9 September 2018

Zimbabwe: Has Sexism Pervaded the Music Industry?

I fortuitously came across a message on Diana "Mangwenya" Samkange's Facebook page Mangwenya Diana Samkange posted on August 21, 2018 at 11:15am , which I quote below:

"South African singer Busiswa is billed to perform in Zimbabwe with a host of other local musicians. Male musicians. I wish the promoters a wonderful and successful show," read the post.

"In other news, all female musicians endai kumusha munoroorwa nekuitavana nekubika sadza nemufushwa wetsine nekuti kumagitare emunyika muno hatife takaonekwa naaniwo zvake mu Zimbabwean industry ino kunyangwetikaita sei nasei. Hanzi hamusi ma crowd puller uyehamuna profit. Cry my beloved female arts industry. Anyway, mabhazi ekwaZvimba kumusha kwangu aakuita marii nhai? Bag ndasunga. I thank you. Asante Sana!

Happy women's month."

A rough translation of Mangwenya's message gives us an insight into how she feels female musicians are treated in Zimbabwe's music industry. Mangwenya talks about female musicians being sidelined by music promoters and that they should all go to their rural areas to give birth and cook sadza because no matter how they try, no one will take notice of them. She also wants to know how much the bus fare to her rural home Zvimba is.

This message sounds like Lady Diana has a chip on her shoulder and has lost all hope in the music industry, unless she was joking. To me, the blog sends the wrong message to up-and-coming female musicians. No need for despair, Ms Mangwenya. There is still hope. One day you will succeed. Only recently, Max Mugaba, on hearing the noises made by female musicians about being sidelined, decided at the last minute to call you to open up as a support act for Thomas Mapfumo at Glamis Arena and you did well.

We do not encourage this kind of loss of hope. If the promoters did not call you or any other female musician to support the Busiswa show, it shows that the promoters weighed what value you and your other female compatriots would add to their concert and decided not to include you.

It shouldn't be about male or female musicians, but about their ability to draw large crowds in their own right. Neither should women wait for promoters to pick them up as support acts in major shows. If a woman is confident enough to feel that she can pull it off on her own, she simply has to find a sponsor who will book the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) for her and fill it up with her fans. I am sure Mangwenya or her manager is capable of attracting that kind of support from sponsors.

In their heyday, South African female musicians Yvonne Chaka Chaka and the late Brenda Fassie appeared at almost every music festival in South Africa and international promoters could not resist them because of their pulling power.

Of late it was Zahara, the Loliwe hitmaker, a female musician ruling the roost. Male promoters all over the world scramble for her services. Zahara was in Harare only last week during Oliver Mtukudzi's solo festival at Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton where she urged female musicians not to underestimate their talents. She said that women should not accept that only their male counterparts must dominate the showbiz industry. Her remarks tell women to improve their act if they are to be noticed. According to her, female artistes must not try to be like someone else if they are to stay relevant and competitive.

In the United Kingdom, as far back as 1996, the Spice Girls, an all-female group, were one of the UK.'s hottest bands. They gave their male counterparts such as Boyzone, West Life, Back Street Boys and Noel Gallagher a hard time as they got more bookings for performances than them. In an interview with a British magazine, Mel B, one of the Spice Girls, boasted: "Boy bands have had their day. It's time to move over."

I first came across the name Diana Samkange way back in 2006 when I was serving as a National Arts Merit Awards music adjudicator. I was given a cassette from the group 2BG to assess them for possible nomination in the Urban Grooves category. The group's name was coined from its composition -- "2B" for two boys (Bloodshaw "Blush" Chikosi and Calvin Mavhunga) and "G" for a girl (Diana Samkange).

The group eventually split up and Mangwenya rebranded herself into a solo artiste. She moved from urban grooves to traditional jiti rhythms. This is when the name Mangwenya came in.

In 2008, she released the album My First Diary which did reasonably well on the local market. Two years later, her second album, Kumagumo Erudo, surfaced and her third album titled Kumazivandadzoka was on the market in 2013. After three albums, she embarked on her fourth adventure, this time with a groovy eight-track album titled Kwayedza.

She also recorded singles such as Mwene We Moyo in 2014, Mationesa in 2016 and a recent collaboration with Andy Muridzo titled Tifambe Munzira, which are also doing well and I am positive that if she continues in this direction, success will one day come her way.

As someone who started her music career over 12 years ago, around the same time as Jah Prayzah, my recommendation is that she works harder at improving her act. Look at where Jah Prayzah is now! He can fill up the HICC on his own. Mangwenya should not allow herself to be overtaken by the female youngsters who came much later such as Ammara Brown or Tammy Moyo. Promoters will certainly go for these two as they have a chain of fans behind them. The recent Nasty C show, which was held at Wingate Golf Club, had included and advertised Ammara Brown, a female musician, as one of the support acts, but Ammara did not make it as she was booked elsewhere on the same date, showing how much in demand she is right now. That goes to show that promoters do pick on female artistes too if they are in demand and if they feel that they will deliver what the people want.

I do not believe that music promoters necessarily discriminate against female artistes. If one is good, their talent will be recognised despite their sex.

My advice to both male and female musicians is that they should first of all demonstrate that they are a force to reckon with before moaning about being sidelined. This way, the promoters will notice them and also take them seriously.

On a different note, the Victoria Falls International Jazz Festival, which was supposed to take place this weekend, has now been postponed to October 19 to 21.

This postponement was due to the uncertainty brought about by the just-ended national elections as some of the artistes had raised concern about their own safety after hearing about the shootings and election violence in Harare. Dorothy Masuka, aka Auntie Dot, who recently celebrated her 83rd birthday on September 3 and has not been feeling well for some time, says she has recovered and is now ready to do her thing at the festival. We hope that everything will go smoothly come October 19.

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