Shoko Festival’s zigzag journey continues

Takudzwa Chihambakwe
IT has been dubbed the fastest growing festival in Zimbabwe.

But some have derogatorily named it the “nomadic movement” as it has changed venues four times in its short life.

In the midst of it all, the Shoko Festival flame burns on and this year sees it enter its sixth edition, which is set to run from September 29 to October 1 in the capital.

The Sunday Mail Society spoke to festival co-founder Sam Monro, who revealed how this annual festival has grown from being an experiment into an arts fiesta.

“The first edition of Shoko Festival was in 2011 and it was more of an experiment. We just wanted to create a platform that would cater for the growing urban culture of hip-hop and spoken word, seeing that there weren’t many platforms accommodating these genres,” said Monro.

“Our venue was Alliance Francaise and we took off very well with a great turnout of revellers and amazing performances by the artistes. Riding on the success of the initial attempt, 2012 saw us including other emerging genres in youth culture, namely comedy and dancehall.

“This added a buzz to the second edition of the festival, and the turnout was really overwhelming. I remember on the Saturday evening, people could not fit at Alliance so we decided in 2013 we would move to a bigger venue,” narrated Monro.

However, the search for a new venue was not an easy one. Monro and team had to switch venues for the next three editions of the festival until they finally found the right one.

“In 2013 we took the festival to Water Whirld. This is the best venue we have had to date when you consider the features of the place and the artistes that performed that year.

“We had the likes of Khuli Chana, Tony Rebel, Carl Ncube, Tumi Morake and Kagiso Lediga, among many others. But, sadly, the festival attendees complained that it was not a central venue so the search began, again. In 2014 we moved to Alex Sports Club and again the acts were amazing with a line-up that had the likes of Hip-Hop Pantsula (HHP) and Loyiso Gola. But again, the attendees complained about venue.

“We had to go back to the drawing board and really look for a very central venue and that is when we settled for the grounds at the Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences in 2015 and we have been there since then,” he explained.

Monro said most of the festival-goers liked the venue.

However, in the midst of the venue changes and other constraints, another area that affected the attendance was ticket pricing.

“Feedback we received from attendees was that the tickets were too expensive. So again we revised the pricing and instead of having one paying to watch specific acts, we have full day tickets that give individuals access to all events, plus discounts to school students,” said Monro.

Although the festival continues to run annually, its marketing approach seems weak.

Last year, they had a very solid line-up of artistes, which was comprised of Zimbabwe’s currently most sought-after acts Jah Prayzah and Winky D, plus the then sizzling Ammara Brown, as well as multi award-winning South African hip-hop star AKA.

But their numbers on the two nights were not up there and many have attributed this to poor marketing.

The same line-up of artistes (minus Ammara and AKA ), together with Freeman, Cassper Nyovest and Soul Jah Love, performed last week at the Glamis Arena and thousands of youths came through.

Said Monro: “Indeed, that is a good observation, but to be honest we don’t have a hefty budget to go all out on an aggressive marketing campaign as the other promoters do. We operate on a very lean budget for the entire festival therefore we have to do the best with the little that we have. But, this year we have doubled the fliers and posters so that we become more visible to new audiences.”

Monro, however, argued that although having massive numbers of attendees is good, the impact of the festival cannot only be measured by that.

“Attendance has increased gradually. In 2015 we had 9 000 people attending the festival over the three days and in 2016 we had 10 000. However, though numbers are important, we also consider the environment we are creating for attendees. We want to create a space where people can come and relax, have conversations and freely engage with others on the backdrop of the exhibitions we would have creatively set up,” he said.

Monro said the festival puts a lot of weight in the growth and impact of the festival via the platform they give artistes.

“So for instance, at Alex Sports Club we gave female rapper Awa Khiwe her first gig outside Bulawayo in 2015 and organised some collaborations with UK and German artistes. Two years later, she is now based in Germany and currently on tour in the UK.

“Last year, we were impressed by Jah Prayzah’s performance and we recommended him to Bushfire Festival in Swaziland and he went there this year and represented the country well.

“The Monkey Nuts also benefited from these collaborations and they are currently signed to a top UK hip-hop label, Barely Breaking Even (BBE) Records, and have performed in France. So besides the numbers, the festival is making a huge impact beyond the three days,” argued Monro.

This year’s edition is running under the theme “Utopia”, which is spelt creatively — “Youtopia”.

The headline acts include South African hip-hop star Emtee alongside his fellow countryman, comedian Mpho Popps, back to back with EXQ, Soul Jah Love, Takura and Cal_Vin.

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