The Sunday Mail
Miriam Tose Majome
BEFORE independence, the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio Two — now Radio Zimbabwe — was the only channel where local music was played and local languages used.
Local music on the other radio stations and the sole television station was virtually unheard of.
ZBC introduced Radio 3 — now Power FM — to cater exclusively for young upwardly mobile urbanites.
Needless to say only foreign music was played on the station.
After independence, up to the end of the 90s, there was only one weekly TV show that catered for local music; it was called “Mvengemvenge”.
By the 2000s, it was no longer sustainable to keep local music away from the mainstream media.
The politics and policies had since evolved — as had the audience.
The urban population was younger and more assertive, and demanded more.
It was just no longer sustainable for television and radio to remain exclusively English and American.
Young local artistes were growing in numbers, but they were being shut out of the mainstream media in preference for Western content.
Something had to be done.
In 2002, Government introduced a very ambitious but controversial policy to reserve 75 percent of public media airtime to local content, which was subsequently increased to 100 percent in 2003.
It was a much-loathed and misunderstood policy because the entertainment palate of the general populace was still mostly accustomed to Western music and film tastes.
It was resisted because it seemed Government was trying to take the country back to the Dark Ages.
There was not much of local music, so the same few sub-standard urban pop songs were played on repeat ad nauseum.
However, with time and more investment, local urban music improved immensely. Some local musicians are now able to hold their own at international music festivals and collaborate with big international names, which is all very commendable.
The majority of beneficiaries of the Government policy were urban grooves artistes.
However, Government can only do so much to promote them.
While the urban groovers have made giant steps in gaining respect and recognition locally, their music has barely made it beyond our borders.
This is unlike their fellow musicians in South Africa and Nigeria, some of whom have made it big on the international stage.
Even though they have received a lot of structural support, there is no urban groover who is recognised as sellable internationally.
Consider Jah Prayzah and Mokoomba, as well as mbira music and sungura.
The reason they do better compared to urban grooves is that they managed to remain distinct and associated with the source.
While the Zimbabwean urban grooves genre is relatable internationally, there is something preventing its breakthrough onto the world stage. One of the reasons could be that some of the artistes cannot decide whether they want to sound Nigerian or Jamaican.
They end up sounding like cheap knockoffs. Some urban groovers are actually really good and original but lack the right marketing and exposure.
For some, the golden age of Zimbabwean music is in the past.
It is now a pale shadow of the music giants that once stood in its place.
It is amazing that the stars of yesteryear made it without any of the present Government support and policies.
They made names for themselves despite their music being played on one radio station only. The music was also delivered through live bands and vinyl records only.
Local music should now be at the stage where the artistes are selling copyrights to other musicians internationally.
Ownership of copyright vests in the original artistes or producers.
Copyright gives the holder exclusive rights to benefit from their work.
They can give permission to third parties to perform, publish, reproduce or broadcast it while they earn from it through payment of royalties.
Generations of families sometimes live off royalties of songs, paintings or books left by their ancestors.
The ubiquitous jingle “Happy Birthday to You” earned Warner Brothers £30 million after they bought the copyrights in 1990.
However, the Musarurwa family reportedly got nothing for the song “Skokiaan”, recorded in 1951 by Augustine Musaruwa, yet it has been used and covered by various international artistes, including Louis Armstrong.
With the support they have, Zimbabwean musicians could be doing much more with their musical talent.
Miriam Tose Majome is a commissioner with the Zimbabwe Media Commission.