Failing economy hits arts industry hard

HARARE – “An artiste cannot fail; it is a success to be one,” this assertion was made by American Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley back in the day; the statement has since lost relevance when applied to Zimbabwean artistes.

The harsh economic environment prevailing in the country has left many artistes living from hand to mouth as they struggle even to afford a plate of sadza.

The majority of dance groups operating in the country are dancing for peanuts.

Each dance group usually comprise of at least four members but it is sad to note that promoters usually pay about $40 per dance group.

Dancers Association of Zimbabwe (Daz) president Hapaguti Mapimhidze aka Hapaz told the Daily News on Sunday that only a handful of dancers such as Beverly Sibanda and Zoey Sifelani are realising a bit of profit.

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“We urge local promoters to consider the plight of dancers. It is painful to note the majority of dance groups are being paid peanuts.

“Owing to this, most of our members are failing even to pay monthly rentals as a result they end up living in groups which jeopardise their privacy,” Mapimhidze said.

Some of the dance groups under Daz include Apama Styles, Mageshi, Syndicate Girls, Girls of Peace, Universal Queens, Unique, Explosion, Malaika, Dangerous Scorpion, Cassamoto, Cassablanca, Blood Sisters, Haranga Queens, Four Angels, La Dolce, New Styles, Spice Angels, Jamaican Queens, Bella, Naked Weapon, Cream Lolipop, Extra Hot, Burning Queens, Peter Kagomere and Charlizie Queens among others.

Of late, most of the music concerts being held in the country are attracting a handful of fans leaving both artistes and promoters counting loses.

Comedians including Doc Vikela used to perform at Jazz 24/7 in the capital on a weekly basis but owing to poor response the shows were getting, organisers were left with no other option but to hold the shows on a monthly basis.

In 2015, our sister paper Daily News broke a story of local music promoter Chris Musabayana of Ghetto Fabulous who tried to commit suicide by throwing himself in an empty swimming pool at Aquatic Complex in Chitungwiza after his concert featuring Alick Macheso, Peter Moyo and Soul Jah Love flopped.

The development saw Musabayana being hospitalised.

A recently held concert featuring Jamaican musician Turbulence held at Glamis Arena in Harare was a monumental flop.

There are a lot of artistes who used to have a good life but are now struggling to put food on the table.

Gweru-based treble National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) winner Forbes Mushipe revealed to the Daily News on Sunday recently that he is scratching for a living to the extent of failing to put food regularly on his family table, a development that is synonymous with a number of artistes that are affiliated in 58 arts associations that are registered in the country.

Mushipe used to run a lucrative chain of retail businesses in Mkoba, Gweru but due to a mismanaged national economy, he lost everything save for his sculpturing talent.

“The economy has failed me. I am a hard worker but this country has proved me wrong. I have been reduced to zero and I am struggling even to cater for my next meal, not talking about monthly rentals — thanks to this dead economy.

“I sold my artefacts and ventured into retail business and when the shops were grounded due to hyper inflation, I returned back to art but it is now a different story,” said the Zambia-born artist.

Mushipe, whose artefacts are displayed in various high profile galleries across the world lamented poor support from corporate side.

“Art used to be appreciated when the tourism industry was still viable and that is when we made money as artists. Now we are struggling, artefacts are not taken as collateral security by local banks hence we do not qualify for bank loans.”

In 2013, Mushipe won the award with Nhapwasikana ahead of Johnson Zuze’s Barking Dog and Anthony Ngandu’s School Children. 

But the arts industry is a multi-billion dollar sector provided it is operating in a well-functioning economy.

In Zimbabwe, veteran musicians such as Leonard Zhakata, the late Leonard Dembo, Simon Chimbetu and Charles Charamba earned better lives through the music industry back in the day as there was no rampant music piracy, concerts were well-attended and recording companies used to pay artistes their royalties.

Owing to the effects of a better performing economy by then, the majority of musicians afforded decent lives with the bulk of them acquiring houses in leafy suburbs of major towns and cities across the country.

For instance, Jonah Moyo bought a house in Rhodene, one of the affluent suburbs of Masvingo, in 1984 through a 10-year mortgage.

The Solo naMutsai musician then paid the mortgage in a space of a year, thanks to strong the economy experienced then.

The Charambas — Charles and wife Olivia — managed to transform their lives from renting in Chitungwiza to owning a mansion in Gunhill thanks to music.

Zhakata who grew up in Glen Norah suburb of Harare is now a proud owner of a house in Borrowdale all because of music and a strong economy.

Like other musicians of his generation, Dembo commenced his musical career in ghettos but by the time of his death, he had acquired a house in Belvedere in Harare.

On the other hand, reigning sungura king Alick Macheso moved from Chitungwiza to Waterfalls where he now owns a house, courtesy of the music industry.

Away from music, internationally-acclaimed stone sculptor Dominic Benhura lives in Greendale, a middle class suburb of Harare from Tafara where he grew up.

The list of artists who made it back in the day is endless.

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