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Zhao: The brains behind Zim biggest talent search show

Dream Star talent search show marked five years of existence last Saturday with a well-put season finale at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) in the capital.

the style interview by Kennedy Nyavaya

Dream Star founder Steve Zhao

As has become the norm with the show, it exuded high energy from the 15 finalists that glided past several group stage contests to perform at the grand finale.

Amid the pomp and fanfare was Steve Zhao, the man behind the founding of the show as well as its execution, who sat with fingers crossed that this year’s edition would proceed without incident.

Over the past five years, Dream Star, which started as Zimbabwe’s Got Talent before another group claimed to have started with the name then, has evolved empowering young people and taking them to showcase their talent in China just as the organisers promised at the first press conference in 2014.

The Standard Style reporter Kennedy Nyavaya (KN) got the opportunity to speak to the brains behind the show, Zhao (SZ), after the finals and he shared his experience over the years as well as the vision for the show. Below are excerpts from the interview.

KN: You have held this show for the past five years, how do you feel about where you have reached and today’s show?

SZ: It feels great, there are a lot of young talented kids who continue to join the programme each year and Dream Star wanted that to encourage all the young people in Zimbabwe to follow their dream and work hard to make the dreams come true. At the moment Zimbabwe has got some problems here and there, especially the economy side, so the kids are ending up picking bad habits. so as a talent search show we want to give direction to the young people and teach them that in the arts industry if you work hard you will have a bright future. We have tried to raise artistes that we work with and push them into the market.

KN: The show has been a success each year for the past half-decade despite the challenges that you have mentioned, so where to for the show from here?

SZ: Like I said, this brand is one of the cultural brands that has been taken by the Chinese people as one of the most important for people-to-people exchange. We believe that for (Chinese) people that stay in Zimbabwe like me —I have been here for 22 years —it is love which makes us continue this programme. I love this country along with my colleagues and that is a key issue resulting in the support for the programme. We have more to do and on this programme we are not going to stop, we are actually going to move forward and do more extension programmes. We have built a dance and music recording studio (Jacaranda Culture and Media Corporation) and we will do more for young artistes to help them with finance and the technical side as well as to go out of Zimbabwe and get into the world because Zimbabwean artites are brilliant.

KN: Looking back to when you started, is this the kind of growth you imagined and is the show achieving what you set it up for?

SZ: I did not imagine it because throughout the five years we have had a lot of hard times and it is not easy especially during the hard times for the economy, but we are trying and the achievements we have are quite good. so we are happy. I actually did not think that we could get to this stage because now the brand has become well known internationally, even people in the region now know this programme. Like at today’s event there are agents in here searching for talent among our Zimbabwe youths.

KN: You have always said in your speeches that this is a culture-sharing programme, how are you achieving that?

SZ: I think China and Zimbabwe are the same, we have the Great Wall and Zimbabwe has Great Zimbabwe, it’s all very rich in cultures and when these cultures meet there should be a lot of sparkle and things can work together. We have been taking hundreds of young artistes to China where they also learn a lot of things about cultural things in China, so actually that is the thing we want to do, the cultural exchange.

KN: When you take these youngsters to China, how is the art received there and what kind of events do they perform for?

SZ: So far Dream Star teams have gone to China three times, I think we have travelled to almost 10 cities now and each city we went to we have done performances and got unbelievable reception there. Chinese people really enjoy African arts and especially Zimbabwean arts because our artistes are so talented that each time we travel they showcase the best arts and it has become an international act from what I can see. Now the minister of culture in China knows one of the best arts troupes from Africa is from Zimbabwe.

KN: Besides the young artistes who participate in your shows, how can the nation support this initiative?

SZ: We are actually working with a lot of local companies already and we are trying to work with more. you know the arts industry covers a lot of people including schoolchildren and up to now we only did tours at universities, but we want to do Dream Star colleges, high and primary schools. Each and every person in Zimbabwe needs entertainment and as the whole country or business you can give a hand to this industry so that when we come here we want companies to come and see so we can work together.

KN: The finals today were one of the best you have ever hosted over the years in terms of set-up and presentation, please take us through how the organising bit was.

SZ: There is a lot of hardships in putting this show together. Financially, we also had a lot of problems, but the good thing is I talked to all members of the Chinese community and they contributed to the success of the programme, as well as some local companies, so we worked with a lot of people to put this together.

KN: Dream Star has produced artistes like Nyasha David, ProBeatz and Fusion 5 Mangwiro who are doing well in the industry, are you happy with the artistes you are producing and the kind of impact they are having on the market?

SZ: I am quite happy, but worried at the same time because these young ones take a bit of time to be a superstar. But we are trying now not only in Zimbabwe, but to express them into the re gional platform. The next step will be to take take them into the regional market so we want to work with DStv to play the music on their platforms. We are happy in two or three years’ time they have had good achievements and have started shinning in the industry. However, the thing we are not happy with is that they are still in Zimbabwe, we want to take them out to the region.

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