In a region where live music is everything – both for audiences and for performers heavily reliant on live appearances to make a living – the widespread cancellation of festivals across southern Africa has hit the music business hard.
Some of the main popular annual;events that have been affected include Bushfire festival in Swaziland), Zakifo, AfrikaBurn in South Africa, Azgo in Mozambique and the Zimfest in Zimbabwe. All these have been cancelled or at least substituted by online versions – alongside countable Live events that have been growing in recent years. This has directly obstructed tourism, showcasing talent and culture, and boosting southern Africa’s music industry.
The longstanding problem of piracy has forced most African musicians to depend on revenue from live performances for survival.
The Covid19 pandemic has stopped almost all musical shows since March, when the region recorded its first cases of Covid-19. Most countries initially banned gatherings of more than 50 people, rendering it impossible to hold a profitable musical show while in some countries within the region there is an understandable complete ban.
The cancellation of Live performances has cost the industry millions in revenue, but it is the musicians and other players down the value chain who are now faced with destitution.
In Zimbabwe, peformers such as Jah Prayzah, Sulumani Chimbetu and Alick Macheso, probably the biggest musicians in the country, have been forced to shelve album launches that had been lined up this year.
Jah Prayzah released his album online on 20 May. Chimbetu while Alick Macheso is still dithering on releasing his.
Zimbabwe’s crippling economic challenges have painfully eroded earnings. Most high-profile musicians make little from sales but invest thousands of dollars in album launches hoping to cash in on the euphoria associated with new releases.
Sulu Chimbetu publicly admitted that his band was struggling and that they were now banking on online gigs.
“It is a difficult period because we do not have any income but the glimmer of hope is the increase in online shows. We are grateful for platforms like ZTN (Zimbabwe Television Network) which have helped us adapt to the situation by hosting online shows,” he said.
Takemore Mazuruse, of NashTV, said the station decided to come up with a series of shows to plug the entertainment gap during lockdown while also giving performers some income.
US-based socialite and self-styled prophet Panganayi ‘Twabam’ Java has in recent weeks has been paying performers to appear on his “Gara Mumba” (Stay indoors) shows. The shows often have more than 15,000 viewers and feature artists from a Zimbabwean music style known as Zimdancehall. The genre is popular with young people because it resonates with stories of strife.
But some of the artists are paid just $50 (£40) a performance. For artists like Chimbetu, life is a struggle.
The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe recently submitted a list of 1,500 performing and non-performing artists to the government so that they can access “immediate social assistance”.
The Zimbabwean government is considering supporting musicians and artists through the social grants with hope these would go a long way in keeping the musicians in business.
For popular musicians like Chimbetu, Jah Prayzah and Alick Macheso, who appear regularly in South Africa to boost their earnings, it is a double jeopardy. All three had hoped their albums would be accompanied by shows across South Africa, with attendances lifted by the large Zimbabwean diaspora there.
South African performers are also suffering. While the country’s economy has fared better than that of its northern neighbours, the pandemic has hit performances and music sales as people on reduced incomes spend only on basics.
Earlier this month a group of NGOs came together to donate food parcels to more than 1,000 musicians in Limpopo province, in the north of the country.
One of the beneficiaries, musicianThomas Chauke who leads the Shinyori Sisters Band, told South African media that most artists had been rendered destitute by the pandemic and pleaded for government assistance or else they “die of hunger”.
Although the government and organisations such as Business and Arts South Africa are providing grants to artists “infected or affected by the Covid-19 pandemic”, the Limpopo musician worryingly claimed that they were unaware of the programmes.
The grants are intended to help compensate for “widespread cancellation of festivals, music concerts, exhibitions, productions and other events”.
Time will tell where Covid19 will leave the Music industry in Southern Africa but at the moment, it is not looking good.
By Eric Knight