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In the groove: Did hicc concert mark end of sungura?

Alick Macheso at the Sungura Blast

In Zimbabwe today, we do not have a music genre which we call our own, but if the truth must be told, Sungura music is the closest we can call Zimbabwean. But why are many youths shunning  Sungura music?

Many people think that Sungura is music of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The extent to which Sungura will also remain in the past is still unknown. We do hope that the Machesos, The Ndebeles, The Sulumani Chimbetus and other existing Sungura artistes will mentor up-and-coming Sungura musicians to keep this genre alive. Hopefully, Radio DJ’s such as Themba Mkanda and The Sky Walker will continue to play this genre at their stations.

Last week, I asked several (around 40) University of Zimbabwe students to give me their preferred genres of music. The preferences I got ranged from R&B, urban grooves, country and western, Amapiano, soul music to pop music. None of the genres mentioned above are Zimbabwean music. No-one mentioned sungura and when I asked one of them about this type of music, his response was simply “It’s gwash! It’s for the rural folks!” He obviously does not think much about this type of music.

 I began to wonder which way Zimbabwean music is going.

Sungura music (sometimes referred to as Museve) at some point used to be Zimbabwe’s most popular music genre especially in the 1980’s.

There were several artistes associated with this genre. These included the likes of Ephraim Joe and the Sungura Boys, John Chibadura, Simon and Naison Chimbetu (who later branded their sungura to Dendera), Leonard Dembo, Khiama Boys, Mitchell Jambo, Ronnie Chataika, System Tazvida, Nicholas Zakaria (aka Senior Lecturer), Pengaudzoke, Cephas Mashakada, Somandla Ndebele,Tongai Moyo, Leonard Zhakata, Alick Macheso and many others.

Many of the above artistes seem to have faded away. Some, like Tongai Moyo, John Chibadura, Leonard Dembo, System Tazvida and Simon Chimbetu have since died.

Of the surviving Sungura artistes, Alick Macheso seems to be the only one carrying the burden of pushing the genre forward but it is not known to what extent he has carried the Sungura fans with him.

Last weekend on Saturday, a star-studded line up of Sungura artistes graced the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) at the invitation of music promoters who call themselves Gateway Stream Music Promotions. The artistes included Macheso, Sulumani Chimbetu, Mark Ngwazi, Baba Harare, Zakaria, Ordinance Kuimba and Chantelle Sithole.

One is inclined to think that this was a perfect sungura gig and it would attract all the lovers of sungura music but unfortunately, the event was a flop as it attracted very few people.

Perhaps the publicity did not reach everyone, but in the past, sungura fans were known to tell each other when there was a “big” festival such as this one. Today’s technology also allows anyone with a cell phone to convey this phenomenon to his or her sungura friends. Almost everyone in Harare owns a cell phone, so we cannot blame the non-attendance on lack of publicity.

What then, went wrong?

There are several reasons I can speculate on what went wrong on this “big” event. The first assumption is that there are fewer sungura fans on the market now than those who existed before. The second is that the hard economic situation in Zimbabwe does not allow many Sungura fans to spend twenty or so US dollars at a concert. The third reason could be that the event was not marketed properly.

There are several reasons that could be attributed to the failure of this event, the main one being the fact that it was too expensive for sungura fans. If the promoters had charged five dollars at the gate, I am certain that this would have boosted the attendance. I know several people who protested that the entry fees were too high. As a result, they did not attend the gig.

This is not the first time Gateway Music Promoters experienced the same financial disaster. In 2020 they cancelled the “Best of Both Worlds Concert” (BBW) where Jah Prayzah and Winky D, were billed to “face off” and which was also scheduled for live streaming at the eleventh hour.

After planning this for weeks which I assume included getting the pre-requisite clearance from both the police and the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, booking the venue, rigging the music equipment onto the stage, advertising on all forms of media and selling tickets, this was organised during the Covid-19 period and the promoters were forced to cancel the event.

The event was postponed at the 11th hour leaving music lovers, some who were already at the venue and those who had bought tickets for the live event, to watch online through pay-per-view (PPV), disgruntled.

Whatever the reason for the cancellation, there is no doubt in my mind that a great deal of money was lost in the process.

Music promotion is often considered to be risky business because it is unpredictable. Every business comes with its own challenges. Disasters are normally a result of failing to put preventive measures that counter-act these challenges. In the case of the BBW cancellation, angry fans could have rioted or clashed with the police who were seen to be at the scene to enforce Covid-19 restrictions. Fortunately, this did not happen.

 However, there is no doubt that Gateway Stream Music Promoters lost a lot of money on the “Sungura Blast” gig of September 17.

 Music promotion has always been a risky business. It is advised that a music promoter should conduct thorough market research before they decide to hold a concert.

A good promoter must first gauge the popularity of the artistes he has hired to do the gig.

He must also understand the relationship between the bands he has hired with the targeted audiences.

It is also important for the promoter to understand the specific needs of his niche market. A promoter must never take his audience for granted.

In the above case, although I can only speculate on what went wrong, one thing I know for sure is that the promoters of the so called “Sungura Blast”, which attracted a paltry crowd, experienced a financial disaster.

This is not the first time the organisers of this event have experienced such a disaster.

This is what many a promoter has to go through in order to stage a successful concert. They have to pay a large sum of money to hire a place like the Harare International Conference Centre.

They also have to hire a P.A. system and lighting. The also have to pay the performing artistes. There is need to advertise the show well in advance. Some promoters use posters while others , depending on the enormity of the event, prefer to use media outlets such as ZBC to advertise the show. All this costs money.

They must also pay the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe for approval of the show. They must know that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority also wants a piece of the cake in the form of income tax.

More often than not, it is a must that uniformed police are present to control the crowds at the venue and these must be paid for in advance before the show is given the green light.

All these requirements need money and if one is unlucky as shown at the Sungura Blast show where a paltry crowd attended two weeks ago, the promoter will end up losing money.

However, I am digressing. The topic is on whether  the gig at the HICC marks the end of sungura. I have no answer to this but according to my survey, today’s youth are losing interest in this genre. There are fewer musicians in this genre than ever before.

If this genre is going to continue to exist, young sungura artistes such as Peter Moyo, Joseph Garakara and Daiton Somanje must carry the genre forward instead of leaving it to only one known sungura artiste, Macheso. They need to write refreshing songs which will appeal to the youth of Zimbabwe just like Zimdancehall has done. Everyone is waiting for smashing sungura hits before we bury this genre.

Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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