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Music adjudication is not an easy process

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

Multi-instrumentalist, music teacher and great music composer Filbert Marova asked me the other day: “Prof, what is a musician and who should be considered a musician? Are singers who do not play any instruments considered musicians?”

I thought that these questions coming from someone like Filbert were weird and must have a motive behind them. Silly as I thought the questions were, I still answered him with all the knowledge I had in this area. This is what I said: “First of all, I don’t know why you are asking me this, but I will answer you all the same. A musician is someone like you. Not only are you a musician, but you are also one of the greatest jazz musicians in Zimbabwe for that matter.

Anyone who composes, conducts, or performs music can be referred to as a musician. A musician who plays a musical instrument is also known as an instrumentalist. A person who is able to play a number of instruments, like you who plays the guitar, piano, mbira, marimba, percussion and keyboards, is called a multi-instrumentalist. A singer who does not play any instrument apart from his/her voice is also a musician. Yes, singers are musicians because their main musical instrument is their voice.”

On probing Filbert further, I discovered that he had a document penned by 263 Post titled 100 Greatest Zimbabwean Musicians of All Time. Not only was he upset that his own former band, The Frontline Kids, had not made the list, but other prominent musicians like The Rusike Brothers, The Runn Family, Mbeu, Henry Peters, Brian Rusike, Mandebvu, Harare Mambo Band, Ephraim Joe, Flavian Nyathi, Rozalla Miller, Louis Mhlanga, Patrick Mkwamba, Moses Kabubi, Jethro Shasha, Fungai Malianga, Robson Banda, Hosiah Chipanga, Tinei Chikupo, Susan Mapfumo, Gideon Neganje, Elisha Josamu, Freedom Sengwayo, Brian Sibalo, Bothwell Nyamhondera, Isaac Chirwa, Tammy Moyo , David Scobie and many more were not on the list. Instead, poets and dancers whom he did not think were musicians were included. Now Filbert’s questions began to make sense to me. Here is the list (in alphabetical order) of 100 Greatest Zimbabwean Musicians of All Time from 263 Post that he showed me:

A Peace of Ebony, Admire Kasenga and Ngosimbi Crew, Albert Nyathi, Alexio Kawara, Alick Macheso, Ammara Brown, Andy Brown, Assegai Crew, August Musarurwa, Betty Makaya, Bhundu Boys, Biggie Tembo, Biggie Zhanje, Black Umfolosi, Bob Nyabinde, Busi Ncube, Cal_Vin, Carol Mujokoro, Chinx Chingaira, Cephas Mashakada, Charles and Olivia Charamba, Chiwoniso Maraire, Clive Malunga, Cool Crooners, David Chifunyise, Delani Makhalima, Don Gumbo, Dorothy Masuka, Extra Large, Edwin Hama, Edith weUtonga, Ephat Mujuru, EX-Q, Fanyana Dube, Fortune Muparutsa, Forward Kwenda, Four Brothers, Fungisai Zvakavapano Mashavave, Gakamoto Jumbo Stars, Hope Masike, Ilanga, Innocent Utsiwegota, Iyasa, Jackie Madondo Jah Prayzah, James Chimombe, Jazz Invitation, Jeys Marabini, John Chibadura, Jonah Moyo & Devera Ngwena Jazz Band, Jonah Sithole, Kenneth Chigodora, King Pin, Leonard Mapfumo, Leonard Dembo, Leonard Zhakata, LMG Choir, Lovemore Majaivana, Major E, Mafriq, Mahendere Brothers, Marshall Munhumumwe, Mbira Dzenharira, Mbuya Madhuve, Machanic Manyeruke, Metaphysics, Mercy Mutsvene, Mono Mukundu, Mokoomba, Ndolwane Supersounds, Ndux Malax, Ngwenya Brothers, Nicholas Zakaria, Oliver Mtukudzi, Paul Matavire and Jairos Jiri Band, Paul Mpofu and Zambuko Band, Pengaudzoke, Pied Pipers, Prince Tendai Mpfurutsa, Roki, Roy and Royce, Safirio Madzikatire, Sekuru Gora, Shingisai Siluma, Simon Chimbetu and Dendera Kings, Solomon Skuza, Stella Chiweshe, Steve Makoni, Stunner, Sulumani Chimbetu, System Tazvida and Chazezesa Challengers, Tanga WekwaSando, Thomas Mapfumo, Tongai Moyo, TP Nyekese (Papa Jose), Transit Crew, Vabati VaJehova, Winky D, Zexie Manatsa and The Green Arrows and Zig Zag Band.

