Musicians cut out middle man to make ends meet

Cutting out the middleman. That is what most Zimbabwean musicians based here are now doing.

Street musicians in Johannesburg.
Street musicians in Johannesburg.

Frustrated at their failure to land recording contracts and marketing deals with major companies, most artists have embarked on a “do-it-yourself” approach as they struggle to make it in the flooded industry.

Only established names like Ndolwane Super Sounds, Ma Uzah and Inkanyezi Zezulu have managed to find space at local distribution companies. The rest are no longer trying.

A recent survey by this reporter among well over 30 Zimbabwean musicians active in the neighbouring country, revealed that very few are signed with any local company. They record, market and sell their music as individuals.

“It is very difficult for even upcoming South Africans to get contracts at local recording companies, so to try and win one when you are an average foreign artist becomes a non-starter,” said a rhumba musician, who requested not to be named.

“It is worse when you are a rhumba artist because locals do not understand the beat as they are into house, kwaito and maskandi. Recording and distribution companies tell us that there is no market for our kind of music, but we cannot allow our genre to die because we know that the market is there among Zimbabweans both here and back home.”

It is now commonplace for musicians to go around carrying bags filled with compact discs and DVDs that they sell direct to fans. Most new arrivals trying to make themselves known and appreciated will wilt before they can even blossom.

“For people to buy your music, they need to have regularly heard it being played at record bars or on the radio, but we do not have that here,” said Trust Moyo of Africa Super Sounds, another rhumba outfit.

“Some artists have failed to cut it in the industry and subsequently given up on their dreams because they think themselves not to be good enough. Others have found it better to go home and record there, so that their music can get airplay on our own radio stations. That has helped a bit.”

Some have designed a way of beating the marketing blues: street promotion. Every afternoon, the musicians play their CDs on generator-powered DVD players at busy intersections, where they dance it out and sell copies to the appreciative crowds that turn up.

Overnight stardom has been reached that way for some with hot products. Clement Magwaza, Joel Maphosa, Mlambos Express and Modias Chauke have used this method as a spring board to instant popularity. However, most of the CDs sold at the street shows are way below their worth – as little as R30.

Cruz Moyo, who produces dance queen Viviane Nkiwane, had reservations about this method.

“It kills our music and is not designed for those who want to make it in the industry. When people get used to seeing you sweating it out on the streets, they lose all respect for you and that limits our artists,” he said.

“Even attendance at shows for such musicians keeps dwindling because people would have seen them perform already.”

International music promoter, Patrick Sibanda, of Livingway Promotions, said promoters were wary of artists who prowl the streets.

“I cannot expect a paying crowd for an artist who spends time dancing on the streets because people are already fed up with them. Fans only pay for artists they do not usually see and once they get used to you, they begin to shun your shows,” said Sibanda.

“Artists should form representative groups that will lobby for their cause, or their own companies to handle their music. Radio stations do accept all kinds of music, but that should first be registered with the Southern African Music Rights Association which is free. Our artists just lack knowledge of how things should be done.”

Other artists have already done that, with Ndux Junior having formed and registered Malax Music Company, while Ndolwane Super Sounds have MACC records. Some businessmen have also chipped in with companies that push solely Zimbabwean artists and that has helped a lot.

“Lack of representation also limits artists because their music cannot get to other parts of the country where the particular artist does not reach, thereby giving pirates a big chance of feeling that void and it kills both the music and the artist,” added Sibanda.

Post published in: Entertainment
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