Covid-19 reconfigures arts sector

New normal…Ras Caleb is among artistes that have switched to social marketing

Admire Masuku, Nobert Basvi and Nathan Guma

Review & Mail Contributors
Cut loose from their revenue streams – musicians long for the time when they will be free again to strut the stage and chant hilariously at entertainment joints.

They seek an opportunity to serenade lovers of the art while making a living for themselves.

But they may have to wait a little longer, for the traditional, intimate experience with their fans.

For now, they have to make do with remote performances via interactive technologies.

Even then, that avenue is not for everyone – both on the side of artistes and audiences.

With Covid-19 threat still lingering, many have been forced to cancel shows and large gatherings have been banned including live performances by artists.

All this is happening in an environment where music piracy has condemned many to a life of misery, and where consumers have a nascent culture of paying for online content.

Not much in terms of earnings is being realised.
Even those who have gone the social marketing route are still at an experimental stage.

Facing an uncertain future, the few who are techno savvy have had to be innovative.

“It is difficult right now to plan as an artist because we do not know what direction we are taking as a country,” says South African songbird, Bulelwa Mkutukana, best known by her stage moniker, Zahara.

“I had 18 shows that were either cancelled or postponed,” she says. “I had performances scheduled for the Canada, Zimfest in UK, Mozambique and many others here in South Africa.”

But Zahara, who made a breakthrough in 2011 with her debut album Loliwe and has left an enviable footprint on the international scene with her down-home Afro-soul music, falls under those who have who have found solace in online marketing.

This has enabled her to stay connected to her lifeblood – Afro-Soul fans dotted around the world.

Interactive technologies have become her conveyer belt for transporting music to her fans, who despite locking down, are enjoying her music.

Likewise, some Zimbabwean artists, have followed suit as the Covid-19 hits hard on their traditional sources of income.

Reggae artist, Caleb ‘Ras Caleb’ Tareka is one of those who have embraced online marketing at a time when some of his counterparts – with a messianic syndrome – are anxiously awaiting bailout from government.

Since the lockdown started he has not stopped working.
Some of these include; ‘Bho newe’ produced by DJ Fydale, ‘Do good’ produced by Chief Kaliyan, ‘Too legit’ produced by Ziggy and ‘Chingoma’ produced by Rare Music.

Nevertheless, the ‘Tokwe Mukosi’ hit-maker says he is still finding his feet in the new business model.
“We are still learning retailing music online,” he says. “It’s the future. While we are using both offline and online marketing, it is about embracing what is new to improve on what has been there.”

Heartbeat records producer Jaden ‘Kharizma’ Savanhu shows how his own label, Triple B, has been affected by the pandemic.
“We missed 7 weeks of 3 shows per weekend – this means we cancelled 21 shows thus affecting income.”
On a normal week he rakes in approximately US$300 per show and that income flow has been ruined by the pandemic.

No choice
Contemporary Jazz musician, Victor Kunonga says: “Covid-19 has given us no choice but to stay at home at the detriment of our income. We are not making any income since the people we rely on are affected too.”

He noted that Covid-19 has had a global impact in the arts sector. In the USA, 11,000 organisations reported a combined loss of US$4.5 billion between late March and April, according Dow Jones and Company on April 13, 2020.

The South African music industry is also projected to hemorrhage over R3 billion (US$160 million) due to Covid-19’s effects in the next six months, Unit Group founder, Shaun Duvet was quoted as saying by Music Africa last month.

Nevertheless, Kunonga, now stages shows on Facebook.

“We are increasing our online presence now,” he says.

“We have just started intensifying therefore we cannot measure viability in this short space of time.

Catching up
Whilst other artists are familiar with online marketing, some are playing catch up.

Greatman Gwaze opens up on how cold and blistering the music environment has become.

“I released a single track ‘Mubvunzo’ on social media,” says the ‘Pandakazvarwa’ hit-maker.

“Online marketing is very difficult because this is still new to us. Nevertheless, the single has been well received.”
‘Mubvunzo’ questions God on whether Covid-19 is a normal disease.

When it comes to offline marketing, Greatman performs in street shows. All he needs is a colorful banner, a lift-to-carry hi-fi speaker, portable amplifier and a microphone to make street shows.
With Government having since banned gatherings of more than 50 people, it means he cannot do street shows.
“These are trying times. I hope this will gradually pass,” says Greatman.

Why online marketing
German-based arts journalist, Plot Mhako explains why many artists have found the going difficult.

“A lot of artists were relaxed and in the comfort zone,” he says.

This is despite that internet users have been growing exponentially in Zimbabwe .
It is against this background that Mhako believes artists could have capitalised and ventured into online marketing.

“They over-relied on traditional ways of doing business due to high and prohibitive data costs. This has affected content creators and the audience.”

He adds that Zimbabwean’s plight has been worsened by lack of cushioning allowance, unlike in countries such as Germany, for example, which rolled out a staggering €50 billion aid package for artists and cultural businesses.

National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) director, Nicholas Moyo acknowledges that online marketing is still a challenge for local performers.

“Firstly there is need for social support for individual artists, which includes basic requirements like food,” he says.

“Secondly, there is need for support for artists as players in the Cultural and Creative Industries. This is essential in restarting and sustaining their production houses, galleries and companies.”

But NACZ will help cushion artists.

“Council has submitted a list to government comprising of close to 1500 practitioners in need of immediate social assistance,” says Moyo, adding that modalities are being worked on the disbursement of a $20 million stimulus package availed by the national treasury for recovery of the sector.
He says those under the age of 35 will benefit from the $17 million package for youth led businesses spearheaded by Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation.
NACZ is still conducting feasibility test to ascertain ‘the pros and cons of these digital platforms,” and says at the right time it will “provide leadership and training in their use”. – R&M

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