Monday, April 30, 2007


Neighbour, I see you in Zimbabwe

I am proudly South African. I tell people this freely and easily, and pretty much with chest-beating pride! But here I sit, way down at the bottom of Africa, not really knowing if I am proudly African.

How can I be trying to make my own country a better place; spread a level of understanding about our different cultures, and encourage a spirit of ubuntu, when right next door in Zimbabwe, the people are suffering. Almost everyone is suffering. But can you imagine trying to be a musician? (right - old history, Zim ruins by Garth Meyer)

I am no great fundi on music from Zimbabwe, and am pleased to learn more, apart from the hot names that have made an international impact, like Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi & PaxAfro…. Ok – they were abit like the Pop Idols of Zim, being a creation of Professor Jonathan Moyo – then Propaganda Minister of Zim – so they’re more infamous!

I was introduced to a group of musicians last year, through an amazing project under the banner The Collaboration featuring Chiwoniso Maraire & Busi Ncube (left). They have taken artists, who all have their own bands, to participate in this project, and ended up with the album Hupenyu Kumusha/Life at Home/Impilo eKhaya. It’s an amalgamation of ideas from the contributors and features a variety of styles and grooves from Afropop to Zimjazz.

I am first keen to introduce you to a future contributor to Peak People, Steve Sparx from Thulani Promotions from Zimbabwe, who will be giving us more details about the situation there. I asked him to start with a brief summary of a musician’s life in Zimbabwe in these times

So how does a musician survive an economic meltdown?

The artists in Zimbabwe have effectively been marginalized in most cases - it is almost impossible to fix performance fees and to budget for expenses related to either live shows or recording - everything from CD repro, to printing cost, to fuel, to food changes on an almost daily basis. What appears enough today is insufficient tomorrow.

We as Thulani Promotions have subsidized where we can but the emphasis must be on self sufficiency; we take our catalogue with us wherever we perform so we have more than one CD to offer, we try and US Dollarize our prices when offering performances and we look for new channels to promote our music wherever possible.

I have attended Womex and visited Scandinavia to promote tours; we send the album to World Music review sites, promote to festival organizers and make contacts with similar minded people whom we might collaborate with.

The artists are patient and behind it, they all have a share in Thulani and believe we have a formula to pull through and to expand our horizons - I believe that “the darkest moment begets the brightest creativity” and we continue to spread our vibe wherever, and whenever we get the chance.

Just this past weekend we provided 5 bands, and a clown, to the Chimanimani Festival - here in Zimbabwe. This is a rural festival aimed at agro-industry workers, their families and other people in the area. It was last held in 2003, when it was real popular with tourists (yes we remember them too) and Harare folk, but it came unstuck through the prevailing situation - we helped to revive it with a memorable show and expect that it will now be back on the Zimbabwean festival circuit (OK so now there are 2) on an annual basis PLUS the festival trust will be reviving their rural artist development outreach program once they reestablish ties with interested donors.

So there is light and we will continue to be drawn to it, and yes, the darkest time is just before the dawn.

Would be great to get more regional shows and also to increase our productivity to bring in some new talents from this part of the world into the fold, we also want to get some more collaborative work that brings together different parts of Africa and explore our brand of fusion to see how far it goes.

Of course the new technologies for distribution (downloads/ringtones/etc) have not had much impact on the Zimbabwean music scene yet but we want to be part of it when it happens and for this to benefit the artists too.

We wanna tour the world and bring our groove with us - so that’s how you survive a meltdown - Optimism and Intention.

Watch this space

Stevie Sparx

Its difficult to keep quiet – I am passionate – and I see cultures dying because the battle to survive, to put food on the table, must prevent elders the freedom to sit and teach the youth the sounds of old. Young adults must be starving for musical education, and positive influence. And established musicians – well – I am sure they just leave.

Here is a podcast by Pambazuka News Featuring the music of Busi Ncube (Ilanga & Blue Rain) who I will be posting about later this week – it’s a little old (last month), but it gives you the message, with Busi's music!

I am not a politician. I am not a freedom fighter, and my voice is soft in a world of screams, but I believe in ubuntu; as a philosophy and a way of life; as a solution. Africa’s own solution.

I want to be a proud African; I want my neighbours to be safe, and secure, prospering in this wonderful age; for then I will sleep better at night.

What are you going to do for your neighbour this week?

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People like throwing buzzwords around like "proudly South Africa". The fact is that there are things which I'm proud about, like the fact that we managed to end apartheid and had a peaceful handover of power. However things like baby rape and murder, which are rife in South Africa, I despise.

So the real world is more prosaic than the black and white "proudly South African" label. In general though, I question things like nationalism and patriotism. I am a child of this planet, and I love people because they're lovable people, it matters not an iota to me where they come from.
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