Filbert then asked me if I agreed with this list. I told him that without getting personal, some names do not deserve to be on that list. I know several musicians on this list who have not sold even a hundred records. How they become Zimbabwe’s greatest musicians boggles the mind. Two of the musicians on this list are people I have never heard of. So if your favourite musician is not included on the 100 Greatest Zimbabwean Musicians list, do not lose sleep over it as compilers of this list seem to be out of touch with the history of Zimbabwean music. I would not trust any organisation which compiled this list to be chosen as judges for any music awards events as they do not seem to be objective in their selection.

That brings me to the story of music awards adjudication. There has been a lot of controversy in this area. I have acted as a music adjudicator for several awards organisations which include the African Music Council Awards ceremony in Congo Brazzaville, National Arts Merit Awards, StarBrite, Isteddford Zimbabwe, Vozza ILO Music Awards and lately Afrexim Bank Awards based in Egypt. In all cases I found the task very rigorous and taxing as I had to listen to each entrant’s music over and over again, do some background research, consult other experts before scoring or before deciding which piece of music should be considered a winner. The questions I always ask myself before scoring are: Has this musician written gut-wrenching lyrics? Are the vocal runs breathtaking and is the instrumentation soaring? After this,I look at the emotional connection and magnetism of the song to other listeners.

How do I find myself an adjudicator?

Locally, recommendations for adjudicators are sought from other music experts who consider one to be qualified and good at the job.

The adjudication of entries is an arms-length process. Entries are seen only by the adjudicators and administration staff assigned to the programme. Only after the announcement of the winners are any entries presented to the public. Following the announcement of the winners, award-winning entries (or excerpts thereof) in all categories are posted to the press with the permission of the entrant.

An adjudicator may not submit an entry to any section in the year they are adjudicating. Entrants are not permitted to submit an entry to a section where there is conflict of interest. For instance, if that section is being adjudicated by an immediate family member, that adjudicator becomes an interested party. Family members are permitted to enter in any other section for which they are otherwise eligible.

Every measure is taken to ensure that the adjudication is a blind judging process, thus, the identity of the entrants remains unknown to the adjudicators. It is difficult to judge music as most CDs are already labelled with the artiste’s name printed on it. That might influence the thinking of the adjudicator. In the case of the literary and music sections, no names should be attached to the entries. Wherever possible, the names should be erased from the book or from the CD in order for the adjudicator to make blind judgement. In the case of the visual arts section, any names attached to the pieces, including signatures on the work itself, should be hidden. Because we live in a relatively small artistic community, the style of a piece may be an indication to an adjudicator that it is the work of a particular artiste known to them. To give an example, I can always tell Jah Prayzah, Alick Macheso or Winky D’s voices on songs I have never heard before, even if their names were deleted from the CDs. In such cases, adjudicators are asked not to disclose the identity of an entrant to the other adjudicators.

A list of the names of the adjudicators should be released to the general public at the time the winners are announced. Adjudicators are asked to restrict the awareness of their participation in the judging of the awards to immediate family members, until such time as the list of names of the adjudicators is released.

For those entrants who request it, adjudicators are required to complete a brief written adjudication to be returned to the entrant following the end of the adjudication process. If there is more than one adjudicator in a section, the task of writing the comments is shared between adjudicators.

While adjudicators may have their own methods of arriving at decisions, objectivity on how they scored or arrived at their decisions becomes essential. They are encouraged to consider an entry’s demonstration of the following: artistic skill, artistic vision, innovation and imagination, contribution to the artistic practice in that genre/discipline, the instrumentation, timbre and any other outstanding features on a music piece.

The voice is definitely one of the hardest instruments to master because everyone has their own distinct voice, but its ability to stay in the same key and in tune becomes crucial in the adjudicator’s decision.

Now you see how the adjudication process can be a difficult task.
l Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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