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There is no guide book to success in music business

in the groove with Fred Zindi

I have been around lots of bands and musicians for nearly four decades. In that time, I have observed their behaviours and at the same time wondered what it is that makes some musicians succeed and others fail.

During this time I have also spoken and interviewed national and international artistes who include Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Brinsley Forde, Dennis Brown, King Sounds, Buju Banton, Christopher Martin, Tarrus Riley,Thomas Mapfumo, Dorothy Masuka, Jah Prayzah, Alick Macheso, Alexio Kawara, Cindy Munyavi, Chiwoniso Maraire, Hope Masike, Diana Samkange, Rozalla Miller, Busi Ncube, Oliver Mtukudzi, James Chimombe, Lovemore Majaivana, Biggie Tembo, John Chibadura, Simon Chimbetu, Leonard Zhakata,, Charles Charamba, Tanga Wekwa Sando, Tongai Moyo, Tendai Mupfurutsa, Peter Muparutsa, Andy Brown and many more.

While talking to these artistes, I realised that although their aim is to be successful in their chosen careers, their approaches to achieving such success are different.

After successfully interviewing all the artistes mentioned above, I got the biggest shock of my life when I tried to interview one young Zimbabwean artiste who had just emerged as a top-ranking up-coming musician at the time. He snubbed me with the words: “Talk to my manager. I don’t talk to the public!”. I thought that that kind of response was really naïve as I was only trying to help him with the marketing of his career.

There is no guidebook to success in the music business. Being an artiste myself, as well as being around other creative artistes, the question, “how did the superstars do it?” arises often.

It’s easy to attribute an artiste’s sustainability to their ability to create catchy songs or produce a spectacular live show. However, through a colourful combination of achievements and mistakes, I have realised that there are a set of down-home values that will take an artist where talent and money cannot.

Often, when a lot of young artistes watch established superstars on stage and see full venues, they begin to think, “I can do better than that”. So, they go on a mission of trying to upstage the established artiste. However, it is not as easy as that.

They will soon find out relatively quickly that making a living as a musician is not as easy as their favourite superstar made it seem. They go on stage and try to outsmart the performance of their favourite star but the audience reception remains low. This is when they realise there is more to music business than meets the eye. It’s a glorious feeling when they finally begin to receive frequent (and seemingly genuine) compliments, coupled with an increase in their social media numbers and topped with a spike in journalists and other people interested in their story. This is when the young artistes, if not careful, start to believe that they deserve some special treatment that they haven’t earned just yet. They start behaving like the Michael Jacksons before they reach that stage. With the little income they have, they start to hire bodyguards and avoid their supporters and fans on the streets because they think they are very important people. They forget that they haven’t ‘made it’ just yet.

As emerging artistes, they ought to realise that their best years are yet to come. On the other hand, they should be cognisant that the amount of courtesy and admiration that they receive at the height of their career most likely won’t last forever. Nonetheless, if the artistes continuously show their gratitude to their

Supporters and fan base, and are moderately versed in all-things-music-business, the more likely it is that they will get that coveted superstar status. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules which one should follow to achieve this.

Artistes should remember that there are approximately seven billion people on the planet. So much music has been, and will be, created that it would be impossible to consume every piece of work in a lifetime. Now think, out of all the music available in the world, somebody found yours, listened, and enjoyed it enough to make a purchase, follow or compliment you — or a combination of all three — on your creation. That artiste should consider himself/herself lucky.

If somebody has supported your vision or taken the time to get to know you and your story, a genuine “thank you” (not a “thanks”) is one of the best ways to show appreciation.

You may feel like you want to try to do more for your followers, but a humble attitude combined with releasing more music will suffice.

Showing your appreciation towards your team members is also equally important. There are artistes who think that because they are the lead singers in the band, they are the only attraction before their audiences. They will tell you that their prosperity came from “no help, that’s all me”. But that is nonsense. Nobody is capable of doing everything
necessary in music and well enough alone in order to build a sustainable music career. It’s best to let your band mates know often how much you appreciate them and their hard work. That is the spirit!.

A disciplined band like Mokoomba has been together for many years now because they understand the need for this kind of spirit. Musicians in a band must understand that they are a team and therefore need to respect each other to make good music. It’s like a football team. If the goalkeeper is missing the team should not expect to win.

If Mathias Muzaza as lead singer of Mokoomba decided to flaunt his ego and started to think that he is the only one who should get all the glory, and ignore the rest of the members he works with, the band would soon split.

In the event that band members have to part ways, it’s best to do it amicably and with respect.

There are several examples of good groups which should have been big by now but due to petty differences ended up parting ways. I could mention them by name but I only have space for one example, Africa Revenge.

Afrika Revenge entered the Zimbabwean music scene in 1998 when they released their debut album titled Afrika Revenge Presents Qaya Musik. At the fore-front of the group, were Willis Wataffi and Mehluli “Tazz” Moyo. These two guys started off as Soul Eternal and they were R ‘n’ B singers. Their meaningful break-through came when they featured on a mixed tape titled Africa Revenge that featured various artistes from Bulawayo. The other artistes included Maravesto, Otis and Chichi. The compilation was recorded at Ray’s studios in Montrose and these guys had two songs, 500 Miles and Tora on the compilation.

They were then exposed to the Zimbabwean scene through the work of Mamelani Entertainment through staging free promotional shows at a club owned by Ray’s younger brother and the album Until December was launched at the Holiday Inn in Bulawayo.

Afrika Revenge were the first Zimbabwean group to have their video played on Channel O. Their act was so tight that they deserved international recognition. Success was just about to come.

Six years later the duo shared the stage with Senegalese legend Ismael Lo during the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA)in Harare.

Afrika Revenge also won Song of the Year for Wanga, Best Male Artiste, Best Jazz Album, and Best Newcomer at the Zimbabwe Music Awards in 2004 and the Outstanding Album Award for their debut album Afrika Revenge Presents Qaya Musik at the National Arts Merit Awards in 2005.

In 2008, exactly ten years after it’s formation, Afrika Revenge split up. Rumour has it that it was over a girlfriend. Both Willis and Mehluli started their own solo projects.

The lesson to be learned from all this is that bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour. That is when man is fighting with an animal, but when human beings fight, who gets the honour? When two musicians fight, it is often due to the
disrespect they have for each other, no matter how brilliant their performances are. It is also their loss.

What I have learned over the years has shown me that discipline, humility and respect will lead to success.

Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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