Life of a female musician

Zandile Zaza Ndlovu
INTERNATIONAL music sensation, Joss Stone, performed at a sold out Ngoma ne Hosho Live Sessions concert at the 7 Arts Theatre in Avondale, last weekend.As the headline act of an all-female cast, a first of its kind in Zimbabwe, Joss Stone made history alongside Ammara Brown, Gemma Griffiths and Tamy Moyo. What made this line-up particularly interesting was that these were not your typical mainstream artistes who enjoy radio airplay or perform for large audiences – except maybe for Ammara.

One would have tabled it as a gamble for Ngoma ne Hosho and African Fire to invest in these ladies who traditionally do not dominate the entertainment sphere.

With ticket sales averaging $25 for the VIP and $10 for ordinary seats, one would have thought this would have dissuaded concert goers from attending. However, the odds were defied as some fans came from as far afield as Zambia and Malawi to attend the concert.

Concert promoter, Walter Wanyanya from Ngoma ne Hosho, expressed the importance of giving female artistes that are not mainstream performers the opportunity to be showcased.

“It is our job as the promoters to identify the talent and place them on stages that would best show how talented these artistes are.

“I have worked with Tamy and Gemma before, and I knew the value of their musical talent and performances. And, yes, while as promoters we wish for a profitable concert as this is a business, we also have a responsibility to ensure we give both our artistes and fans the best platforms to be creative and enjoy our concerts.”

Wanyanya spoke about his deliberate all-female cast: “We really wanted to show Zimbabweans and the world at large that female artistes are equally as good as their male counterparts.

“It is sad that in Zimbabwe most female artistes do not get these kinds of platforms where they get to shine in front of sold out audiences. It is a myth that as Ngoma ne Hosho we wish to dispel and show that our ladies can hold their own ground and can dominate the stage as shown at this concert.”

So, as I was sitting in the audience watching Tamy, Gemma and Ammara perform, I found myself wondering why Ngoma ne Hosho had taken the risk of an all-female concert. Why, particularly in Zimbabwe, are our female musicians not headline acts or commanding sold out concerts? Certainly it is not a dearth in talent as most of our female musicians are accomplished, shrewd businesswomen and most of them are talented instrumentalists.

First, I sought answers from books, to try and find academic evidence on why the arts industry posts varied challenges for women musicians. From an academic perspective, in the book Gender and Musical Canon, the musical spheres are characterised by the private and public domains. Social structures heavily impact which domain one is affiliated to.

With the private domain characterised by the home life, cooking, childrearing etcetera, whilst the public domain is characterised by working for government, religion, education and art.

This postulates that the music industry, which falls in the public domain is associated with male dominance. Thus making the involvement of women in music inferior.

Looking at the status quo in Zimbabwe, with our economy, which is unfriendly to the arts sector, there has been a shift to move away from supporting live performances, which affects male and female musicians. Therefore, with an ever shrinking viable market and an ever growing musical industry, the unmatched sectors make it increasingly difficult for any musician to stand out, let alone women.

The arts industry is in a retractive state.

With rampant piracy and infringement on mechanical copyrights, and the displacement of live music by technological substitutes, musicians face a mammoth task to stay relevant whilst making a living. A common thread that resonated between the female musicians and journalists was that most female musicians face challenges penetrating the traditional masculine dominated arts industry. A key issue being the way their image is portrayed by the media.

I asked my focus group how image and visibility was affecting the female musicians in Zimbabwe and sadly it was noted that I have very few female colleagues that are active journalists in the arts sector. That male journalists may not necessarily have a gender centric approach to reporting on female musicians and hence female musicians mostly being portrayed in an unflattering light. One of the premises I discovered was the use of femininity to gain equitability. Musical icons like Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Madonna have used their sexuality and femininity as empowerment tools to claim a stake in the arts industry market share. And we are seeing more of that from our female musicians who embrace their curves and beauty.

Media practitioner Patience Phiri observes; “Female musicians gravitate to male journalists for interviews because it is a ‘Boys Club’. Female musicians are forced to work with what’s there in society. So the day we have more females doing entertainment we will have more females covering other females.”

Candice Mwakalyelye a Radio and Television Personality said; “I feel most female musicians are not pushing as hard as their male counterparts. There are a few I can count who have gone the extra mile and we see them. The ones who manage to get opportunities to perform on big gigs are inconsistent in their live performances. Which risks them being overlooked or re-booked by promoters. Promoters are looking for money so they will book artistes that deliver.”

Which brings us to the point of understanding the actual lives of female musicians.

To a larger extent, male musicians have it easier. Female musicians have to balance their musical practice time simultaneously with managing the business aspect of being a performer and their personal life.

Even in their day to day dealings with promoters, the balancing act of time management vis-à-vis the quality and quantity of the work comes into play.

Some of the female musicians in my focus group indicated that at times they have to be selective about the gigs they perform at.

They have to consider how decent the clubs or venues are, the hours they must perform and how much they are getting paid.

Sandra Ndebele, a leading female musician and businesswoman said, “Most of the time you are told by promoters we cannot accommodate you on a tour because they are trying to minimise costs. Our male counterparts can rough it out and sleep in cars and kombis whereas we cannot. So in the end we are overlooked by what may seem trivial but is actually a very basic need for us.”

As I concluded my search for understanding the reasons why female musicians seemingly get a raw deal, I discovered a gamut of varied experiences addressing the multiple facets of the life of a female musician.

Whether it is an issue of femininity to attain equitability, one has to approach the gender roles at play with compassion and understanding. Zimbabwe has amazing and talented female musicians whom I believe deserve to be given centre stage. The old myths that female musicians cannot sell out venues was shattered by Walter Wanyanya and his team at the Ngoma ne Hosho

Live Sessions on June 2, 2017 during the Joss Stone World Tour in Harare Zimbabwe.

One may argue that Joss Stone was the pull factor – since she is Grammy award-winning international artiste. However, those in attendance such as myself witnessed first-hand the sheer brilliance exuded by our ladies; Tamy Moyo, Gemma Griffiths and Ammara Brown. While each possessed a distinctive style and genre of music, as the audience we were treated to rich voices, dance entertainment and instruments such as the guitar, mbira and piano. And, yes, back to the theory of sexuality and femininity, if you have it, flaunt it.

The ladies dazzled us with their beauty and fashion savvy. At the end of the day, society still plays a pivotal part in shaping the views we have on female musicians.

However, it is a dawn of a new era and a future filled with possibilities as we look forward to witnessing more female dominance in our arts sector.

Zaza is a Media and PR Strategist. She can be contacted on [email protected]

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