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Winter takes toll on concert attendance

Winter brings many changes to the world around it. This is the time when animals go into hibernation, but this year’s winter has hosted a more extreme weather to the extent that even human beings are also hibernating.

Fred Zindi

Jah Prayzah

The cold winter months coupled with the harsh economic climate this country faces, are enough evidence why many people are not attending concerts during this cold period.

Last Friday and Saturday, I sampled six music venues just to check on attendance figures. I started with the Harare International Conference Centre where Leonard Karikoga Zhakata launched his 21st album. I had expected full capacity at this venue since the show was supported by prominent artists, but the turn- out was low. This was followed by the Big Apple where Man of the moment, Jah Prayzah celebrated his 29th birthday. The attendance here was reasonable but could have been better. After these two venues, the next four were near disasters in terms of audience response. At Dandaro Inn, located at Harare Showgrounds, by 10pm there was hardly anyone in the club. The Old Mutual Theatre at Alliance Francaise, which in itself is a very small venue, hosted a performance by Tariro Ne Gitare. To say that the show attracted only a handful of fans, is an understatement. Next, was Bar Rouge at Long Cheng Plaza where Allan Chimbetu was also launching his fourth album. Although big names such as Alick Macheso and Sulumani Chimbetu were advertised to support his act, when I arrived there hardly any people were in attendance. The sixth venue I visited just after midnight was The Volt, situated along Samora Machel Avenue. The attendance here was also dismal. Maybe it was because Mic Inity had pre-maturely finished his performance or the venue decided to close early due to poor attendance. The number of people in the audience at each venue was indeed quite disheartening.

These artists, I know, deserve much bigger crowds than the ones they got.

However, my experience in countries where the economy is poor and cold days are an everyday thing, has shown me that when the weather is miserable and the economy is depressed, this is the best time for the culture industry to blossom because the people need somewhere to go to relieve their stresses. Yet in Zimbabwe, this does not seem to be the case.

We have all heard of concerts that sell out thousands of seats and smash box office records. Indeed, concerts can bring out crowds that rival some of the major sports games. They are massive money-makers not only for the artists themselves but for the promoters and venues too — and this isn’t even mentioning scalpers. On a good day, concerts are great for both the fans and the people putting them on. However, it is not wise for promoters to organise open-air concerts during cold winter nights as people prefer to hibernate in their homes and watch television rather than punish themselves in the cold weather.

I might be blaming the weather for poor concert attendances, but sometimes even when the weather is fine, things don’t always go as intended for either the artist or the promoter. Sometimes the event is poorly planned or poorly advertised. Maybe the ticket prices are too high, or the artist just isn’t popular enough or, in some rarer cases, might not even be in attendance. Look at the situation when Wizkid came to Zimbabwe but did not go on stage due to poor attendance. The promoters claimed that they did everything they could to publicise the event, but the cold rainy weather discouraged a lot of concert-goers. We are still not sure whether the weather was the reason for the poor turn-out. Whatever the reason may be, the promoters lost some money. The few fans who had paid their money to see the performance by Wizkid, felt that they had been duped.

A few years ago, I experienced a similar situation where one concert garnered a crowd of neither hundreds nor even dozens but seven.

Seven! The show organiser was forced to call off the show at 10pmdue to the shockingly low numbers — or, rather, number. The seven tickets that had been sold were refunded, of course. It isn’t exactly clear why the concert’s headlining act had fewer attendees than your average bar band, though his appearance on a local radio show a day before was reportedly tense, with the interviewers focusing on the artist’s “demonic” musical persona. The artist’s publicist went so far as to suggest the concert’s low turnout was due to a combination of poor economic climate and a cold night. What the publicist failed to mention was the fact that on top of that, his artist — who played the cool superstar oblivious to the poor attendance — also arrived on stage noticeably inebriated and the band’s manager had to ask for a bucket just in case the singer threw up in the middle of the performance. The event was so disastrous that the venue was made to swallow its losses on the night and was forced to cancel the event in the aftermath.

Nevertheless, there is one artist, Jah Prayzah, who despite the cold winter months, is determined to draw crowds wherever he plays. And to his credit, when he takes to the stage, he always gives it his all. Check him out on August 12 when he launches his forthcoming album.

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