Zimbabwe: Music industry is dying slowly

28 October 2005


Zimbabwe’s current political and economic crisis has destroyed the once vibrant music industry. The fuel shortage, coupled with the recent destruction of the informal sector has left the musician poorer. “The industry is dying slowly,” says a Zimbabwean record company marketing director

By Maxwell Sibanda

ON THE OTHER hand, there is good news in that most ruling party propaganda songs composed during former Information Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo’s reign have been slowed on both state television and radio. International music, also totally banned during Professor Moyo’s tenure, is slowly coming back on the airwaves.
Music live shows, the musicians’ cash cow, are now as impossible with bands being restricted to always play within their towns of residence. On the other hand, music lovers have also been restricted from traveling outside their towns in search of entertainment.

Affected by fuel crisis

The capital city of Harare, which houses almost all the popular musicians is now always overbooked with repeat-shows.
“The fuel situation has affected musicians’ live show concerts, and for the few who manage to stage shows, the attandance is low. There are several scenarios to the fuel shortages as even night club owners find themselves without adquate beverages to sell. The industry is dying slowly,” says Emmanuel Vori, sales and marketing director of Gramma Records.
Vori says record companies have lost business as sales persons fail to travel around record stores selling music products. “Yes, the musician is the most hit. His cash cow, the live shows is producing nothing at the moment, it is dry. His royalties will also be affected as record companies can not deliver music products timely.”
Musician Tongai Moyo says small bands are finding it difficult since they had to hire vehicles from private operators. “We have had band leaders from many bands asking if they could join us as guitarists. Some have cut band members’ salaries and some bands have virtually stopped performing.”

A complete halt

Zimbabwe’s fuel crisis set in after the International Monetary Fund withdrew balance-of-payments support in 1999 and the result has been an acute foreign currency shortage.
The biting fuel shortages are threatening to bring crisis-sapped Zimbabwe to a complete halt – a country also grappling severe shortages of food, electricity, essential medical drugs and other basic commodities as there is no hard cash to pay foreign suppliers.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) reported recently that 40 percent of the transport industry was grounded and that more than 100 000 drivers and bus crews from both the formal and informal transport sectors were on forced leave.
Shephard Mutamba, a fomer Editor for state television says it was now a luxury to drive to a concert. Mutamba says the effect has been two-way. “Music fans can not afford the luxury of driving to a concert because the little petrol one buys on the black market has to be reserved for more serious business. Public transport is so scarce that if you venture out of town until late in the night you risk sleeping at the concert venue.”

Destruction of flea markets

Vori says government’s recent destruction of flea markets that housed informal traders worsened the plight of musicians. He adds: “Apart from these traders selling our music products, they also were the music industry’ biggest buyers.”
Three months ago, government demolished thousands of houses and backyard shacks in a controversial clean-up campaign that left at least 700,000 people homeless, according to a report compiled by UN special envoy Anna Tibaijuka. Informal traders’ stalls were razed down during the crackdown that saw the arrest and subsequent release of about 46,000 street traders and black marketeers.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) conceded the clean-up exercise had deprived the urban poor of their sources of livelihood as the majority of them depended on informal activities destroyed in the operation. The sector, which employed more than 50% of the working population, was virtually destroyed, leaving thousands of people without a source of livelihood.
The flea markets were popular for selling music products, CDs, music and video cassettes. “We lost 30 percent worth of sales as a result of the displacement of informal traders,” says Vori.
On entering every flea market one was greeted with loud music from new “hot” releases. Most of the songs “blacklisted” and “banned” by government from state radio were publicised through these flea markets.
Music journalist Guthrie Munyuki says he was surprised that no musician had complained publicly about the loss of business as a result of the closure of flea markets.

