Very few artistes retire; most just fade away with time

RETIREMENT, that’s a good word when you have everything planned and know very well that you really need to rest. Most people retire when age catches up with them, when they suddenly are not as sharp or as strong as they were during their prime. Retirement means taking time to rest and do the things you have always wished to do even if those things don’t give you any financial rewards. Retirement could also mean you are at that stage when you don’t want to wake up every morning worrying about too many things — like pleasing some bosses and worrying about rent, bills and food on the table.

Most people who retire live on their pensions. I know very few artistes that have retired — maybe it’s because art has no pension, especially for those that never scale the dizzy heights of fame and some little fortune. And these are the majority.

Honestly speaking, I have come across very few artistes that leave their line of work to and go sit at home because age has caught up with them. If it was that easy bands like the Cool Crooners would have retired a long time ago. True. Most artistes don’t retire, they just leave or fade away because the market or consumers would have abandoned them.

A year or so ago, just across the Limpopo, the Godfather of mbube music Joseph Shabalala retired from music and left his son to lead the famous Black Mambazo. He must have planned for this eventuality.

In one of his speeches Joseph Shabalala said he was now tired of the rigours of international tours. He truly needed a rest and perhaps had worked enough to deserve a good pension — pension for artistes is basically what they save or invest during the good days. If that doesn’t happen there is no pension to talk about.

Closer to home one of the pioneers of performing art, Cont Mhlanga, called it quits years ago. Cont Mhlanga packed his bags and his tools of the trade and went to rest in his rural Lupane home. But having known Cont Mhlanga for years he will not rest. In fact, he has not rested but just slowed down and changed base. For even in his so-called “retirement” he is all over Matabeleland North Province discovering raw talent and telling stories that have never been told before. Cont Mhlanga doesn’t know how to rest. At his peak he was a slave driver. Always has been. He is so passionate about art that he can’t live away from it.

If retirement was merely about age then the likes of Dr Oliver Mtukudzi should be resting. He should be now busy “eating” the fruits of his years of toiling — enjoying his pension. But there he is still going strong, still singing and even collecting awards.

You don’t retire in the arts. You either fade away into oblivion or your music just becomes stale and irrelevant.

If the likes of Thomas Mapfumo were in other fields they would have retired by now. But there he is still performing, still having something to say. However, their being around has not stopped young musicians from coming out of nowhere and taking over the mantle.

Look at how Jah Prayzah and Winky D have risen from nowhere to reach the same levels as Tuku and Mapfumo. They have done this without even calling for the old musician to retire. They did their stuff to the best of their ability and it paid off.

I say this because there are a few misguided young artistes who believe that the only way for them to succeed is if the old generation disappear. Nothing like that is going to happen. Only hard work and sweat will usher one to greater heights. That’s how it has always been and how it should. Not people telling an artiste it’s time to sit down.

Isn’t it funny that here I am, right in the middle of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, talking about retirement instead of what the creative sector is doing during this important period in Bulawayo’s economic life. I’m writing about retirement because there is nothing the creative sector has lined up to complement the Trade Fair. It is the usual one or two shows, nothing linked to the big trade showcase happening in Bulawayo. It’s not even fun, but very sad. Where to Zimbabwe arts sector? One wonders.


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