The persisting economic hardships bring no joy to the showbiz industry with a number of local arts promoters raising red flags over the situation, which they say has brought misery to the creative sector. Night life in major cities like Harare and Bulawayo has significantly toned down due to shortage of disposable income amid rises in prices of not only beer, an indication that the crisis is having a crippling effect on the showbiz industry. The promoters are on record that it has become hard to bring in foreign artistes into the country as they need to source foreign currency on the parallel market to do so artistes. The promoters are on record that they continue to be in the showbiz industry because of passion. More on the issues, Standard Style reporter Winstone Antonio (WA) caught up with Entertainment Republic promoter Max “Nana” Mugaba (MM). Below are excerpts from the interview.
WA: There have been allegations that Entertainment Republic is owned by Chatunga and Robert Junior, who are sons of former president Robert Mugabe. How far true are the allegations?
MM: That is not true. Chatunga owns Triplife Entertainment, one of the fastest growing companies in the South African concert business, I consulted him on the setting-up and early management of the company, now my role is advisory, we have cultivated a brotherly relationship and we are collaborating on many projects since our visions are aligned. Chatunga is going to be a very influential music executive to reckon with within the next two years. All hip-hop artistes, I urge you to follow Triplife, they are doing amazing profitable events. As for me, I have been in the industry since 2008 as May 7 Entertainment, which is part of Entertainment Republic, the holding company that includes the soon-to-be-launched Institute of Music Management, Tsoka TV and we are almost in the final stages of our new music streaming-up, which should be launched beginning of 2020.
WA: There are divided opinions on whether we have genuine music promoters or concert organisers in Zimbabwe. What’s your sentiment on that?
MM: We need well-rounded music promoters, right now we don’t have any. All we have are concert promoters. We need to have a serious approach to the arts sector. Many of us are concert organisers, for us to be true promoters we have to invest in building artistes’ profiles and put them on the big stage on the international stage as well as clinch endorsement deals, but we have no return on those types of investments because the artistes think of short term initiatives of pocketing money through concerts.
WA: Speculation is rife that the music promoter pockets a big chunk of the artiste’s sweat. Is music promotion viable in Zimbabwe?
MM: Music promotion is not viable at the moment in our country. The economy is adverse, then generally the market is small again, but for me it has turned into a passion and expensive passion. So, many moments one is tempted to walk away, then you see the untapped talent in abundance, you are then pulled back into it with the hope of doing things differently from last time- then boom you are saddled with mountains of debts trying to assist the talent break through and then you quit for the time you will be settling the debts. Once you are on your feet you are back at it again because of the dopamine effect.
WA: Interestingly, you mentioned that right now we don’t have promoters, but concert promoters. So, you don’t fit in the promoters’ category?
MM: I don’t fit. I am trying to evolve from a concert promoter to a music promoter, it is a process and takes years, everyone starts off from being a concert promoter. However, it has been a loss- making venture leaving us in debt, but sadly we are labelled as crooks.
WA: So, for Zimbabwe to be able to talk of a vibrant arts industry, what steps do you think must be taken?
MM: We need a paradigm shift, totally disregard the traditional ways of doing things. Musicians, enablers (producers) and facilitators (promoters) have to chart a new way of doing business, one that is radical, not in any form or shape dependent on history. There is need for less talk and complaints, but action.
We also need harmony as we are fractured, artistes don’t trust promoters, promoters are at loggerheads with artistes, journalists cover negative stories of the industry with passion and the positives are ignored, producers no longer have quality controls, radio play is skewed towards those that are more popular and foreign music. Check the charts across radio stations and see the trend. If we address these issues, then we will have somewhere to start, I am glad with the new awards coming through that appreciation alone will spur the players to up their game. We need to stop expecting government to come to the party we are our own solution to problems bedevilling the industry (by the way we don’t have one). We need to have the whole value chain, that is we need specialists in distribution and marketing since production is already covered through the various studios, but we then need big record labels that can then filter the many demo recordings from bedroom studios for quality productions, then these are passed on to specialised marketing and distribution entities.
We also need education facilities meant for the industry that will teach about the various industry departments like artiste management. Right now we only have three artistes’ managers in the country (former Tuku’s manager Walter Wanyanya, Winky D’s manager Jonathan Banda and Elton Bryce (Cindy Munyavi’s manager), the rest are booking agents masquerading as artistes’ managers. We need well rounded music promoters, right now we don’t have any, all we have are concert promoters. We need efficient and effective collection societies as our Zimbabwe Music Rights Association is outdated. So all these are sectors that people from college can come through for training and it will be a recognised profession just as any other professions.
WA: Who else should play a part towards the building of a vibrant creative sector?
MM: The beverages companies have to play a part, they are the biggest beneficiaries of the sector. Imagine all the beverages consumed at live concerts bars and nightclubs, while people listen to music. I believe before we lobby the government, these companies should set aside a healthy budget for the sector. Why should they reap where they have not sown? They should give grants to the sector. The dividends of the investment will even benefit the nation as the grants can be used for budding artistes to showcase their talents at festivals beyond our borders which will in return boost tourism. The government on the other hand should look at infrastructure development, we need performances centres in every province, for music to grow the barriers to entry have to be lowered, other than Harare and Bulawayo there are no decent places to host music events. Here in Harare and Bulawayo, the places are limited and with the high level of competition from the new age churches and corporates, music has been pushed to the bottom of the pyramid, and very soon we will be driven back to nightclubs and sports clubs for performances, so the government has to build more centres fit for concerts. Every province should have its own centre.
WA: What is in stock for the showbiz from Entertainment Republic?
MM: We are in the process of planning a music conference scheduled for the last quarter of the year. We believe that at this conference we will be able to chart the way forward for a vibrant music industry, our ambit is music. However, it goes hand-in-hand with other facets of arts and we believe a vibrant music industry will spur the other arts areas as well. Persistence, commitment and dedication is what is really needed and a healthy economy. For without a healthy economy and disposable income, entertainment or arts will flourish for now all of this remains a dream. Dreams that can be deferred to the detriment of the next generation. Imagine Saudi Arabia has put a budget for the entertainment sector for the next 10 years at $64 billion.