A bird’s eye view of the local music industry

Between the Lines:Phillip Chidavaenzi

Title: Poor & Famous
Author: Clive “Mono” Mukundu
Publisher: Monolio Studios (2018)
ISBN: 978-0-7974-8425-2

APART from being a renowned multi-instrumentalist, Clive “Mono” Mukundu is acknowledged as one of the country’s finest music producers and has worked with a wide cross-section of Zimbabwean musicians, drawn from various music genres and disciplines.

In 2017, he added another feather to his cap, becoming an author after penning his debut publication, Following the Melody, a semi-autobiography, tracing his life and career in the fast lane of music. He quickly followed it up with a more comprehensive and detailed volume that provides an overview of the Zimbabwean music industry titled Poor & Famous.

From the title, it is quite clear that while fame through music has been a low-hanging fruit for many a musician, the search for fortune has, however, proved somewhat elusive. Only a few Zimbabwean entertainers can really claim to have accumulated wealth through music.

The majority, however, have been forced to be content with a pauperish lifestyle despite hogging the limelight with their music.

Drawing lessons from experiences out of his lengthy stay in music, Mono demonstrates why some artistes managed to find the gold while others only gathered dust.

The author draws comparisons and parallels between musicians in developing and developed countries. He frowns upon local musicians’ obsession with Western traditions and he argues that those artistes who have sought to ape their foreign counterparts have fared badly on the global stage. He, however, singles out the likes of Thomas Mapfumo, Stella Chiweshe and the late Oliver Mtukudzi for having staked a claim across the globe, because they stuck to their local music which celebrates their language, culture and traditions.

Reading through the book, one gets the impression that it might as well be the Bible of music in Zimbabwe, perhaps alongside Zimbabwean ethnomusicologist, author and archivist Joyce Jenje-Makwenda’s Zimbabwe Township Music. Makwenda penned the foreword to Mono’s Following the Melody.

The wealth of information in Poor & Famous lends the book an encyclopeadic aura. In fact, one can argue that this is an important resource that the Zimbabwe College of Music — and other institutions that offer academic programmes in music — should consider as a prescribed text.

It is also my feeling that any musician or music producer — and even arts and entertainment journalists — that are really serious about their craft should also have this book as a reference text.

The book, which is a compelling and an insightful read, offers background information that can provide a backdrop and context for many stories that are written, especially about music.

The 226-page book also carries a lot of counsel for up-and-coming musicians, including what things to consider when international tour offers are presented to them to avoid being stranded in foreign lands or slaving for peanuts.

Topics including money and music, launching a music career, music trends, airplay and corruption, lessons for music upstarts, artistes’ agents, talented and struggling artistes, piracy, Zimbabwe’s music future, band politics and splits, music production, composition and copyright, groupies in music and formal music education are covered.

In Chapter 22, titled Groupies in Music, Mono revisits in detail a subject he also dealt with in Following the Melody — sex and drugs in the music industry. He writes of women — known as groupies — who mob popular musicians and bands, offering sex.

He recounts an incident when he travelled to the US as part of Tuku’s Black Spirits band when one such woman approached him.

Mono highlights how a lot of musicians struggle to manage their bands, sometimes with poor pay and working conditions, a problem that has led to many band splits and other problems. Greed and fear are also predominant problems.

One of the strengths of the book is how Mono provides an indepth comparative analysis of the local music industry and that in the Western world, highlighting lessons that can be drawn from the West to help improve the local music industry. He cites US bands, which are guided by rules and regulations that bound every member to certain commitments while the members sign official contracts and, consequently, benefit when the band makes money.

Mono offers counsel that musicians must consider having a fallback plan in the event that the music career does not become profitable. He describes the music industry as unpredictable and compares it to gambling.

He also highlights how local bands often lack financial prudence when they begin to rake in the profits, and explains it as the reason why the wealth they accumulate cannot transcend generations.

He highlights why talent alone is not enough to sustain a career in song. He provides a sobering highlight that although he ventured into the industry in 1988, he was only able to start earning steady income in 2001.

The challenge that the book throws to musicians is that during the peak of their career, they should invest in real estate and other money-generating projects, so that once the bubble in the music bursts, they would have something to cushion them from the life shocks that come with the loss of a guaranteed income.

He cites American musician and producer, P Diddy, who last had a hit song many years ago, but remains one of the richest people in music since he invested his money wisely.

The wealth of knowledge in this book will help many up-and-coming musicians avoid the mistakes that some of their predecessors made.

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