In the groove: Pursuance of academic excellence by musicians

Charamba is the bandleader for his outfit, Fishers of Men and has produced close to 20 albums in his illustrious music career.

RECENT research by two academics at the Midlands State University, Wonder Maguraushe and Phineas Magwati have revealed that it has now become increasingly necessary for musicians to pursue academic qualifications in their careers. They cite several reasons for this. First of all they mention  Antonio (2022)  who says “No doubt, when an artist acquires education it sharpens their talent, widens their horizons and takes their calling to a higher level.”

Indeed, education, in whatever field, whether in astronomy, chemistry or biology, let alone in music, sharpens talent and puts one at a higher level of their operation.

So where is the push for higher academic excellence among musicians coming from?

I will give you an example of one popular Zimbabwean musician who found it necessary to enrol for a degree in Music and his reasons for it.

 In September 2011, Charles Charamba who is one of Zimbabwe’s most famous gospel artist, graduated with a National Certificate in Music from the Zimbabwe College of Music (ZCM). Why did he bother when he was already popular and making money through his music which resulted in him buying an expensive house in the posh suburb of Gunhill in Harare? 

This is what Charles  had to say:

“I am very happy because I can now read and write music, and my main aim is to become an accomplished musician.”

Charamba, not satisfied with the National Certificate in Music went on to study for a Bachelor of Arts in Jazz Degree in 2013 at the Zimbabwe College of Music, a college which is affiliated to Africa University.                

Charamba is the bandleader for his outfit, Fishers of Men and has produced close to 20 albums in his illustrious music career.

 Regarding the motivation to enrol for formal music teaching, Charles had this to say:

“To start with, my motivation to enrol as a music student was very personal. I needed a breather that would interrupt my roller coaster schedule since 1999; our band launched serious music concert annual schedules. Therefore, I took a sabbatical from full-time pastoral duty and scaled down on musical activities without disregarding prioritised events. Another thing is also that I was disappointed around 1992 when (the late) president Robert Mugabe tasked composers in the country to come up with a new national anthem. I wrote my version of an anthem, but was hindered by a lack of transcribing skills. That limitation caused my contribution to suffer a stillbirth, so from that point, I disdained ignorance and music illiteracy. Also, during my tours in the United States of America, I received a couple of requests for some transcribed music after my performance. My fans loved the African flavour, and even after we sold some CDs to them,they continued  to insist that they needed the ‘music’, i.e., the score. My reasons for enrolling for formal music learning is that I had failed to understand some professionals, who had proposed the request for sheet music which at the time I had no knowledge of. I knew that I should learn staff notation at the Zimbabwe College of Music. So I went for it”.

Charamba was one of the early music artistes in Zimbabwe. Just like his contemporaries, the likes of Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Ephraim Joe, Leonard Dembo, and Simon Chimbetu who were not exposed to music education, he was not sure how to go about getting music education.

Tertiary institutions offering music qualifications were the Zimbabwe College of Music in Harare and the Zimbabwe Music Academy in Bulawayo until the turn of the millennium when four universities started offering music studies. The artistes rode on their passion and talent, despite the glaring need to back that up with professional qualifications.

Within the last decade, learning institutions in Zimbabwe have enrolled several famous artistes such as Charles Charamba, Hope Masike, Edith

‘Weutonga’ Katiji, Clive ‘Mono’ Mukundu,, Filbert Marova, Sandra

Ndebele, Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana Respina Patai and Albert Nyathi for music studies. If these artistes have gained adequate skills necessary to entertain and satisfy their fans without musical literacy, what could be the motivation for pursuing academic qualifications now? If the same programmes had been there before, what attracts the attention of these popular artists now? Where is the push for academic knowledge coming from? Is the source of this inspiration motivated by the needs of the Zimbabwe music industry? Is the push coming from intrinsic or extrinsic motivation? Whatever the reasons it is known in this country that the person with a degree in whatever subject increases their employability opportunities as well as their respectability in society. These degrees give them prestige in our society.  This is why some people prefer to get fake honourary degrees from unregistered institutions for the sake of wanting to be called doctor so and so.

Other artistes who hold higher educational qualifications, which may not necessarily be in music include:  Tererai Mugwadi (Psychology), Decibel(Biochemistry), Plaxedes Wenyika (Economics and MBA), Cindy Munyavi (Marketing and PublicRelations), Roy and Royce (Computers and Medical Laboratory respectively), Alexio Kawara (Engineering), David Chifunyise (Systems Engineering), Diana Samkange (Journalism and Communication) and Sanii Makhalima (Human Resources and MBA). It is rather unfortunate that several Zimdancehall artistes most of whom  are school dropouts and very secretive about their levels of education are not forthcoming regarding their educational qualifications. However, there is a glaring need to explore whether music education is necessary for music artistes.

In 2009, when I was board chairman at the Zimbabwe College of Music, we tried to persuade Oliver Mtukudzi, Bob Nyabinde, Alick Macheso, Sam Mataure, Victor Kunonga, Kelly Rusike and many other prominent Harare-based artistes to enrol for courses in ethno- musicology which also taught them how to read and write music. Everyone of these artistes I spoke to thought that it was a good idea, but none of them showed up for the lessons. We even offered scholarships, which were funded by Zimbank but to no avail. We eventually diverted these scholarships to what we called Heroes of African Music Scholarship fund. These were taken up by the likes of Mitchell Jambo and 33 younger musicians.

In the past, music was only taught in former Group A schools, while venturing into music studies was shunned and scoffed at by indigenous communities.  Although the situation seems to have changed now, a lot of African parents still look down on those who go to university to study music. They see people like Oliver Mtukudzi, Winky D, Alick Macheso, Sulumani Chimbetu and Jah Prayzah who do not hold any degrees (except  Tuku’s honorary one) as being lucky in that field.

However, there are many young people who hold degrees in other areas but have failed to secure jobs. How do their parents account for that?

 The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development in Zimbabwe faces unemployment challenges for graduates. Jobs at the end of the academic journey are increasingly proving difficult to find/secure. The presence of popular music in university music degree programmes entails inclining towards a vocational approach by emulating and re-creating the music industry itself on the college campus. Universities such as Midlands State University have rebranded and added modules in the music business, music marketing and management, entrepreneurial skills, work-related learning internships, and portfolio development to their traditional musicology components as a natural reaction to the imbalance between available employment positions in the music industry.

 Isaac Kalumbu ( aka King Isaac), who trained in ethnomusicology at the Zimbabwe College of Music has now landed himself a job at Michigan State University in  the United States of America where he is head of African .Studies and teaches music. This is a big achievement for a Zimbabwean musician.

Great Zimbabwe University in Masvingo has fortunately engaged  Jonah Moyo who led the popular Devera Ngwena Jazz Band in the early 1980’s as a full time employee at the institution where he works as an instrument instructor in the Department of Performing and Visual Arts.

 It looks like there is need to establish more of such innovations at universities throughout the country. That would also reinforce the Education 5.0.philosophy in present day universities which champions teaching, research, community service, innovation and industrialisation as the order of the day.

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