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Why some artists are more successful than others

in the groove with Fred Zindi

Why is it that there are some artistes who have learned to play only three chords on their music instrument, yet they make more hits than those who have learnt thousands of chords?

Some will interpret this phenomenon as pure luck. Others will attribute it to clever business minds. Yet others will link this to the image the artiste brings to the public.

All these answers may be true, but they do not necessarily create a formula for success in the music business.

There are several artistes in Zimbabwe whom I think should no longer be struggling as musicians. They should be famous now and should be getting better recognition. Those who come to mind include Cindy Munyavi, Alexio Kawara, Hope Masike and Tanga Wekwa Sando.

In the music industry, the climb up the ladder of success is an especially gruelling one, and it can be frustrating, after years of recording and performing, to still not be getting what feels like appropriate recognition for your music.

It is easy to attribute an artiste’s sustainability to their ability to create catchy songs or produce spectacular live shows. 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 artiste where talent and money cannot.

Cindy Munyavi, who doubles as a businesswoman and a singer, seems to be stuck in a rut in her comfort zone. Since 2006, she has released songs like Parere Moyo and Ndidzorere Moyo Wangu, which got a luke-warm reception from the public. She has not been forthcoming with live performances, which would have taken these songs to a higher level. This would have also helped her to sell hundreds of thousands of these singles. In my opinion, she deserves more recognition.

Alexio Kawara, who released the hit song Shaina in 2008, should have also risen to greater heights, but he seems to have been stuck after this. He has not been performing consistent gigs since 2008 and without this, even his loyal fans will soon forget him.

Next month, Hope Masike is launching her third album titled Exorcism of a Spinster at a concert in Harare on July 26. This comes after her two albums, Hope, released 10 years ago, and Mbira, Love & Chocolate, which was released in 2012. Without pre-empting this third attempt, it is our hope that this third album, Exorcism of A Spinster, will give Hope the recognition she deserves. Hope has also been travelling around the world with the group Monoswezi doing musical
shows.

Despite all this, people in Zimbabwe have still not given her the recognition that she deserves. If you ask people in the streets to sing you one popular tune by Hope, many will say that they don’t know any.

Take Tanga Wekwa Sando, for example.

He started his musical journey before independence in the 1970s, where he played the tambourine for the Salvation Army youth band. He also learned to play the saxophone in the band. After some time, he then joined professional bands such as the Harare Mambos, where he honed his craft.

This saw Tanga and the Harare Mambos Band play in popular clubs and hotels, where they fetched prizes for two consecutive years. In 1977 as the liberation war took centre-stage, Tanga went to Botswana, where he played the trombone for The Gaborone Town Orchestra for a short time. After a stint in America, he came back to Zimbabwe where he formed the band Giraffe with Bothwell Nyamhondera. It was not until the year 2000 that he got recognition as a solo artiste.

One would have thought that Tanga Wekwa Sando, an experienced music veteran, who became popular in 2000 after the hit song, Hapana Asina Wake, would really be big by now, but due to lack of consistency and focusing mainly on music, the public seems to have forgotten that he exists. It’s hard to win new fans without really grinding and hustling every day.

This is what a lot of upcoming artistes do not know.

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.”

The questions which I hear from many young musicians on a daily basis are:

“Why do other bands get the gigs when we’re clearly better musicians? Why can’t we get bookings for more gigs? Why is that we are still not famous by now?”

Most artistes who seem like overnight sensations have actually been grinding it out for years. Maybe even decades.

It takes time to perfect one’s craft. Jah Prayzah did a lot of work at Jazz 105 between 2000 and 2010 before he was noticed by anyone, but through consistency and hard work for over 10 years, he got noticed at last. Today he is the international star that we all know.

Maybe not 10 years, but it takes time. And work. Here is my advice to both upcoming and established musicians on how to fix their “stuck syndrome”:

The thing that can help most musicians out of the gate is to take a good look at their “product”.

What is the product? Their music is only part of the product. The product is their complete package which includes:

  • The artiste image;
  • The artiste biography;
  • The music;
  • The live performance skills;
  • Their business skills;
  • Their dedication to investing in their career; and
  • How you interact with fans/potential fans/promoters.

Let’s dig into a simple but often overlooked item, that is the artiste image.

How can one be sure that his/her “image” is best represented in their artiste photos and press shots?

One may have written the song of the century. Their skills may be more polished than any artiste one can think of or some other band that has sold millions of
records, but if their promotion pictures are bad, they probably won’t even get their foot in the door.

The artiste’s picture doesn’t have to look like a glamour shot (and I hope it doesn’t); it just has to represent who the artiste is.

If you are a Zimdancehall artiste who sings about ghetto life, then get that ghetto scenery in your pictures. It is pointless going in a fancy car to the suburbs in Borrowdale and start to take the scenery of posh buildings there. Take a picture in an old pick-up truck on a potholed ghetto road in front of dilapidated buildings. Simple.

If one is an inspiring hip-hop artiste, there is need to be creative. Instead of taking a selfie on your cellphone in your bedroom (I’ve seen this more times than I care to mention!), take a picture in a setting that makes your intended audience want to invest in your brand.

At the same time, you should be the focal point, not the background. The background is there to support you, provide context, and emphasise your aesthetic value.

Make it interesting so people want to know more about you.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this picture really represent me well? In other words, does this picture add to the story of who I am as an artiste?
  • Does this picture make me look like an amateur, or does it show who I really want to be?
  • Will this picture make people want to learn more about my music?
  • Do I look the same in real life as I do in the picture? Keep your promotion picture current.
  • Did you grow your hair?
  • Lose weight? Start working out?
  • Change band members? If so, it’s time to update your picture.

The question you should often ask yourself is: What image of myself do I want to portray? Winky D is easily recognised by the bobble hat he wears. Dudu Manhenga does the same. Those are the images they wish to portray to the public.

If you want to get noticed and create a buzz, you need to fix these things. Take time and look at each item without bias.

If your artiste image is bad, you won’t get listens. Sad, but true. People judge books by their covers.

If your biography is lacking, it can give the impression that you are unprofessional.

Venues, record labels, and the press want you to make their job easy. They want a complete package.

Unfortunately, there are no colleges of music where one can learn all these small but important things. However, from my experience, these are some of the
secret ingredients to booking more gigs and getting more exposure.

Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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