Bands, bandits and band-aids

Takudzwa Chihambakwe
“GENERALLY we have a serious problem in Zimbabwe when it comes to remuneration. In most cases the leaders always think of themselves  . . . usually taking 90 percent for himself, leaving everybody else the crumbs that fall from his table,” reads an excerpt from the book “Poor & Famous” by musician/producer Clive Mono Mukundu.

Through the 21 chapters, Mono calls a spade a spade, highlighting the challenges that local musicians face as they move in what should be celebrity circles. The first part, “Money in Music”, tells a story that will leave those considering taking up a career in music thinking twice. He speaks about how band leaders run their outfits via intimidation but feigning camaraderie on stage.

Many band leaders, it would seem, operate like bandits: press-ganging desperate instrumentalists and backing vocalists into unrewarding service and bad mouthing and blacklisting them should they dare leave their bondage.

Evidently, it will take more than band-aids to fix the problems in the sector so that it truly becomes an industry with a viable economy as is seen in other countries. Mono says band members struggle and most do not own anything of value and live from hand-to-mouth.

“It is very rare in Zimbabwe to see a band member who is able to buy a house from just being a band member, while successful band leaders can own a number of houses in leafy suburbs and a fleet of expensive cars.

“In fact owning a cheap second-hand car can be a huge achievement for a mere band member even if one is in the most popular band. A story is told of a late popular musician who used to say ‘Imari yandapihwa nevadzimu vangu. Ndoita Zvandinoda nayo’,” writes Mono.

The former Black Spirits guitarist highlights that many band leaders do not give members contracts, opting to pay them what they want, when they want.

“Because they have no contracts, they cannot speak out less they are summarily jettisoned. I have interacted with musicians across bands and the general consensus is that things are tough but no one will say a thing.”

Writes Mono: “Do not be fooled by the smiles on stage during performances. It is all for show. It’s just a façade 99 percent of the time. If one claims their band is different, then perhaps they are part of the 1 percent.”

The musician, who is celebrating 30 years in the game, also shares some wisdom gained over his long time in the business.

“I remember one artiste who during his prime used to play one gig in Harare per month and every gig was full. When he changed management, he started doing many gigs around Harare and attendance went down.

“If your brand is cheapened, the money you charge for hired events also goes down.”

Mono speaks about the importance of sticking to a genre. Don’t be a Jack of all trades and master of none, he advises.

“ . . . Gospel musicians are the worst when it comes to falling for new trends. Most Zimbabwean gospel albums sound like a DJ’s playlist. You will find rock, sungura as well as mbira on the same album as the musicians try to please everybody but in the end the artiste has no identity. Identity, however, is a critical marketing tool.”

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