Is Zimbabwe Music Industry Overcrowded?

In Jamaica, many years ago, young people used to be employed in two main Jamaican industries: the sugarcane industry and the bauxite mining industry. However, years later, with the economy went on a downward spiral, these two industries collapsed, thus creating acute youth unemployment in the country. Without the means to put food at the table, the unemployed youths became innovative. Those who were gifted with voices such as Dennis Brown, Freddie MacGregor, Beres Hammond, Gregory Isaacs and Cocoa Tea, to mention but a few, used their singing talents to create employment for themselves. A few years later, even those who could not sing but had the ability to chant and “toast” found the music platform a way of earning a living. Soon, the music industry in Jamaica was flooded with dancehall artistes, most of whom wrote lyrics which they chanted backed by already recorded “riddims”, which the market found exciting. They bought into this idea and soon the dancehall artistes also found themselves gainfully employed. Every other youth in Jamaica became a dancehall artiste. However, they soon found out that the Jamaican market of less than three million people was too small to make enough money to take care of everyday expenses. They discovered that the solution to this discrepancy was in marketing themselves abroad. In no time at all, dancehall artistes had flooded the world and Jamaican youths such as Sizzla Kalonje, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Mr Vegas, Red Rat, Kalado, Mavado and many others flooded the world market and they all began to live comfortably back home.

In Zimbabwe, where a similar situation exists, and with the ease of recording by simply singing over ready-made riddims, the youths have also created their own jobs. Talk about Winky D, Seh Calaz, Ricky Fire, Tocky Vybes, Soul Jah Love and plenty more who are making a decent living out of music. As young people seeing this happening to their contemporaries, they also aspire to be like them so that they can earn some money. Even those who cannot sing, find their way into marketing themselves as musicians. With the collapse of many industries in Zimbabwe, the youths have, thus, become innovative. That is the way to get jobs in Zimbabwe.

Also because our economy is in its own downward spiral, it has been difficult to get an accurate read on exactly how the poor economy has impacted the music industry. What we know for sure is that the country faces cash shortages and very few revellers have got spare money to spend at gigs. People I have spoken to say that as much as they love music, they are unable to attend any gig which charges more than $15 a ticket. Thus this slump has an overarching effect on every corner of both the traditional and emerging music industry.

This continued economic malaise puts downward pressure on items like concert ticket prices, demand for consumer electronics (which influence the adoption of new music services) and advertising budgets (which influence licensing revenues for record labels and music publishers).

These effects seem to be visible nationwide. A once popular band which had a contract to gig every Friday and Saturday at a certain city venue, no longer has that privilege as other players have come in and appear to be a more favourable group at the venue. The band, which is now scrounging around looking for alternative venues, has all taken cuts.

Sometimes the eight members in the band play for a flat fee which sometimes is as little as $50 a night, because the venue owners do not want to charge entrance fees at the door as charging entrance fees might put off some customers who just want to come and drink. Sometimes they are informed that their performance has been cancelled after money was spent advertising the performance.

This year alone, some popular groups saw their ever-crucial endowments drop as more and more players come onto the scene.

So how are those who already work in a shrinking and brutally competitive field affected? After all, only a small percentage of the most popular artistes are gigging every weekend. If they cannot find jobs, what can we say about the less popular ones?

Earlier this week, I exchanged words with one of the established musicians in the industry and he had no kind words for the newcomers whom he feels have not only invaded their territory, but have also taken jobs away from them. And his thinking is that these youngsters will play all night for just a plate of sadza.”Why should a venue owner hire a more established artiste for $2 000 when he can find an equally competitive youngster with a reasonable following for $50?” he complained angrily.

Mokoomba (those boys from Victoria Falls) is one group which has marketed itself internationally and they have got gigs lined up until next year in the UK, US and all over Europe. Many groups should follow suit if they are to survive this harsh economic climate.

From what I know, live music in Zimbabwe will flourish for as long as the economy improves. Many music fans will not sacrifice their hard-earned cash to attend musical concerts until they have spare change. So, from the look of it, the thousands of musicians who have recently sprung up will have to compete for the little amount which is being spread among musicians. Indeed, the Zimbabwe music industry is overcrowded. A colleague I interviewed before writing this article had this to say: “I will only go out for a musical performance if it is a group I am really dying to see. There seem to be hundreds of useless groups around these days, most of which are just imitating others and playing copyright music yet I can listen to the original artistes on my stereo at home. These days in Harare it is expensive to go out and listen to music. I need $10 cover plus extra cash for drinks which is often a minimum of another $10. And if I take a friend who is dependent on me, it will cost me double. If people are pinching pennies, I don’t know if you’ll see them forking out to go and listen to music,” he said.

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