Slowdown of propaganda music

But perhaps the most interesting development recently has been the slowdown of propaganda music on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) radio stations since former Information Minister Professor Moyo was sacked from government early this year.
Munyuki says: “Music of PaxAfro, a group formed by Professor Jonathan Moyo has been ignored. Since Professor Moyo’s departure, the group held only one live show at Beitbridge Umdala Wethu gala. Most propaganda songs composed and sung during Professor Moyo’s tenure as chief propagandist have been slowed down.”
Munyuki says those music compositions slowed down included Come to Victoria Falls Down in Zimbabwe by Ivy Kombo and Ruvhuvhuto Sisters, Andy Brown’s Chimurenga Series, Comrade Chinx’ Hondo Yeminda, Tambaoga’s insulting Agrimende and Minister Elliot Manyika and Bryn Mteki’s album Zvaida Kushinga.
But government censorship remains in place.
Munyuki adds: “Other musical pieces that have been ignored or blackened include the National Constitutional Assembly album and Raymond Majongwe’s Daily News. Most of Thomas Mapfumo’s songs remain banned. Only yesteryear early recordings such as Zimbabwe-Mozambique and Give People The Land were being played as they conform to the ruling party policies.”

‘Rebel’ musician

Leonard Zhakata, a victim of government music censorship says most of his songs are still not being played although he recently had a rare interview on state television. “The broadcaster invited me for an interview on the main news. Initially they had sent me some questions in advance, among which they wanted to know why I was a ‘rebel’ musician. I queried them on what they meant by calling me a ‘rebel’ musician. But when I was live on television that issue was not raised, instead they said they wanted to clear a rumour that I no longer had a band.”
Zhakata says it was funny that state journalists were asking him about his band when it was always billed to perform in the city. “They see my posters everywhere in the city, and advertisements in the newspapers meant for our live show publicity.”
Zhakata says the fuel situation was bad for business and now they were charging promoters performing fees and fuel seperately.
“We demand fuel from promoters now and that is the only way we can travel outside the city centre. And there in the outskirts people attend our shows because most venues are within walking distances.”
As for the flea markets, Zhakata says musicians lost a lot of sales. “The flea markets were a big market for our music. They played most of songs which were not receiving airplay on radio. The other place where our music used to be played were in the public transport – buses. That publicity is also gone.”

Alternative tv-choices from satellite

The dismiassal of Professor Moyo has also seen international music trickling in. Mutamba says: “There has been some shift of policy at the state broadcaster as they are now slotting international songs here and there. I am sure in a few months they would have done away with the 100 percent local content rule introduced under Professor Moyo.
“Some advertisers who had been frightened by the propaganda hype and Professor Moyo’s broadcasting policies are starting to advertise with the broadcaster again.”
According to a survey by the state daily newspaper, The Herald in September, thousands of television viewers are deserting the sole state television channel opting for foreign networks via satellite.
A snap survey conducted by The Herald revealed that an increasing number of television viewers were opting to pay millions of dollars monthly to view South Africa-headquartered MultiChoice’s DStv programmes or invest similarly huge amounts in special decoders giving free access to foreign television stations. Some of these popular television stations include Botswana Television (Btv), South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) channels and e-television (etv), a South African commercial broadcaster.
Viewers interviewed said they were switching to foreign channels because they offered a wider and better variety such as free religious channels for both Christians and Moslems, soap operas and better produced programmes and broadcasting of high quality.

Absence of good quality programming

ZBH executive chairman Dr RinoZhuwarara confirmed to the newspaper that they were faced with a challenge to make state television the most preferred in the country: “It is true that in the absence of good quality programming people would opt for foreign programmes. We have completed the digitalisation programme to improve the picture and sound quality.”
He added that while they were keen to improve the quality of the programmes, ZBH did not have money to sponsor independent productions as required by the law. “Firstly, we have a limited variety of programmes and yet as a national broadcaster we should reflect the full spectrum to cater for the young, old and special interest groups as well as the whole constituency. This is because of budget constraints. We’re unable to sponsor good local productions from the best of local producers,” he said.
Mutamba says it was foolhardy for Professor Moyo to introduce laws to ban international programmes, including music on television. He adds: “The broadcaster can not afford to operate in isolation and this seems to be changing. I heard some reggae songs played on air recently and this is a good sign.”

Censorship remains

But censorship of critical songs remains in force. Mutamba says: “Those songs critical of government will not be played – why should they play songs singing against their policies and leadership.”
Mutamba says it was sad that “blacklisted” songs will never be heard as frequent by the people for some time.
“Where do they hear them? There are not many live shows to talk of today because of fuel shortages, the flea markets wre destroyed and state radio, television will not entertain any such songs.”

Related links:

BBC World, 27 October 2005:

‘Musical aid for Zimbabwe migrants’

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