25 February 2019

Zimbabwe: Chiedza and Ellinah - Entrepreneurs Transforming Unplugged Into Global Standard Festival

"Unplugged Zim" is a Zimbabwe-based arts organisation founded in 2013 by young entrepreneurs Chiedza Danha and Ellinah Chipumha, and its flagship music event property "Unplugged" has quickly grown into the country's premier monthly entertainment event.

The organisation's work spans arts infrastructure development, event management and artist development. This is Africa caught up with the founders of the organisation.

A childhood friendship between to ambitious and highly motivated young women, Chiedza Danha and Ellinah Chipumha, has altered the trajectory of the Zimbabwean entertainment industry. Chiedza and Ellinah's love for Zimbabwean music led them to create and run Zimbabwe's premier blankets and wine event, Unplugged. Unplugged has grown to become one of the prime successful events in the country.

Unplugged started in 2013, born out of the idea to create an afternoon outdoor family friendly event. Unplugged has become Harare's premier monthly entertainment event, featuring the country's best up and coming and established talent. Since inception, the event has been held 50 times and has hosted 128 unique acts and 22 DJs. Local musicians who have performed at Unplugged monthly concerts include Winky D, Victor Kunonga, Alexio Kawara, Tehn Diamond, Mokoomba, Prayer Soul, Edith WeUtonga, and Ammara Brown among others. South African artist Shekhinah and DJ Zinhle have also headlined the event in previous editions.

"Over five years the event has successfully morphed its property into one that one that attracts between 3000 to 4000 people" Chipumha told This is Africa in an exclusive interview.

Zimbabwe has been going through several economic challenges, which have affected the arts and music industry. A number of promoters have since dropped from the arts scene, yet Unplugged has continued to grow under the leadership of the two young women. The need for making a positive social impact in the lives of artists gives them the motivation to continue.

Zimbabwean artist ExQ (middle) performing at an Unplugged event. Photo: Supplied/Unplugged Zim

"... seeing that we have contributed to the creation of the creative industry in this country has been a strong motivator for us. There are artists that we started off with in our first shows that are now household names," Danha, co-founder of Unplugged says.

For the two entrepreneurs, Unplugged goes beyond just being an event but it's also a platform for developing Zimbabwean arts, offering opportunities for young artists. In July 2018, Unplugged launched its artist's development programme where they trained 15 young musicians. The training included a number of workshops in various topics including finance, marketing, performance, and branding. The development programme ran for six months and culminated in the young artists performing in front of a crowd of more than 3000 at the Unplugged show in December last year.

Though, Unplugged has experienced so much success, Chiedza and Ellinah still aspire to improve the event, and make their brand into something bigger and better. In a bold move, the Unplugged founders announced that the event would be transformed into a festival in 2019. The event, which was held mostly has been transformed into an international festival, and it will be held three times a year.

Unplugged Festival will also host more artists from across Africa and beyond sharing the stage with local artists, a move that is most likely going to see more collaborations amongst African artists.

However, the two remain insistent that their focus on local talent would not change and added that artist development was a large part of their business plan.

"We see so much talent here at home that needs to be exposed, but that also needs to be developed and we know we have a role to play in that. In 2018, the company tutored fifteen budding artists on the commerce of music and other practical issues such as stage performance and the 'globally workable music video".

Speaking on Artist Development Programme, Chipumha says, "there is no doubt this is quintessential to our business model and our brand. We see artists all the time that simply need a break, but also need to learn now to commercialise themselves. It was self-funded for that first year, but we are certain it will receive commercial support this coming year, we also want to attract industry veterans from across the continent to help tutor and mentor this generation of new artists."

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