BY PLOT MHAKO
The year 2020 will be remembered as a painful one after the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Caught unaware, the world had not anticipated that the pandemic would go beyond six months, throwing the creative and cultural industries into deep panic, uncertainty and struggle.
Although the government came up with an Artist Relief Fund through the arts motherbody, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe as part of efforts to cushion artistes, rendered jobless when the country was in lockdown with a blanket ban on public gatherings and events, the money did not reach many artists.
Apart from the frail music industry being pushed into the intensive care unit by the sneeze, sadly, many lives of comrades in the creative sector were lost.
The creative sector lost some of the finest talents whose careers were starting to blossom, the likes of Prince Kudakwashe Musarurwa, Delroy “Scara” Maripakwenda who once played drums for Winky D, multi-award-winning rapper Cal_Vin who died in a hit-and-run accident, video vixen Michelle “Moana” Amuli, Iyasa founding member Sibonisiwe “Bonnie” Sithole, Mbira master Cosmas Magaya, veteran comedian Lazarus “Gringo” Boora also died and entertainment mogul and club owner Genius “Ginimbi” Kadungure who died in a road accident together with Moana. With the coming of the New Year, the big question now is, will there be anything to rejoice about for the arts industry in this fresh 2021?
Sadly, there appear to be no collective contingency plan for the revival of the sector as there is inconsistency on the part of the government on policy implementation with regards to the hosting of events.
Some bars, venues and clubs believed to be owned by politically-connected individuals have reopened and are hosting illegal concerts while others are still shut down in what many have described as a scam.
Who is benefiting from the confusion and how long can this go on? More questions than answers! The arts motherbody and the parent ministry seem to have lost grip leaving stakeholders operating in a hide and seek mode.
In some instances, events with more than 100 people in the audience and no adherence to COVID-19 social distancing are allowed yet in other cases those that attract less than the stipulated number have been blocked.
This piecemeal and reactive approach by the government is not helping the industry.
With no government grants for the artistes, the prospects for artistes and content creators in the music industry are bleak.
With the country continuing to grapple with an perennial economic crisis and COVID-19 still disrupting normal music business, will the showbiz industry recuperate?
Data and statistics on the effects of COVID-19 in the country’s music sector revealsthat there are several artistes, and arts promoters who have fallen on hard times as the pandemic drags into another year.
To make matters worse, two major countries that have the biggest Zimbabwean diaspora community, South Africa and Britain, which usually import local artistes for live performances, have raised alarm on new waves and a new coronavirus strain.
This undoubtedly comes as a heavy blow for local artistes whose prospects to tour these countries have been dampened.
What options do artistes have?
The digital space remains one of the key alternatives for creatives to keep creating, engaging and entertaining their fans and building a bigger following beyond the borders. Maybe as the sector slowly adopts the digital way of doing business, it will recuperate, but for Zimbabwe this comes with many challenges.
Off late, some content producers, arts promoters, media houses and innovators have been hosting virtual events which at least gave them financial boost while at the same time entertaining people during isolation.
Sadly after months of free live streaming of musical concerts, some of the platforms soon closed shop owing to viability and sustainability issues.
The internet is still a preserve of a few mainly urbanites and data is very costly making it difficult for the average citizen who is struggling with bread and butter issues to consume free digital content.
The banking systems and the mobile phone operators have not been able to come up with convenient and affordable packages that make it easy for content creators and artistes to use their services and for consumer easy access.
The diaspora community remains the biggest potential paying market for Zimbabwean music and content.
Streaming, paid downloads and Pay-Per-View are still a strange animal in the country as many people have no extra disposable income to afford virtual entertainment.
There will also be a need for a serious mind-set shift to get people to appreciate the value of paying for digital content in support of artists.
Also artistes need to engage in serious conversations among themselves, with the government and business to resuscitate an industry that is fast losing lustre.
The licensing of new television and radio stations could also play a big role in shaping the narrative, changing perceptions, buying content and creating alternative avenues for artistes to earn a living.
Every artiste needs more than one revenue stream as music alone even for big brands and bands is proving unsustainable.
The reality is here, hence a collective effort is required urgently.