HomeStandard PeopleAre artistes now open for business?

Are artistes now open for business?

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

“I have to put food on the table. If not, my family and I will go to bed every night on empty and rumbling tummies. The best way I know to alleviate this kind of problem is to use my talent and resume live performances for the public.”

These were the words of one music artiste as he was bragging to me about how he had been given RTGS$10 000 to perform at a forthcoming wedding in Harare. I had asked him if it was possible given the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people during the coronavirus pandemic. He did not have a definite answer about the logistics, but was just happy to receive this money.

He went on to justify this by pointing out to me that gigs are taking place in the country. According to him, a gig took place at Theatre In The Park in Harare on Africa Day where reggae artistes Mannex Motsi, Zimreggaestra Band, Cello Culture, Poptain and Guspy Warrior performed.

“Was this not during Covid-19?” he asked me.

“Besides, I am not the one who is organising the wedding. My business there will be just to entertain the people and get paid, not to count how many people are there. To me, the more, the merrier and the payment is what I need to bring food on the table,” he reiterated.

Indeed, a performance was organised at Theatre In The Park by Chipaz Promotions, DollarBill Entertainment and Spencer Madziya to commemorate both the death of Bob Marley and Africa Day and, of course, to try and make some money.

The promoters would have liked thousands of people to attend, but this would have violated the Covid-19 ban on gatherings. The government, following World Health Organisations’ (WHO) rules, recommended that all gatherings of more than 50 people be cancelled or postponed throughout the country in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the Covid-19 disease it causes.

This ban on crowds of not more than 50 affects church services, weddings, parties, small conferences, beerhalls and other events, and could have ramifications for bars, restaurants, movie theatres, hairdressing salons and other entertainment and leisure businesses. Certainly it could also affect political rallies and protests, and potentially apply to government public meetings some of which are now being conducted via the Zoom/Webinar platforms.

But, the government’s definitions only mention a few of those kinds of gatherings, and do not explicitly include or exclude many possibilities.

Artistes are now looking for loopholes and possibilities in these definitions in order to start live performances.

However, large events and mass gatherings, even gatherings of not more than 50 people, can contribute to the spread of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe via those infected people who attend these events and introduce the virus to new people.

Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations such as the application of hand hygiene and social distancing. Where feasible, organisers of concerts are advised to modify events by making them virtual.

Other operations such as schools and institutes of higher learning are all in precarious positions. Just like musicians and other artistes, these organisations are equally anxious to open, but what is tricky is to contain the virus. How to reduce the introduction of the virus into students and to slow the spread of infection in communities already affected by the virus is a headache even for authorities, who are also anxious to see things come to normal. However, some schools and other institutions have already opened with advice of local public health officials, who recommend that students should adhere to the WHO guidelines, i.e., the wearing of masks, sanitisation and social distancing .

Artistes, who have seen the WHO guidelines being violated by big organisations are wondering if they should do the same before the Covid-19 disease is gone.

On May 25, we also saw and experienced Africa Day celebrations through online platforms where artistes took part in virtual performances but did not earn much from such performances.

A week after the Theatre In The Park live performance by the named reggae artistes, the Kwekwe-based ZigZag Band was also performing live at the Raylton Club in Kadoma. Steven Lunga, the band’s spokesperson, did not give numbers, but simply said that it was a well-attended show featuring Chigiyo music.

On being asked whether they were not breaking the Covid-19 rules, he remarked philosophically: “No one is immune from problems. Even the lion has to fight off fleas! Unto thee shall be the people’s gatherings!”

It doesn’t look as though Covid-19 has completely put live shows on pause as more and more musicians and their promoters seem to have lost patience due to lost revenue, knowing fully well that the crisis will continue for quite some time.

Many musicians and music promoters report loss of business and depleted savings due to the Covid-19 crisis. They are now cracking their heads to find ways and means to stay afloat, hence the lined-up gigs.

An advertisement I came across this week about yet another performance to be held in Mutare next Saturday, reads: “The moving Jazz Café: Live in Mutare on Saturday June 27. Featuring Jazz Invitation and friends. Only 50 tickets will be sold. Full bar and catering.”

Suggesting that only 50 tickets will be sold is, in my opinion, a way of being compliant with the not more than crowds of 50 gatherings. But if all the 50 tickets are sold, the venue will straight away have more than 50 people. How about the bar and catering staff? How about Kelly Rusike and the seven members of Jazz Invitation? The ticket collector? The security guards? The promoter himself?

There are more questions to ask: Are there other workers including those handling sanitisers? Will the audience wear masks? Will they keep social distancing rules during the show etc?

Does this gig make real financial sense? Let us assume that tickets are being sold at US$20 each. The promoter will collect US$1 000 from which all expenses will be paid, which include payment to the band, transport from Harare for the band, food and accommodation for show organisers and the band, hire of the venue and hire of equipment, among others. This, to me, sounds like a continuation of the crisis.

However, there is no need for promoters, musicians and other artistes to despair. Maybe very soon when the vaccine has been discovered, things will start to move from the “new normal” to the “old normal”.

Another promoter rang me last Saturday asking for the cellphone numbers of Tanga Wekwa Sando, Rute Mbangwa, Bob Nyabinde, Filbert Marova, Patience Musa and Dudu Manhenga.

I asked him what he wanted these numbers for and he told me that he was contemplating putting together the Winter Jazz Festival.

Last year, when things were normal, the Winter Jazz Festival did not have a big audience attending, That would have just been perfect for a Covid-19 environment. I wonder how many people would bother this year especially if it is organised during the Covid-19 pandemic. But this promoter seems to think that artistes are now open for business since the rest of the country is opening up.

If there is to be light at the end of the tunnel, the announcement last week that the drug dexamathesone, which has been in existence for decades, can assist in the curing of the coronavirus to a certain extent, then there is hope that things will be back to normal soon.

Already scientists at Oxford University have discovered that dexamathesone, which has always been used for the cure of diseases like asthma, can also assist in the cure of Covid-19 patients. The drug is actually available in some pharmacies here in Zimbabwe. It has been established that one out of 25 patients in intensive care will survive after using this drug. That is something to look forward to as it will eventually bring an end to the pandemic, then we will all be back to “business as usual”.

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