The sad case of Mama Red Rose

Barbra Chikosi and Chris Martin

A LOT has been said about the state of music in Zimbabwe and how many promoters are charlatans and mercenary-style opportunists who want to reap as much as they can without putting something into the process that help build artistes and the arts industry.

True, the arts needs support and especially monetary support as nothing grows without water. And the water that grows us in the world of capitalism is money.

Green money, while we are at it,  and not any other mickey mouse bank note.

But it is remarkably infantile, convenient and perhaps even cowardly to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of the promoters. And here is why.

Remember Mama Red Rose (born Barbra Chikosi)? That juggernaut of a movement that saw obscure artistes getting a chance, while she pumped hard-earned money from her other ventures into the arts for the passion of promoting the new and unheralded.

I remember her taking me around in 2005 in her kombi telling me of her intentions, the night before I left for holiday in Nyanga the next day.

She was not going on an exotic holiday like I was. She was, instead, going to Muzarabani, Hoya to be specific. In the deepest depths of beyond.

While everyone was battling to sign Alick Macheso for a live show and “easy guaranteed” returns, she was going to get a chart topping, but unheralded group, Njerama Boys, so that it could also get a crack at the limelight and live music stage.

“I also want them to be celebrated and rise like the likes of Macheso and [System] Tazvida, who pulled themselves out of obscurity to start earning millions,” she said.

Paradzai Mesi and Njerama Boys came to Harare and like many new names, Mama Red Rose took a gamble on, the returns never came, the artistes did not appreciate her that much and in as many years she had lost good money.

Many do not even remember Mama Red Rose and yet many shows that gave life to some existing big brands came the Red Rose way.

Seeing 2BG, ExQ and Stunner at her shows was not uncommon, but because she went for passion and not love for money, she is nowhere in the distance.

While people “liked” Njerama Boys, they were not prepared to spend on their live shows.

Similarly, there are many local artistes today who we would prefer over half-hit wonders like Nigerian singer Joeboy, Mlindo, Tekno and Flavour. But when a monetary decision has to be made you choose one of two ways, go local and give the local talent a chance or rope in a half-baked international artiste that will fill the place.

What you need are butts on the seats or feet on the dance floor. You are a promoter, but most importantly you are an investor.

You are not their mother. You want your money back. The law demands that a certain part of the line-up be local. And for that local component, the best idea is to rope in the big names that bring in the real show.

You see you can have a show of Zimbabwean artistes who are “big” and still not make a sound return. The show goers are attracted sometimes to names and not performances.

Thomas Mapfumo went around Zimbabwe and played before very modest crowds, but bring in an all name and no substance international artiste even an armpit of a town like Kadoma will have everyone switching off the lights at home and turning up for the show.

Bottom line is not only do you want returns, but the showgoers “sympathise” with locals, but they do not support locals by turning up.

They are prepared to say “do local shows and support local”, but ask them when they last bought a ticket for a local concert with local names and you will hear remarkable radio silence.

Who should fill that gap? Well, look at the films, documentaries or short films from our own back garden South Africa.

Most locally-produced ones have one funding or another from their arts ministry. When promoters were not bringing in international artistes as COVID-19 had taken over, how many publicly-funded shows or productions did we have and how many artistes can stand up and say “yes”, I did get some money from the ministry and this is what I did with it to build myself and the industry?

How many promoters were called to partner with public funds? That is our money as a nation and that is the money, we should have a say over.

If it is promoter Makisiwero and his money you can only suggest so much and leave the rest up to his wishes.

As long as it is not illegal and unconstitutional ngaaite yaanoita maface angu (let him do what he wants guys).

You on the other hand should develop a pair of, you know, and make a claim for public funds so that we grow the little guy.

By the way, I am also a little guy. Seven years ago, we were asked to submit pitches for locally-produced shows. I sent mine along with a friend, we went through the interview process. It was a lovely, almost flawless documentary celebrating young women.

Those young women are grandmothers now and we are still waiting for word. My friend has since left the country.

This is the real money and the real processes that we should be probing to grow the little guy and the industry.

Because when Chipaz stops making shows and Mai Red Rose goes quiet you all gather, laugh and say apera (they are broke).

If he or she loses returns on investment for being a patriot and trying to support the little local guy no one does a crowd-share event saying let’s save Mai Red Rose or Chipaz Promotions. Munoseka (you ridicule). Go to where your tax goes and start by asking for support there. After that, it is easier to partner promoters.

The ideal situation should eventually see us putting our tax money into partnerships with “good honest” promoters.

Once promoters are supported and partnered, even the shady ones will start doing things right knowing that those who operate in the straight and narrow shall be rewarded by having access to public funds.

Meanwhile, let us put money together to recapitalise Red Rose Promotions and walk our talk.

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