I shall start off with a December 2012 quotation from Matthew Bashaw whose story about society’s perception of musicians moved me. This is what he said:
in the groove in the groove
“An elderly gentleman bought me a shot of whisky after I finished my show this evening, and asked me: ‘So, what do you do for a living?’ I told him I’ve been lucky enough to support myself solely on music for over a year now, and his response was: ‘That’s not an honest living.’ Now, instead of presenting my instinctive argument, I kindly asked him why he felt that way. He replied with: ‘It’s not honest cause you’re not getting your hands dirty.’ I thanked him for the shot and the conversation, then I gave him one of my CDs. And as I walked out of the bar, I looked down at my own hands. I saw deep cuts on my fingers which were caused by pulling the strings while playing the guitar. Then I thought about all my friends who chose music as a career as well, all those who have invested so much of their hearts and souls without being detoured by the incredible amount of physical sacrifice it requires.
“I am not upset with that man for his opinion. However, I do hope that people will eventually gain a better understanding of all the different ways a person can ‘get his/her hands dirty’. I am extremely privileged to know a great amount of people who may not break their backs to feed their families, but instead break their fingers, minds and hearts to make a living. If I could name every one of these people, I would, because they deserve an incredible amount of appreciation.”
I pondered over this story and wondered why society perceives musicians so negatively. I also wondered why the elderly gentleman in this picture did not consider someone who had been sweating on the stage all night as having a career.
This took me back to when I met a Mrs Kajese, who is a sister to drummer and Oliver Mtukudzi’s manager, Sam Mataure. She said to me, “Fred, why don’t you advise your friend Sam to embark on an educational programme or on a career instead of him depending on being just a drummer in Tuku’s band?” I asked her if she did not consider playing in a band a career, but from her attitude, I already knew what the answer was going to be before she even gave it.
After the meeting with Mrs Kajese, I did not see Mataure for sometime because he was on a tour of the United States, but I told Richard Mvududu, a board member of the Zimbabwe College of Music about this encounter. Mvududu promised that he would talk to Mataure the next time they met. When they eventually met, Mvududu advised Mataure to join the degree programme in jazz at the College of Music, but Mataure is said to have dismissed the suggestion, saying that it wouldn’t add any value to his present situation. He has already travelled the world and has been to over 60 different countries, and besides, he has interacted with the who is who in the world without having a degree. So what does he need a degree for?
There are only a handful of musicians in Zimbabwe who have made careers out of music and are able to feed their families without struggling. People who fit in this category include Mtukudzi, Jah Prayzah and Alick Macheso. Despite this, these superstars have also taken to other methods of investing the money earned through their music careers. For instance, Mtukudzi has invested in his Hai Kobo Shoe business and Pakare Paye Arts Centre. Jah Prayzah now owns a thriving music label known as Military Touch Movement.
Given the harsh economic climate in which we live, few musicians in Zimbabwe can afford to live off music alone. A lot of average bands in this country are lucky to go home with an amount of $10 each after a night’s performance. Despite such bands’ passion for music, their chosen career will not pay the bills. Male musicians who are expected to come home with groceries after a performance feel ashamed to go home empty-handed. They cannot even afford a goat to pay their child’s school fees! This is probably the reason why some sections of society do not view this business as a career.
There are several other musicians who earn their living through non-music activities such as car dealing, hustling, vending and small-scale businesses. Some of them do indeed get their hands dirty, although their passion for music stands out in all their endeavours.
For instance, Bryn Mteki aka Sekurutau, whose collaboration on the song Nora with the late Elliot Manyika catapulted him to stardom, now owns Saratoga Night Club in Highfield and a chain of supermarkets in Zimbabwe, making him a wealthy musician, but his wealth is not coming from his chosen career in music. It is coming from his other businesses which include making and selling sculptures.
The late Prince Tendai Mupfurutsa also found that he could not maintain the lifestyle he had chosen to live with music alone. He became a businessman trading in fuel and in no time had become a millionaire. He was viewed positively by society at large because of his fuel trade and not because of his music career, although his passion was in music.
One established jazz artist had to confess to me:
“I’m a father of two young beautiful girls, so I have to work at the same time, and feed them,” he said. “Although I would like to make a career in music, I cannot be a jazz artist fulltime”.
He, however, hopes that this is only a temporary arrangement and that music will soon become his fulltime gig once again.
I know several musicians who will soon be in need of extra money. I just hope that the least of its virtues will not destroy their musicianship and that it will fortify and dignify them even more. Despite what society thinks, I pray that a career in music is not a downhill head-long rush.