay musicians yearly.”

Why are we failing to break into the international market?

Zimbabwean dancehall musicians have been criticised for lacking originality, which in turn keeps them from being appreciated past the local market. Exiled chimurenga (liberation struggle) musician Thomas Mapfumo is on record saying dancehall artistes lack innovation and described them as copycats who were imitating their Jamaican counterparts. “I don’t hate them at all. I am actually happy to share the stage with youngsters but they need to be original. My dream has always been to nurture the youngsters to become musicians of note and surpass the levels that I and my peers reached internationally,” Mapfumo told the Daily News in 2015.

WeUtonga, who is the national chairperson of the Zimbabwe Musicians’ Union (ZIMU), attributed the failure to local promoters’ lack of support. “International artistes are not made in foreign lands but at home,” she said.

“If our homeboys do not grant us the time then it will be very hard to meet the opportunities. Until we stop celebrating mediocrity then believe me, no one out there will pay attention or grant opportunities to our local musicians.

“We will always travel abroad to play for our Zimbabwean homesick brothers and sisters without any crossover appeal. Have you ever wondered what made Nollywood popular? It’s the Nigerians. Zimbabweans, we are great at applauding foreign products no matter how atrocious.”

Mudiwa said: “Breaking into the international market is a process, not an event. I am sure if you pay close attention to Zimbabwean videos, they have increased their quality lately and 10 or more musicians including myself are getting fair airplay on Trace Africa and other channels. Well, I am sure we are all trying to get there, God heard us and he is taking action and we are not where we were yesterday.”

Germany-based music critic and promoter Plot Mhako lauded the discussion and added his own thoughts about Zimbabweans making it internationally. “I couldn’t say it better,” he wrote. “Just to add on the third question. We need to really find our own footing and sound unique. Developing on that original sounding Zimbabwean music, Jah Prayzah is on that path.” – Music In Africa

August 2017
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