Gender Links (Johannesburg)

10 April 2013

Zimbabwe: Female Artists Challenge Their 'Sistaz'

The ever-popular Book Café wowed audiences again on Saturday hosting Busi Ncube one of Zimbabwe's best loved female singers and Edith Weutonga a passionate vocalist and one of the very few female bass guitarists in the world.

Spontaneous and unique, their performance gave a good taste of what to expect from their joint performance at the Harare International Festival of Arts in late April. Ncube's last performance at Book Café, with award winner Hope Masike, sold out in December last year among many other top selling artists hosted by the venue throughout the year.

The Book Café is not only famous for its jam-packed line up of diverse Zimbabwean artists but also for the melody of women that regularly reverberates from this intimate venue. For the past six years, Book Café has routinely hosted the Sistaz Open Mic, which was launched and developed by Pamberi Trust in January 2007 to showcase Harare's raw female talent. The Open Mic runs every Tuesday night and every second Saturday of each month. Pamberi Trust organised the daytime Saturday platform so women could take part and still get home safely before dark.

Batsirai Chigama, Pamberi Trust Gender Projects Officer explains, "Open Mic has over the years become the place where the 'sistaz' always know they can come and have a great time. The crowd is always warm and more welcoming".

Pamberi Trust credits the growth and popularity of Sistaz Open Mic to the young, female artists taking ownership of the project as well as the mentoring offered by established artists. Women solely run the event, from stage management to photography and administration.

The Book Café brings mothers, daughters and 'sistaz' from all over Zimbabwe and abroad to enjoy the making and listening to music and to celebrate women. On 14 February, artists and audiences sang in solidarity with the One Billion Rising campaign, a global call for one billion women around the world to join together in protest of violence against women and gender inequality. Women's Day last month saw performances by Hope Masike, renowned poet Roxanne 'Xapa' Mathazia and many others.

Xapa wants to encourage more women to exercise their rights, stand up and to use every opportunity to stake their claims. She also encourages challenges persistent cultural beliefs that oppress women. "We play our role as artists to bring gender equality through our work because I believe it has great impact. Bob Marley changed the thinking of many by words. He needed no guns or bombs only his music", professed Xapa.

Locally and internationally, renowned mbira artist Hope Masike believes everyday should be a day to celebrate and appreciate women. Her music, rich in different African languages, is testimony to how musicians have the power to encourage women to fight through their struggles.

With the scintillating mbira notes and authoritative lyrics, her songs communicate to diverse women of all ages. In Inyoni (bird), Masike discourages women to build glass ceilings above their heads but to fly high without limits. "Every day should be a day for people to celebrate and practice equality...women need to be made aware that it is up to them to come out of their shells and claim their space, there are positions in society that await women and it is up to us to fit in", said Masike.

Young and upcoming guitarist and singer Rudo Chasi who studied law at the University of Zimbabwe chose instead to follow her passion in the arts. She says she loves being a musician because of the way music can send strong messages in a peaceful way. Chasi insists that the cultural barriers that burden women can be broken through education and music. "Gender equality is possible in Africa but like all changes it faces a lot of challenges. Ideologies can be changed... the more we are educated as women the more it is possible to push through the agenda of gender," she declared.

These female artists have vowed to play their role in reaching out to every woman through music and dance, to make everyday a women's day. They believe it is women who must reach out to their 'sistaz' through platforms like the Book Café and Sistaz Open Mic to help them climb the ladder of success. Music and dance not only brings enjoyment and education to both women and men, but also inspires women to believe in themselves and challenge the societal norms that oppress them.

Grace Chirumanzu is a freelance journalist in Zimbabwe. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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