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Covid-19: Musicians go hungry

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

Covid-19 has had devastating effects and a huge impact on the often-proud musicians who all want to show off their celebrity status in Zimbabwe. After the lockdown which resulted in the closure of all entertainment venues such as concert halls,pubs and night clubs in Zimbabwe, many a musician found themselves without work. They began to struggle to cope with the food crisis in their homes, let alone payment of their rentals, health insurance and other bills.

It was quite a relief when I saw a young musician, King 98 (real name, Ngonidzashe Dondo and son of businessman Thompson Dondo of Impala Car Rentals) the other day on ZBC-TV giving food handouts to older fellow musicians such as Sam Mataure (Oliver Mtukudzi’s ex-manager and drummer who recently suffered a stroke), Progress Chipfumo of Mai Makanaka fame and Shiga Shiga, ex-Utakataka Express chanter. As music promoter Josh Hozheri was looking on, an appeal was also being made for other well-off musicians to help alleviate this crisis. Although few, there is no doubt that we have some well-to-do musicians among us who can also help.

Of course, this young man, King 98 (22) has got a big heart. Many of his age mates would not have considered parting with their wealth in this manner and, of course, it is also the government’s responsibility to look after its own citizens during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. We do hope that the fund set up for artistes will reach all those in need without bureaucratic conditions which will only put off others.

We know that King 98 could not have done all this had it not been for the support of his father, who was behind him from the beginning of his music career.

Many musicians are thankful that he came forward to assist other musicians during desperate times.

I saw two musicians the other day in the middle of traffic, selling their CDs to passing motorists and one of them, who had recognised me, shouted: “Please, don’t write about this. I am embarrassed. I have had to swallow my pride to become the vendor that I am today, but what can one do if we are hungry?” I said if I chose to write about it, I would not mention his name.

According to a WhatsApp message sent to me, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe is said to have asked artistes who required assistance to register with them so that they would benefit from the arts fund provided by the government. But according to the stories circulating, there is too much bureaucracy involved to the extent that very few of the artistes have been able to access the fund.

It is the role of civil society to encourage solidarity, support those who are most in need, and defend human rights, fundamental freedoms and democratic space, and to promote accountability. However, there are some musicians who do not even know how to fill in a form, but they are equally hungry. Should they be turned away?

The coronavirus pandemic impacts every country and region of the world and every aspect of our lives. It has reminded us how interconnected we are. Nobody will be safe in any country as long as the pandemic rages in different parts of the world. Respect for all human rights must remain at the heart of fighting the pandemic and supporting the global recovery.

Last week, a digital performance was aired on ZTV featuring several musicians around Zimbabwe who sang about a blessing over the nation. A video to that effect was made possible by the Sasai team. It featured several artistes who included Albert Nyathi, Tariro NeGitare, Trevor Dongo, Gemma Griffiths, Willis Wataffi, Tendai Manatsa, Selmor Mtukudzi, Pastor G and others.

This was a great performance, but I must confess that I miss my live gigs. It is different from sitting in one’s lounge and just watching television.

Does anybody remember gigs? It seems like a long time ago since we last saw the likes of Jah Prayzah, Alick Macheso, Alexio Kawara, Enzo Ishall and Winky D belting it out live on stage. Remember the unalloyed joy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with screaming, sweating strangers? Or being doused in some liquid thrown from somewhere behind you, hoping it was beer? The terrible gigs where the band only played their new songs? The life-changing shows where they played the songs you love, and you singing along and it felt like they were playing them just for you? Do you remember the noise, the lights, and the ceremony of it all? That’s all gone now, seemingly indefinitely. Covid-19 has killed what the anti-rave law enforcement officers trying to enforce the criminal justice and the Public Order and Security Act didn’t and what the elders in the righteous churches couldn’t. At the moment, the idea of breathing the same bodily fluid-filled air as hundreds of strangers is as appealing as licking a hospital doorknob. So, for now, we sit at home and listen to our favourite albums on the radio, dig through old vinyl records or CDs, tune in to streamed gigs and wonder whether a can of Castle Lager or a bottle of Coke might make it feel a little bit more like the real thing. We all know that these things are not the real thing.

For as long as the lockdown continues where entertainment places are shut down, that feeling will just become a memory of the good times we had in the past and musicians will continue to go hungry.

The pandemic and its socio-economic consequences are having a disproportionate impact on the rights of musicians and on all the fun-loving persons. Response measures should take account of the needs of those that are most at risk of hunger and other forms of discrimination.

Continued access to all essential health services is particularly important in a time of confinement. Special arrangements should also be made to take care of those who fall sick during this period of the coronavirus pandemic as some of them do not even have two cents to rub together so that they can pay for hospital bills.The heavy impact of the crisis on economic and social rights also needs to be addressed. This is a time for solidarity and global cooperation through multilateral efforts. The effort to put food, money and other materials together should be made by everyone who can assist, just like we did for Chipinge and Chimanimani during Cyclone Idai.

Protecting the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health requires access to reliable information. Sometime we are told that there should not be more than 100 people gathered together.

The next day it is not more than 50 and after that no groups of more than 10 are allowed even at funerals. One minute we are told to wash our hands with soap frequently, the next minute we are being asked to wash our face and blow our noses. Now which is which? It not only confuses the pub owners or the restaurant owners, but this kind of information also gives false hope to some hungry musicians who start to think that they can start to do small gigs in not so crowded restaurants.

People must be empowered to protect their own health and those of others. Misleading or false information can put lives in danger. It is therefore crucial to resolutely counter disinformation with transparent, timely and fact-based communication and thus reinforce the resilience of societies.

Remember the tune: Dem belly full but we’re hungry. A hungry man is an angry man. That is the tune every hungry musician is singing right now. This is the reason why musicians I have spoken to want assistance from the government and from whoever else can help. Covid-19 is with us. We do not want to use it as an excuse for an uncontrollable revolution.
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