Zimbabwe: Education Helps Unlock Doors in Arts Industry

Recently I came upon a Facebook post by Mono Mukundu where someone asked him why he was "wasting" his time and energy by studying music at a local university when he was already an accomplished and celebrated guitarist and music producer.

This question deserves reflection and attention. The issue of an artistes getting training or furthering their education continues to be a subject of debate among Zimbabwean artistes.

Many have argued that talent is enough for an artiste to succeed. Furthering one's education, especially when one is already popular, is seen as being unnecessary.

Some argue that getting an academic qualification to enhance one's talent is like committing suicide on your talent.

In one of the WhatsApp groups I belong to, some artistes argued that the time when Baba naMai Charamba enrolled at a local music college, was when they lost their creative juices.

The Zimbabwean creative and cultural industries like in many other African countries is full of self-taught artistes who rely on talent without any formal training or education.

Some popular yesteryear stars never attained basic education, yet they went on to eke out a living out of their talent better than those who are educated.

Many would tell you that they are self-taught and would argue that training or education does not add value to what they do.

While relying on talent alone worked for some artistes, today's competitive world demands an artiste who is multi-skilled and knowledgeable in many aspects.

Education enables an artiste to acquire various skills. It turns raw talent into a skill that is usable beyond the current capacity of an artiste.

A trained musician will not only have an appreciation of the guitar, but many other instruments and the business side of their trade.

Today's arts world, especially in Zimbabwe where the value chain has been disrupted, requires a business-minded artiste who can transform their talent into money.

In a Third World economy where supportive structures are minimal, there is need for the artistes themselves to begin to appreciate the business side of their work.

The arts sector is a big business that requires astuteness, leadership and good decision making. Many artistes fail to reach their potential not because they lack talent, but because they lack basic business and leadership skills that will enable them to transform into sustainable brands. Education and training enable that.

Education also creates many other opportunities for an artiste.

In his response, Mono said that getting that academic paper will help him unlock certain opportunities that he would not get if he only has guitar-playing skills.

Not all musicians will be lucky to make money from their talent. The sad thing is those who would have failed will become grumpy old artistes who blame everyone else except themselves.

With educational qualifications, it is possible for artistes to venture into teaching, production or research, Some can even subsidise their income through such related activities.

One day after a performance of a school drama, a senior and celebrated actor was asked by a student why as a character he behaved the way he did.

His answer was, "I don't know, it's the director who told me to do that".

The whole auditorium was baffled.

The students expected "their star" to have a deeper understanding of the character as they held him in high regard as a role model.

It was so sad to learn that the actor lacked simple comprehension of the play he was doing. Education helps an artiste to comprehend things easily.

And fans love it when they know that their star has depth in thinking and deed. Any industry needs to have its own thinkers and strategists. An industry that does not have strong thinkers and strategists does not get sponsorship from government or corporates.

The challenge is that most people think that the industry is shaped by performers. It is strategy and advocacy that shapes the industry through engagements, agenda setting and strategy.

This is where education becomes important, hence the call for artistes to pursue education so that the industry is not controlled by outsiders.

For the arts industry to grow, it is important for artistes to unlearn the tactics that shape their ultimate destiny.

A new culture has to emerge if the sector is to be respected

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