To be a success in the music industry in Zimbabwe has nothing to do with gender, tribe nor language. I know it is very comforting and consoling to find something or someone to blame if one does not make a breakthrough, but the playing field is level, and with proper business acumen anybody can make it.
Yes, we all know that things are bad in Zimbabwe, not only for the music industry, but for all industries, but to say one did not make it because of gender, tribe or language is a big fat lie. Looking back at our music history, hits had no language no gender barriers.
In terms of gender, no promoter will turn down a crowd pulling artist who will bring him profit just because the artist is female. Promoters are not gender activists looking for gender balance; they are looking at balancing profits.
When Miriam Makeba was booked, or when Beyonce is booked, it’s not to balance gender on the poster, it’s because they are crowd pullers.
I know two local promoters who died of stress related illnesses after their gigs flopped, I know promoters who sold houses after they flopped. One of them is a personal friend, so promotion can be a matter of life and death. It is not something to joke about.
I once heard someone complain why the Big 5 artists are all male. Guys being in the Big 5 is not awarded, it is gained through hard work and good business acumen and decisions. You need hits to be a crowd puller, good performances alone are not enough.
I also heard some people say they did not make it because they do not sing in Shona, another big fat lie. Illanga sang mostly in Ndebele and were huge in Harare.
Shosholoza was a massive hit in Harare and all we could sing was the simple chorus, how come they made it?
The same happened with Solomon Skhuza. His biggest hit was Banolila which was a massive hit in Harare and all around Zimbabwe — it was not sung in Shona, all we could sing was the simple chorus.
Albert Nyathi is the most loved and most popular poet in the whole of Zimbabwe. Harare he is always mobbed by fans and his hit Senzenina was a hit all around Zimbabwe and he is not Shona. How come foreign artists who sing in foreign languages make it here like guys from DRC and South Africa?
One artist that I heard complain about failing to make it because of language is a hip-hop artist. The difference between hip-hop and Dancehall with other genres is that hip-hop and Dancehall’s strength is on the lyrics, otherwise their melodies are all the same.
Look at trap, all the songs have the same “reketi-digidi-reketi” melody, what separates the songs is the lyrics, now what if I don’t understand the language?
So appeal wise I can give an estimation of 90 percent lyrics and 10 percent beat, It’s different from rhumba, mbira music, mbaqanga, amapiano and other genres where you can enjoy the different melodies, the groove and the full package without minding the language.
In fact in other genres language contributes to the rhythms and melodies, if you translate a song from one language to the other the melodies and rhythms on the vocals are automatically affected because language contributes to rhythm and melody.
Now with hip-hop and dancehall you have to listen to what’s being said more than you listen to the beat. Try to play a new Dancehall riddim or a new hip-hop beat as an instrumental to an ordinary person in the streets and see how many will love it, but once you add lyrics you give it meaning.
This is why even Jamaican dancehall does not match Bob Marley’s international appeal because Jamaican dancehall uses Patois more than English which is easy to understand.
The music industry is not kind to anybody, all these problems like payola, ill treatment of lesser known artists, stigma and being called names when starting are problems faced with all artists, male, female, Harare or Bulawayo.
My problem is when we take these problems and attribute them to gender, tribe and language.
The music industry is a struggle, and in every country the capital city always has better opportunities and advantages, but still that’s not a gender nor tribal issue — it’s like that for everybody and it is like that worldwide.
So I really do not buy this idea of blaming gender and language, the floor is open for everyone. Tsvaga chaita musoro uteme, tsvaga chakushaisa hit and stop looking for scapegoats!