HomeStandard StyleIn the groove: Should musicians forget those who assist them to stardom?

In the groove: Should musicians forget those who assist them to stardom?

By Fred Zindi

The philosophical maxim which says: “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet them again on your way down,” is often true.

I have heard many music promoters complaining about how they used to look after so and so artistes before they got big, but now the artistes do not even come back to them just to say hello. This is to remind all those cry babies that these artistes were coming to you not because they loved you but because they wanted you to help them advance their careers.

Now that they are successful, they are now dealing with people who are more relevant to them. It is those people who have covered that space which you used to occupy. So there is no need to get hurt or feel left behind. It is only human nature to see people behave this way. The more successful one, the more acquaintances one makes but as soon as they are down and out, the less friends they will have.

When a musician becomes successful, they get a lot of fans and followers around them, but they also get a lot of critics at the same time.

I have had many experiences in this field; first from overseas and secondly within Zimbabwe.

Firsthand experience: When I was in my early 20s, I used to have two very close friends, Phil Fearon and Keith Drummond, both from Jamaican parentage. They were both musicians with Phil being a member of a band called Kandidate and later Galaxy while Keith belonged to Black Slate. We lived in London and I would often go and visit them, and they would in turn do the same.

Fearon was in college with me. We were both doing an undergraduate class in Mathematics. Suddenly Fearon decided to drop out of college after his two singles, Dancing Tight and I Don’t Wanna Lose You became major hits in Canada. I tried in vain to advise him to stay put as the music business can be a bit tricky.

He insisted on dropping out as he saw this opportunity as a major break in his life. He then went to do a tour of Canada but came back without much money. He was, however, lucky to come up with yet another hit single; What Do I Do (IF I Wanna Get Through To You)?

This gave him a bit of money which he used to convert two houses in Kensal Green (North London) into recording studios. After that, Phil was not making much money. When I bumped into him again, he said he wished he had stayed on in college to finish his degree although in my eyes he had become a successful musician.

As for Drummond, he would come to me for assistance in song-writing and I would spend a lot of time helping him.

He often talked about touring Zimbabwe with his band, Black Slate. I phoned Radio 3’s Reggae DJ, Mike Mhundwa in Zimbabwe asking him to continue plugging the Band’s music and to put a tour of the band in place.

When arrangements were at an advanced stage, Black Slate’s single, AMIGO went to number one on UK’s Top of The Pops chart and it became a hit all over the world. I went over to Keith’s apartment in Shacklewell Road, Stoke Newington (London, N16) to congratulate him and the band on their success. I further went to tell him that the Zimbabwe tour was ready.

His response to me was: “No man, Fred. Zimbabwe is too small for us to think about it now when things are beginning to happen for us. Our agency has booked us for a European tour. We are scheduled to fly out to the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland and Japan. Forget about Zimbabwe man. There is no money in Africa, I am told”, he said.

I was hurt because we had been planning this together for nearly two years after Misty in Roots and Aswad had toured Zimbabwe. Even Anthony Brightly aka Anthony B who was a keyboards player in Black Slate acknowledged to me that Keith was wrong to come out with such words when we had been planning this tour for nearly two years.

I did not see Keith again until two years after Amigo became a hit and the band had done its world tour. We met at Ridley Road Market in Dalston. He was excited to see me. He went: “Hey Fred, it’s good to see you, man.

I was actually thinking about you. First of all, let’s go to MacDonald’s (a hamburger place) then we can discuss when we can do that Zimbabwe tour. We went to MacDonald’s. With me thinking that since Keith had suggested it, he would pick up the bill. Besides, in my humble opinion, he was a well-moneyed successful superstar who had just come out of a world tour, but I ended up paying for the food that we ate. I was even more astonished when Keith asked me for one pound to buy some cigarettes.

In our discussion, I discovered that the whole band had been duped by their promoter and record label. So very little money was made. He then told me that he was now ready for the Zimbabwe tour. I mentioned it to him that it was too late as the band was no longer appealing to the Zimbabwean market since they had not made a follow-up hit after Amigo. 

He sounded desperate and said that the band would not charge too much. They just want an African experience, but I told him that I was out of it. On reflection, when Keith Drummond became ‘big’, he never called me once just to say hello.

Even when the band came back to London, he totally ignored me although we used to be regular acquaintances before Amigo became a hit. We bumped into each other by coincidence. That is when he realised that I could still be useful to him. However, it was too late. This explains why Black Slate never performed in Zimbabwe.

The past 20 months have been pretty grim for Zimbabwean musicians due to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.  Last month venues such as pubs and restaurants were opened for business and musicians started to slowly climb up the ladder.

One artiste (name given) during the pandemic lockdown, kept coming to me for handouts due to lack of work. I even had long interviews with him until the strict Covid-19 measures were lifted and he was able to go back to work.

Only last week, I asked him to come over to finish the interview. He told me that he was too busy to bother. In his own words: “I only agreed to come there for your interview because I knew that at the end of it you would give me US$10 which was useful for my needs. Now that I am earning some money from my craft, I don’t need you”, he said.

I also consider that type of thinking to be premature because the Covid pandemic is not over yet and things could easily change. How will he come back to me?

Now that Zimbabwe is back on the red list due to another Covid-19, the Omicron variant which is said to be coming from South Africa, the situation can only be grimmer as live-performances are also likely to become more difficult.

Musicians tend to view promoters with suspicion. Indeed most promoters are out to make money out of successful or popular musicians.

However, not all promoters behave this way. I remember going to my good friend, the late Prince Tendai Mupfurutsa a few years ago who had already made his millions through his Ekaya Petroleum business, asking him to sponsor Africa Revenge, a very talented band I had seen in Bulawayo. He agreed and poured some of his precious dollars into the band.

A few years later, when I was a member of the Danhiko Board, I again went to him to seek sponsorship for Soul Bone, another talented group made up of four musicians with disabilities who dished out scintillatingly soulful and amazing vocals.

He also agreed to sponsor them. I can vouch for him that he never made any money out of these musicians. His aim was not to make financial gain from these artistes, but he was happy that he was putting his money towards the advancement of these musicians’ careers. I know that it was through his passion and love for music that drove him to do these things and not for financial gain.

However successful musicians should not forget the hard road they have travelled to reach where they are now. Some promoters have gone out of business as a result of trying to advance the careers of some musicians.

So, when a musician becomes successful, it is prudent for one to look back the path they have travelled and begin to appreciate the fact that if they did not have these promoters to help them, they would be nowhere today.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with going back to these people andinvite  them to lunch  and to reminisce about the past.

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