HomeOpinion & AnalysisIn the Groove: It’s hip-hip hurray for artistes as pubs re-open

In the Groove: It’s hip-hip hurray for artistes as pubs re-open

with Fred Zindi

There was excitement in the country last week, especially among artistes as they expressed exultation when the government announced the reopening of all licensed bars to fully vaccinated clients.

A statement from Information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, said: “Cabinet notes, with concern, that the continued closure of licensed bars and nightclubs has caused not only a loss of income and unemployment but also resulted in the mushrooming of illegal outlets.”

“Cabinet therefore directed that all licensed bars be opened to fully vaccinated clients. Bar owners are also required to ensure that the World Health Organization and national protocols and guidelines are enforced, and would have their licenses withdrawn if they fail to do so”, Mutsvangwa said, adding that “the bars are also required to adhere to curfew hours”.

The bars had remained closed since June, 2020.

I had missed this announcement until I heard these two men on the street in Newlands crying out aloud: “Mabhawa avhurwa, handei kuno jabula” (“The pubs are now open, let’s go and enjoy ourselves”)

I immediately verified this information and indeed, it is true, she had made that announcement. It was then that I spoke to several artistes who all said that it was a relief to hear this good news.

Indeed this coronavirus pandemic has been the largest disruption to the lives of many artistes, especially among young musicians whose income depended on live shows. They did not know which direction to take after they realised that they could not perform in pubs or night clubs.

Many of them ended up with depression and anxiety. Others suffered more serious mental health problems as they began to wonder how they would fit back into the society which had previously made them look like heroes.

A lot of sad stories about poverty and hunger among artistes during this pandemic have been told. It is therefore quite a relief to know that some of them will soon be back to work again. Others who have found alternative ways of making a living have quit the industry all together.

Live music has become the cornerstone of a music career for quite a number of artistes in Zimbabwe as it is the most reliable source of income. Rampant music piracy as well as lack of corporate support has forced many musicians to solely rely on live shows for their welfare. Thus production of well-polished live show acts has been of paramount importance for one to become a successful musician. Contrary to yesteryear’s artistes who made fortunes from record sales, today’s musicians have to maximise on live performances. Musicians are also hired to give live performances at weddings and corporate events.

For clubbers and nightclub owners, the announcement that bars and night clubs will behave been re-opened was wonderful news. But the big step out of lockdown was met with nervousness by many Zimbabweans who say that the country is entering uncharted waters by opening up when it is not known how many people going into those bars and night clubs are really vaccinated.

The club owner and the bar manager are more concerned about the number of people who come to patronise their business rather than whether or not they have been vaccinated. The bottom line is how much money they will make at the end of the day.

Advocates of strict Covid-19 measures (such as No mask, no entry rules, sanitisation and keeping social distance), throw all of these regulations out the window when it comes to making money.

With the limited numbers rule shelved, no limits exist on the number of people attending theatre performances or big events.

Nightclubs were allowed to open for the first time in almost 18 months, and from Harare to Bulawayo, thousands of people danced the night away last Saturday.

Only last night Mangwenya Diana Samkange was performing in front of a sizeable crowd at Bar Rouge situated at the Longchen Plaza in Belvedere in a concert that was dubbed Gungano Rekuvhara Matare; and Mannex Motsi was  doing his usual Reggae Nights back at Chop Chop along  Herbert Chitepo Road. Some artistes are booked to do live shows as far afield as South Africa where Jah Signal will perform at the Summer Jam on October 30 while Killer T and Enzo Ishall (who is supposed to have thrown the towel in) will perform at the Zimfest Big Show on October 31.

Bars and nightclubs all over the country have re-opened and last week business was booming for most of them.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” club-goer Lloyd Chindawi said at a  braai and beer drinking party held at  Lake Chivero last Saturday. “That’s my life, my soul — I love my drink and I also love dancing.”

Artistes are also ecstatic because this announcement has given them the leeway to start looking for gigs  as they see this as an opportunity to start earning money again.

Live performances are the way to go for many artistes. Even those artistes in Western countries know that live gigs compliment album sales.  For instance, a big artiste like Britain’s Ed Sheeran made over $40 million during a world tour in 2019 through live performances only.

In July, 2019, Ed Sheeran played unaccompanied to 90 000 people for three nights at Wembley Stadium, a high-wire act. Sir Elton John told him on stage, “You’re the only person in the world who could do this on your own.”. The next target was to play every country’s equivalent of Wembley during his world tour. That is how he made his $40 million.

Nigeria’s Burna Boy is also filling up stadiums in numerous European countries, showing that live gives are a powerful source of income.

The scrapping of restrictions is, therefore, a positive move for artistes and music promoters as they see this as a way out of the doldrums.

Venue owners also see this move as a way of getting back into business. Some of the venues in Harare which had closed for some time include: Alliance Francaise de Harare where Jazz events were being held every Sunday at Chez Zandi Bistro and Wine Bar;

Queen of Hearts Cafe & Bakery in Enterprise Road aka E.D. Mnangagwa Road;

Gava’s Restaurant located on the bowling green at Belgravia Sports Club, 2nd Street Extension, Harare;

Theatre in the Park, Harare which hosted the Bob Nyabinde Benefit concert on October 1. Only 100 people were allowed due to Covid-19 restrictions, but now there is no number restriction as long as those entering the venue are vaccinated and Harare International Conference Centre, which used to accommodate 5 000 or more music fans before the Covid-19 outbreak and also a venue which hosted Jah Prayzah’s album launches for five years running.

But while entertainment businesses and ravers are jubilant, many others are deeply worried about scrapping restrictions.

Madhokotera Chiremba B, a Zimdancehall artiste from Chitungwiza  had this to say: “I am a singer myself, but I think this move is just to please musicians and the economy. I have a feeling that this re-opening of clubs and bars is going to kill many people including those who have been vaccinated. You wait and see.  I would urge the public to proceed cautiously and recognise that this pandemic is far from over. Lifting of such restrictions is a big mistake, I tell you.”

Another commentator said that nightclubs in particular are potent spreading grounds, because they increase close physical contact among a core customer base  that hasn’t yet been fully vaccinated. “How can one dance with somebody and maintain social distance at the same time? Impossible,” he said.

“That’s the perfect mixing vessel for the virus to spread and to even generate new variants if the clubs don’t do the socially responsible thing,” he went on to say.

As soon as the announcement that Zimbabwe would have unlimited  numbers at parties as long as those people are vaccinated and adhering to Covid-19 measures, and that bars would be open  was made,  music  promoters rushed to organise things in order to put their much-awaited festivals together.

Organisers of the Zimbabwe Music Awards have already rushed to suggest February 19, 2022 as the date for the next  awards ceremony, which will be held physically.

Indeed it is hurray among many artistes.

  • Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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