The Sunday Mail
There is a deadly virus in town. And the virus is targeting music promoters, never mind their experience in the promotions game. None of them has been spared unless they are deliberately or unwillingly inactive.
Flop is the name of the bug that has created unrest in the cluster that is in the business of bringing joy to the people.
For example, Oliver Mtukudzi can be seen performing in an empty City Sports Centre (on the right) during last week’s Winter Jazz Festival.
Put aside the various economic challenges the country is facing, Zimbabweans are celebrated hedonists. They love spending quality time with their loved ones whenever they get the chance, with peak pleasure moments coming at weekends.
Not even hyper-inflation derailed Zimbabweans from their habit of religious show-going. But the tide has changed. Locals appear to no longer have the zeal to go out, particularly to live shows.
Gone are the days when promoters used to smile all the way to the bank after making a killing through gate-takings.
Hosting a show, let alone a big gig, is now a nightmare to every promoter. They literally have sleepless nights before “the big day”, with butterflies in the stomach flying freestyle on the day of the show.
Ingredients crucial for the success of a gig which include artistes, venues, marketing strategies (with the use of social media platforms bringing a new dimension) and the paying crowd(s) still remain the same, but the public’s response is no longer comparable. Some have been tempted to attribute these show flops to the ongoing Fifa World Cup, others have gone on to suggest the prevailing chilly weather as unfavourable for outings. A common contention, though, is the country’s infamous “liquidity crunch”.
But this flop trend started way before the winter season and the football extravaganza.
Signs of a collapsing showbiz industry have been there since late last year with the Zim’s Finest show featuring the country’s “big four” proving to be the flop of flops.
And now almost every known artiste has had an awful day in office in the first half of 2014. The artistes are struggling to attract half of the people they used to a year or so ago.
Talk of Tryson Chimbetu who had to cancel a Harare show when not a single person turned for the gig at the Big Apple. Man-of-the-moment Jah Prayzah also had his fair share of embarrassment when he played for less than 50 paying patrons at the revived Colour Purple.
Not even the magic of South African gospel diva Winnie Mashaba, the charismatic Baba naAmai Charamba and new kid on the block Mathias Mhere has conquered the situation: all their forays into Harare Gardens have dismally flopped.
When sungura virtuoso Alick Macheso held his birthday bash in the capital some weeks back, he probably expected a packed venue. What he got was a pitiable crowd braving frigid weather till the wee hours.
Suspicion is rife that the poor turnout prompted Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi’s eleventh hour pullout from the gig.
“I expected thousands of people to come for this event and we had made plans to have them spill over into the ground (Andy Miller hall) but unfortunately they are fitting perfectly well on the top concrete platform. I think Tuku’s drop out from the gig affected us but it should also be noted that people don’t have money to spend and also the weather is something else,” said Chris Musabayana, adding, “I am happy though to keep people entertained at every cost.”
And organisers of the Winter Jazz Festival were also to be hit from the blind side.
The festival’s main events have in past editions attracted favourable responses but that was not the case this time around. Considering that the event took a break last year as it coincided with the country’s harmonised elections, most expected this year’s edition dubbed “Back to Township Jazz” would be bigger and better.
Boasting of some of the country’s top performers in the mould of well travelled and top-notch performer Tuku, Jah Prayzah, Suluman “Sulu” Chimbetu, Tanga Wekwa Sando, Diana Samkange and Amara Brown, the show had every reason to be a success. Alas it was a catastrophe!
Festival promoter Josh Hozheri acknowledged that all was not well in the arts industry.
Despite being hosted on the same day as Star FM’s second anniversary celebrations a stone’s throw from the festival venue, Josh still anticipated a decent crowd.
“The approach to the gig has been as usual, in fact we went a step further in aggressively marketing this show.
Considering counter-attractions in town, I did not expect a huge turnout but just enough for me to break even but that is not the case. The crowd is just too thin and this trend is worrisome since it is not peculiar to this show alone,” remarked Josh.
So could promoters increasingly abandon live shows?
Music promotion is a two-way street that should benefit both artistes and promoters. But in many instances, the two have been at loggerheads over payments due.
“The situation within the showbiz is a bit tricky at the moment but we hope to sail through. For now we are going to the drawing boards to see how best we can dodge this threatening wave,” said Josh.
Reigning promoter of the year Biggie Chinoperekwei did not mince his words.
“There is no business in the showbiz at the moment. Fans want value for money but a number of artistes in the country lack creativity. Considering the liquidity crunch that we currently have, it would be difficult for someone to part with his hard-earned cash for the same monotonous act,” noted Chinoperekwei.
The issue of disposable income comes into play. The poverty datum line stands at US$562 and many Zimbabweans earn far less than that monthly.
“You will discover that as a promoter you would have taken all the necessary steps to make the show a success but it still goes on to flop. Personally I have since cut down on the number of shows that I promote and I’m now focusing on my other businesses,” added Chinoperekwei.
The most affected genres are sungura and gospel.
And though some have attributed the dwindling turnout for these once popular genres to the rise of Zimdancehall, not everyone is in agreement.
The dancehall shows largely attract youths, though countable adults attend such gigs. And sonversely, it is rare to find young Zimbabweans streaming to sungura or gospel shows.
The crowds are different, and so Zimdancehall cannot really affect turnout at other genre shows.
And in joint shows, dancehall artistes have attracted commendable croweds, but as individuals their shows have been nothing short of disasters.
Furthermore, dancehall acts are relatively new and are thriving on novetly, ingenuity and creativity. Perhaps sungura and gospel could innovate too, as they have become a tad stale.
The flop trend has shaken formidable forces.
At one point the Sulu/Jah Prayzah combo (remember “Sean Timba”, better known as “Batai Munhu”?) seemed unstoppable, attracting more than a thousand people per outing.
But how times have changed.
Not even the release “of Kumbumura Mhute” by Jah Prayzah has rejuvenated this once viable combination.
Jah Prayzah sees things differently: “Show turnouts, especially during (winter) depend on the type of venue. For outdoor gigs we are struggling, conversely we are enjoying brisk business indoors. My joint shows with Sulu are still okay and we are enjoying good business though we no longer do them regularly due to various commitments.”
And it appears things are slightly better outside Harare. Recent reports indicate that Jah Prayzah had a great outing in Mutare, where his shows were all sold-out.
“I think the problem is these artistes used to concentrate more on the capital such that the Harareans have now become used to their otherwise monotonous act and no longer see reason to attend them. For the entertainment-starved outside Harare, the act is still new and worth paying for,” posited Chiredzi Town music lover Taurai Munesu.