The three-tier monetary system recently introduced in the country where bond notes, point of sale machines and foreign currency are in play, has confused quite a number of musicians.
in the groove by Fred Zindi
The runaway USD/bond exchange rate has made life difficult for musicians, music fans, band managers and music promoters.
A fan who used to happily pay US$5 to gain entrance into a music venue is now finding it difficult to part with his US dollars (if he has any) when he knows that that kind of money will fetch him up to $30 bond on the parallel market. The venue owner or the musician, on the other hand, does not know whether to simply accept $5 bond, swipe or pay via mobile money. The venue owner/musician is faced with the following questions:What should the entry fee be at concerts? What legal tender should be used to charge at the door? Is it US dollars, mobile money, swipe or bond notes? In view of the recent price hikes in about everything including fuel, bread, cooking oil, rice, sugar, pharmaceutical drugs, laundry and many other products, should musicians also hike their entry fees?
For the struggling musician, hiking entry fees is tantamount to reducing attendance figures and most of them are hesitant to chase away customers. That would be suicidal.
Even the best accountants and economists in the country are finding it difficult to give advice to musicians or to their managers and promoters.
Not long ago, Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya, after he introduced the bond notes, told the whole nation that one bond note was equal to one US dollar. However, in a statement released by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube only two weeks ago, he informed us that the bond note was not equivalent to the US dollar. As a result, soon after he made that announcement, the parallel market rates soared. In the meantime, the government has ordered the minting of more bond coins from South Africa to flood the economy. That obviously brings about price increases due to high inflation rates. Businesses have, in response, also started hiking their prices. Mobile money agents all over the country have begun to charge between 20% and 25% commission for those seeking cash through their systems.
Now musicians are puzzled. Do they accept payment through mobile money? Do they increase the amount they charge at the door in order to cushion themselves from this hyper-inflation? If a patron decides to do a RTGS transaction through swiping, how much do they charge? Some musicians who get flat fees at venues are asking to be paid in US dollars only.
One band manager told me that if they are charging US$5 entry fee at a venue they will simply multiply that by 5 if one chooses to pay through mobile money or swipe. But to many, that poses another challenge: Do patrons wish to part with $25 because they have swiped or via the by mobile money system? That, straight way spells a reduction in audiences attending live shows. After all, music is perceived to be a luxury by most members of society and only those with extra cash can afford to spend such amounts.
I went around Harare and visited several bands and musicians to find out how they were faring in the midst of this cash crisis. One well-known and prominent musician, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, quipped: “The chaos started with the appointment of Ncube as Finance minister. These people don’t know what they are doing. They are flying across the world with an entourage of 30 or more people who get daily allowances in forex to attend useless conferences using taxpayers’ money for their benefit and they ignore the suffering of the masses. Today, my children went to school without eating breakfast because we couldn’t find bread in the shops. I spent the whole day last Saturday queuing for petrol when I could have been doing more productive work. I even cancelled rehearsals because I was in the fuel queue.
They tell us to endure pain, but I have never seen any of them in supermarket or petrol queues, which means that they are well cushioned. The president’s long motorcade has each vehicle filled with fuel. Where do they queue for their fuel? In 2008, when Jonathan Moyo was at the helm of this government, they made us write propaganda songs such as Rambai Makashinga. Now they are telling us to endure the pain again in 2018. But how can we do that when we can’t even buy drugs from chemists to endure the pain? Pharmacists are now asking for US dollars to buy medicine.To make matters worse, they have put in place this 2% electronic transactions tax on every dollar we spend so that they can earn more money. Is that fair? Jah Jah, how long do we have to suffer?”
I could only sympathise with his emotional state, but I could not offer any solution to this crisis.
Some musicians have already started penning songs about the present cash crisis. A dancehall tune coming out of one of Chillspot’s artistes on this subject is bound to be a hit unless it is banned from airplay. Bus Stop Crew have already released a play on the same subject.
I have often given musicians advice on how they should avoid political songs in Zimbabwe if they need to advance their careers. Some argue that freedom of expression is embedded in Zimbabwe’s constitution and given that, why should they kill their creativity? They say they are the voice of the voiceless. True, but if the song is banned from airplay or becomes unpopular with the masses, how is that musician going to survive? I gave them examples of how Andy Brown and Simon Chimbetu ended, cashless.
The cash crisis has afflicted musicians with more suffering and distress.
Two weeks ago I went to a listening session of Jah Prayzah’s latest album Chitubu. He had proposed to release 13 tracks, one of which had very political connotations, but I advised him to drop that one. I told him that although he had done very well with Mudhara Achauya and Kutonga Kwaro, both of which are perceived to have political connotations, I am sure the political environment had changed now. A long debate on whether he should release the track titled Asante Sana ensued, but in the end Jah Prayzah agreed to drop it from the album, which now has 12 tracks.
It looks like as far back as 1974 Bob Marley had predicted our situation here in Zimbabwe when he wrote:
Them belly full, but we hungry
A hungry mob is a angry mob
A rain will fall, but the dirt it tough
A pot a cook but the food nah nuff
You’re going to dance to Jah music, dance
We’re going to dance to Jah music, dance, oh-ooh
He then continued to soothe us with these words:
Forget your troubles and dance
Forget your sorrows and dance
Forget your sickness and dance
Forget your weakness and dance
Cost of living gets so high
Rich and poor they start to cry
Now the weak must get strong
They say, Oh, what a tribulation
Indeed, we have been dancing since 2008. Zimbabweans are known for dancing and making jokes out of crises to make light of serious situations, but how long shall we keep dancing in view of this tribulation?
I am not the Finance minister, neither am I the president of Zimbabwe, but most musicians I have spoken to think that the government has come up with crazy financial ideas, which are going to oppress us further as the cost of living gets higher.
Perhaps we should invite Kanye West, who is currently in Uganda with his wife, Kim Kardashian, to record his ninth studio album Yandi to come and talk to our president. Kanye West has been talking to presidents lately, starting with Donald Trump at the White House in Washington two weeks ago, then Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni last week to whom he gave a pair of white sneakers as a gift. So, welcome to Zimbabwe, dear Kanye.