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Musicians fight in vain due to Covid-19


Seasoned artiste Josphat Somanje put up a smile after a group of promoters pooled their resources and secured food for musicians, who reside in Marondera.

For years, the Handilume hitmaker has been surviving on live performances especially in the farming communities where he commands a huge following.

But since March last year, the advent of the coronavirus has grounded him.

He and other musicians have resorted to other trades to eke out  a living as the scourge seems to be staying for eternity.

“It is bad. Covid-19 has badly affected us,” said Somanje, who was part of 40 musicians who benefited from the generosity of local promoters.

“For how long are we going to be like this? We survive on live performance, but it seems this is the new normal.

A few months ago, several musicians and promoters intensified their fight for the government to lift the ban on live performances.

In a bid to contain the spread of the deadly respiratory disease, the government closed nightclubs as well as suspending live arts performances, a move that has resulted in many musicians living in abject poverty.

Youth and Arts deputy minister Tinoda Machakaire thought he had pulled a victory when the government gave the nod for the return of gigs.

However, Covid-19 cases soared again, resulting in a shortlived joy for the performers.

Top promoter MacDonald Kachingwe, of Mactens Promotions, said they are mobilising all musicians to get vaccinated before they approach the authorities and lobby for the resumption of live performances when the cases go down.

“Musicians need to show their seriousness if they want our government to allow them to hold live shows. The best thing to do at the moment is for every performer or musician to get vaccinated. We will then have a say before the authorities. It is high time for musicians to return to the stage to put food on their tables,” he said.

The hosting of live performances is the only hope for most musicians, many of whom are failing to realise anything from selling music due to piracy.

Due to the lockdown restrictions, some of the artistes have been doing odd jobs to survive in such trying times.

Comic musician Freddy Manjalima, affectionately known as Kapfupi, is now a full-time tailor — a move triggered by the effects of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Somanje has put his hopes in his radio and cellphone repairs business.

“We are suffering as musicians. I released a new album, but because I failed to launch it due to Covid-19, my fans are not even aware that there is a new offering. Some of us are now beggars, we are surviving on donations while we are unable to fend for ourselves. It is high time the government intervened and at least come up with ways that will see us returning to the stage,” said Somanje before the Covid-19 third wave hit home.

Promoters under the banner of Music Promoters Association of Zimbabwe have been moving around the country donating foodstuffs to musicians as a way to cushion them.

In January this year, Mbare-based producer DJ Fantan was arrested for breaking Covid-19 rules after he hosted a New Year’s  Eve gig that saw a number of Zimdancehall artistes performing.

A Marondera-based arts promoter, Daniel Masaiti, said the government had allowed worshippers to congregate and should do the same as far as live performances were concerned when cases go down.

“Government opened churches when cases were a bit low, why not allow opening of leisure centres to allow musicians to perform? We urge the authorities to look into the matter and come up with ways to assist musicians. For example, they should at least allow those joints with open-air facilities to accept a stipulated number of revellers,” he said.

Government has been disbursing Covid-19 funds through the Youth and Arts ministry, but only a few musicians benefited.

Some of the local musicians have been travelling to neighbouring South Africa to hold shows for survival.

Germany-based arts commentator Plot Mhako said it is high time for musicians to organise themselves and present their case in unity.

“Musicians need to be organised and formalise. The traditionally informal way of doing business for musicians and other performers is the major setback. It makes it difficult to quantify the impact in monetary terms, number of affected artistes and so forth. Uniting amongst themselves presents a critical mass and voice that the government, civil society and business cannot ignore. This enables them to present their position and be heard,” said Mhako.

He added that the government also needs to look into the artistes’ welfare.

“On the other hand, the government needs to create an enabling environment that creates alternatives for artistes to work and earn some income. Digital platforms are a big avenue, but the data costs are prohibitive for both the artistes and consumers. Artistes do not need handouts as the situation with Covid-19 may not change anytime soon, they need structures and continuous support,” said Mhako.

Today, Covid-19 has brought untold suffering to the music sector except  for the techno-savvy who have been using the digital space to perform and earn money.

With the Covid-19 cases spiralling out of control, if not checked, most musicians could therefore consider ending their careers.

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