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Local artistes in dire straits

By Moses Mugugunyeki & Takemore Mazuruse

As Zimbabwe enters into the second week of the 21-day Covid-19 lockdown, most artistes say they can longer endure the remaining days as they are failing to make ends meet.

A myriad of artistes, just like the ordinary Zimbabwean, live from hand-to- mouth with most relying on income generated from live performances.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on March 27 imposed a lockdown to slow down the spread of Covid-19, which could have distressing effects on a nation already struggling politically and economically.

Gatherings of more than 50 people were banned while entertainment outlets were closed with people encouraged to stay at home, which has had adverse effects on the lives of musicians.

“While we welcome the decision, I feel it has affected us musicians the most because we were caught unaware. As I speak, I have nothing to feed my family,” said sungura musician First Farai.

The burly musician said he had started the year on a high note performing shows before full houses almost every weekend, but the lockdown has thrown spanners into the works.

“It’s back to square zero. It’s not looking rosy at all,” he said.

Prominent music promoter Josh Hozheri concurred with First Farai saying the whole entertainment sector was in dire straits.

“We need to be considered as businesses that have been affected as we survive on human gatherings and the more gatherings, the more profitable the business is,” said Hozheri.

“Such ventures have been stopped and the whole downstream affected and these include poster printing companies, vendors at shows, and marketers both digital and conventional.”

Meanwhile, sungura virtuoso and Zimbabwe Red Cross Society humanitarian ambassador Alick Macheso said the coronavirus outbreak was a global disaster, which called for unity and adherence to all recommended measures.

“I believe this Covid-19 pandemic is a global catastrophe and I call on all Zimbabweans to join hands in fighting it,” Macheso said.

“I have been involved in mitigation of other disasters on a local scale like the Tokwe-Mukosi floods and the 2019 Cyclone Idai response through the Red Cross, but I think coronavirus is a whole different calamity. I urge all Zimbabweans to stay at home.

“Yes, we have been affected as artistes because we can no longer perform and neither can we be of entertainment value through our performances, but I believe we will conquer this.”

Macheso’s sentiments were echoed by Cape Town-based musician Simba Saini, who said the lockdown was the best foot forward if Zimbabwe hoped to win this fight.

“We are all affected as we have stopped all our music projects and performances, but the world needs to do what it can so that we come out of this disaster,” Saini said.

Sungura godfather Nicholas “Madzibaba” Zakaria said this was a time for families to share love and bond while avoiding risky behaviour, but bemoaned the losses to the music industry.

“Coronavirus is everyone’s problem and I don’t believe there is a country at peace from this disease given its rampaging effects,” Madzibaba said.

“As musicians, we have been put off rail and getting by is a nightmare given the challenges.”

Afro-jazz musician Wachari, who has since recorded an advocacy song promoting social distancing and adherence to set rules and regulations, said life was more important than the forseeable losses to coronavirus.

“As much as business is important, we have to be alive to do it. If we let the situation get out of hand, the aftermath might be more devastating than it seems,” Wanacha said.

“The lockdown is, thus, a painful injection necessary for our health and the continuity of life.

“I had scheduled a live onstage album recording for the end of April, but I had to put everything on hold for this cause. I have since recorded a song titled Chirega Kutya encouraging our people to face this pandemic without fear.

“I also advised them to adhere to what the authorities are telling us to avoid further spread.”

Dendera exponent Tryson Chimbetu of Amai Maria fame said the lockdown was crippling, but very necessary for preservation of life.

“I know it’s easy to take this coronavirus scourge for granted given the number of cases and deaths recorded in Zimbabwe and closer to home, but trends in countries like Italy, Spain, America and other Asian and European countries point otherwise,” Chimbetu said.

Afrofusion songstress and leader of Rhythmz of Africa, Ammi Jamamda, said all citizens must comply with the lockdown given it’s capacity to limit the spread of coronavirus, but it’s not going to be an easy experience.

“Lockdown to me is good because it has somehow minimised the spread of Covid-19 and it has given more insight of the dangers of this disease,” she said.

“My business has been affected because I had to cancel all my shows from March till end of April or May.”

Dancehall and Afro-pop musician Doubles WekwaMarange said all hope was not lost even amid the lockdown.

“The situation has affected my business in a big way. I can’t perform at any functions, I cant go to the studio. Even the use of social media is not that effective because some of my fans can’t afford to go online most times,” he said.

Mbira and Afro-pop musician Alice Chinya said the lockdown was a big blow as it had affected her finances.

“My views on the lockdown are that it has affected us financially since we can no longer perform or plan for shows. We don’t know if the lockdown will end or be extended,” Chinya said.

Barura Express frontman Tendai Dembo, who had planned widespread commemoration gigs for his father this month, said the lockdown was a setback to his outfit which is still finding its feet in the industry.

“We are still growing as a brand so we are operating from hand-to-mouth unlike other established brands,” he said.

“Coronavirus did not surprise us, we saw it coming, but preparing for it would have worked better if we were well equipped.”

Mhodzi Tribe manager and Ashton “Mbeu” Nyahora’s handler Eugene Museredza said the lockdown had literally brought the creative industry to its knees.

“First was the limit of gatherings to a 100 people which was later on reviewed downwards to 50 until the blanket lockdown was effected,” Museredza said.

“We have lost on various gigs and events and our operations are in limbo.

“Even if Covid-19 ends, the creative industry would be the last to get back on its feet. We, however, believe it’s all for the best and urge artistes to comply.”

Local arts organisation Nhimbe Trust said it was worried by the crippling effect of Covid-19 on cultural and creative industries.

“We call on government to extend support to these key institutions, however minimal given current resource constraints,” Nhimbe Trust said in a statement.

Last week the South African government announced that it had set aside a R150 million fund to support artistes and athletes to counter the effects of Covid-19.

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