Sometime in the mid-80s, police fired tear-gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of rioting reggae fans in Harare after the late reggae singer Gregory Isaacs cut short a concert due to poor sound.
By Jairos Saunyama
The Night Nurse hitmaker, could not endure the embarrassment from the sound engineers, leaving him with no option but to cut short his act.
This did not go well with 40 000 fans who became violent and two died in the process.
The trend of poor sound quality at Zimbabwe’s major gigs still persists, as a number of local and international artistes leave their fans embarrassed.
Recently, Jamaican musician Konshens was left seething after the sound engineers failed dismally, while massive power cuts also disrupted the much-hyped event.
Arts critic, University of Zimbabwe lecturer Fred Zindi, bemoaned the absence of quality sound engineers and called on the National Arts Council to put a legislation that governs “music sound” at gigs in the country.
Zindi added that there is no urgency in setting up the PA system and also that DJs do not have enough time to rehearse for shows.
“In the past, we used to set up all equipment before the day of the event. I understand the PA system only arrived at around midday at the event. That did not give the music groups enough time for a sound check,” said Zindi.
“Konshens was using CDs and would often refer to the DJ to run his music. The DJ was from Cape Town and had not rehearsed Konshens’ set, hence the chaos and technical hitches.
“I agree. In the 1980s Gregory Isaac’s gig was spoiled by poor sound and there was a riot, which killed two people. I think NACZ should put as one of its conditions, ‘recommended sound quality’ to all would-be promoters and also provide courses in sound engineering so they can recommend who should be employed for this technical hitch.”
However, it seems local sound engineers struggle with reggae and Jamaican dancehall as most gigs are associated with violence, fuelled by poor sound.
Zindi said local sound engineers should have an understanding of the kind of music they are dealing with.
“There should be no difference at all between music genres. The only thing is that they should understand the kind of music they are dealing with. Most bands have their own sound engineers who know the music the band will play,” he said.
It is not about major gigs, asmost local gigs are usually marred by technical glitches, something arts critic have described as short-changing fans.
Another local arts commentator, Chamunorwa Mashoko called for the arts governing body to respect music fans through establishing “a sound policy” that forces promoters to engage quality sound engineers.
He added that the move will combat violence and riots in the future.
“If this trend continues, I see a potential of violent riots and even stampedes. Something should be done by the relevant authorities. I strongly feel that NACZ should establish a ‘sound engineering’ component in their delivery,” Mashoko said.
“I guess it’s high time there are rules governing festivals and sound quality determined by who is providing sound and sound engineering services per genre. It is not proper that a sound engineer who predominantly engineers gospel or sungura music should engineer for reggae for example. It takes well-experienced and qualified sound engineers to be able to do that”.
Meanwhile, other arts enthusiasts have blamed promoters for being stingy and engaging immature sound engineers to cut costs, not putting into consideration the outcome of the whole act.
Peter Churu of Complete Arts Projects said promoters should know that a show is judged by the quality of the sound.
“I think it’s down to promoters cutting corners to save costs. We have qualified sound engineers, but if they are not given the right tools, that is what you get. Unfortunately, a show is only as good as its sound investment,” said Churu.
Munyaradzi Nyemba, founding member of Zimbabwe’s oldest reggae ensemble — The Transit Crew — said the country is blessed with good sound engineers, but they lack familiarisation with different music genres.
“We do have good engineers, but maybe the problem is with their lack of familiarity with different genres. Genres have different levels on instruments. Then there is just the clarity of sound. Each instrument must be heard. It is just paying attention to those details,” he said.
NACZ marketing officer Catherine Mtombeni refused to respond, saying she was working on something.
“Right now I am not in the office, I am not in a position to respond to you,” said Mtombeni.
Poor sound quality also affects international musicians’ gigs. United States rapper, Eminem in July last year, left 80 000 fans at Wembley Stadium seething with anger after sound engineers let him down. Fans took to Twitter to complain over the disappointing production.