Fainos Mangena, a lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies, Classics and Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Zimbabwe approached me the other day and said: “Prof, I religiously follow your articles in The Standard every weekend, which I find very interesting, but why don’t you do a feature on Leonard Zhakata? He is my favourite musician”. I responded by letting him know that there are several artists on my list, but I will do Zhakata in due course.
in the groove with Fred Zindi
Meanwhile, there is one lady called Sibongile, who claims to be a Zimdancehall singer who had been eavesdropping on our conversation. She came to me afterwards and said: “Yes Prof, I also religiously follow your articles but I am of the opinion that they are biased in favour of male artists. Are you not aware that there are hundreds of female musicians out there who you should also feature?” In reply, I said, “Let’s face it, the male artists in the world, let alone in Zimbabwe, outnumber their female counterparts. I have already written about prominent female musicians in Zimbabwe such as Hope Masike, Chiwoniso Maraire, Edith We Utonga, Cindy Munyavi, Pamela Zulu aka Gonyeti, Tariro neGitare, Patience Musa, Lady Squanda, Lipsy Chitimbe, Diana ‘Mangwenya’ Samkange, Stella Chiweshe, Busi Ncube, Ivy Kombo, Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave, Betty Makaya, Shingisai Siluma, Plaxedes Wenyika, Dudu Manhenga-Muparutsa, Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana, Olivia Charamba, The Women’s Band, Sandra Ndebele, Sku, Ammara Brown and Thanda Richardson, among others, who have over the years etched their names on the music scene. Who then have I left out apart from Sibongile? I want to give assurance to ambitious newcomers like yourself that we — both men and women — are moving forward towards a gender-neutral future even if that doesn’t appear to be an immediate reality.
Give me more names and I will write about them.” She said: “I will think about it” and she walked away.
This, sparked a discussion in my head on what needs to be changed so that the music industry can continue to move forward with men and women working together as equals.
Recently, there was an outcry from female musicians who were complaining about being sidelined by music promoters. One said, “When it comes to big concert line-ups, promoters prefer having a safe bet on the popular male artistes who they believe will sell tickets, and ultimately this sexist mentality leaks into a wider consciousness. What we’re dealing with here is an attitude problem”.
While I agree with this perception, the place of women in the music industry is still fragile. Despite the recent feminist wave and women speaking up, causing a stir in the press and overall public awareness, the percentage of women having a powerful role in the industry is minuscule compared to that of men.
Many of the clues lie in our history where women appeared to have taken secondary roles, or simply did not exist within the music industry.
In Zimbabwe, there has always been a very strong misconception about women in the music business. They are often perceived as either people who are lacking in moral values, loose women, promiscuous persons, sex objects or undisciplined people who have rebelled against society. There is this misperception that women in the music industry are narcissistic and competitive — but I have found the opposite to be true. Most of the female musicians I have met are incredible humans and extremely supportive. Look at the list I gave you earlier. Only one or two can be placed in these categories.
Compared to men, there are very few women in show business in Zimbabwe. Apart from a handful of performers and singers, women have found pop business taxing both socially and emotionally. What is intriguing is that the little representation of women in show business through music products are bought by both male and female fans. The majority of women who sing are used as backing singers by male artistes. Only the brave ones front the stage.
The music industry itself, apart from giving a few jobs such as secretaries to women, gives almost all of its top jobs in the organisations such as record engineers, producers or disc-jockeys to men.The main reason of course is the traditional role played by women in African societies. Surely, if singing appears to be glamorous for a man, it must also appear the same for a woman. Yet the average African woman is inhibited by social pressures to expose herself in a job such as playing in a band. Attitudes from society for male musicians are usually very negative as very few people regard being employed as a musician as work. They are worse when the musician happens to be a woman. Singing in a band is regarded as a job for male vagrants and certainly not for decent women regardless of how talented they are in that area.
A lot of women in music are found in the gospel arena because it is a safe platform from which to land oneself onto the music scene. Because people fear God, it is difficult for male chauvinists to stop their daughters or wives from singing about God, just like they find it difficult to stop their wives from going to church.
What most women need is the determination to break through the old ideas that some work is for women and some for men only. Those who show this determination have a great advantage. This is why all the women who have had the guts to take up the microphone in Zimbabwe are noticed straight away. They might not want to be regarded any differently just because they are women, but this is inevitable in a world which is still dominated by men, and having been noticed more than their male counterparts, they are bound to excel. Is it not ridiculous that even today some people still think music is a job for vagrants only?
Despite the male chauvinism of the patriarchal society in which they grew, I would still like to see less sexualisation of women in the music industry. It makes me sad when I see an artiste who has extreme influential power, like Beyonce for example, standing practically naked on stage while Jay Z, her husband, is dressed head to toe in a suit by her side. There is a huge inequality there, and a confusing message of power, and I just can’t see the reason why she needs to be dressed that way when she possesses such big talent. I don’t mean that women need to stop showing their bodies. However, I would love us to remove the “lingerie model” stereotypes of what is sexy and how a woman’s body should be. I want women and men to redefine what is sexy. We feel that there is a lot of stigma attached as well, such as that women can’t make it as artists unless they sell their bodies or unless they are extremely talented and attractive. If this attitude continues, female musicians will always be sidelined.