The Place Of Women Musicians In Zimbabwe

Music | By Batsirai Chigama, Poet | 28 December 2016

For almost five years since the emergence on the BIG FIVE, a clique of the supposedly five best musicians in Zimbabwe, debates have been going on asking one main question. Why are there no women artists in the BIG FIVE?

After a recent debate sparked by Tinashe Mutero’s article, “Is there a place for women among Zimbabwe’s Big Five,” this question may well be put to rest as the women artists seem to have decided their success cannot be determined by an establishment whose modus operandi is not clear and is determined by a few individuals. 

The Big 5 has been home to the likes Oliver Mtukudzi, Sulumani Chimbetu, Jah Prayzah, Alick Macheso, Winky D over the years with promoters organising shows that are headlined by the five.  The five undoubtedly command a large following and being crowd pullers are favourites of promoters as there is money to be made.  The “boys club” as has been bandied by many, largely benefits from many of the top promoters.
So the girls simply want to know the winning formula, that which sets these 5 apart from the rest, say, the foundation upon which they can build and bigger and better even though many of them are already.

Whilst it is apparent that hard work and perfecting one’s craft as well as a good marketing strategy is key for every musician’s success, it remains an enigma that in the past five years no women musicians have been accorded a place in the Big Five which paints the clique as a male dominated space.  Save for the recent mention of Ammara Brown, that is all the hint there seems to be of possible inclusion of women musicians.
Most of those who took part in the discussion indicated that most women artists have perfected their stagecraft and produce quality work, most sentiments expressed the need for the artists to work harder on connecting with the audiences, that is performing in the ghettos where most of the audience is but then not all audiences are in the ghetto.  That cannot be all, relevance also is required in order to pull numbers.  However, I paused a question asking if we are asking the right question here.  Whilst Tinashe Mutero asks “Is there a place for women among Zim’s Big Five,” I felt the question should rather be “Is the Big Five a yardstick by which to measure excellence and success of musicians?” 

It is all limiting to think that there has been no women artists worth of recognition in the music industry. Names that featured the most included Ammara Brown, Sandra Ndebele, Busisiwe Ncube, Tariro neGitare, Diana Samkange, the late Chiwoniso Maraire, Hope Masike, Fungisayi Zvakavapano Mashavave, Dudu Manhenga, Prudence Katomeni Mbofana and this is not to say there are no other women musicians who can make the cut.

Edith WeUtonga had this to say, “Why wait for someone to decide whether we make the cut or not?  Some were given the opportunity, space to showcase their trade and some had no audience, no music, no talent but were given the space till the audience got used to the ‘music’ they produced.  And yet the space is not being given to women.  I believe we have very talented women in Zimbabwe and its about time we created our own spaces.” 

This was echoed by Hope Masike who said, “Expecting and believing we deserve recognition as women even as good artists nje won’t get anyone anywhere. We need to let our work speak louder.  Our videos, songs, stage work, brand images have to be ten times better, unapologetically excellent.”  She quotes SWAY, a production which featured Dudu Manhenga, Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana and Rute Mbangwa as a way of encouraging women artists to create opportunities for themselves and others.

Plot Mhako and Junior Spice Manjengenja concurred that on the need for artists to work really hard.  Plot Mhako highlights a number of factors of which most stress the need for the artists to be accessible to their audiences so that they have large numbers of followers.  Whilst Plot Mhako touched on issues on NGO, Embassy and Corporate reliance Syndrome, it can be argued that we cannot be superficial when we are dealing with bread and butter issues.  We cannot begin to fault NGOs, Embassies and Corporates as sources of employment for artists be it male or female.  These are the very organisations that have sustained and worked with artists who produce rounded quality work that speak to the causes shared with both the artist and organisation hiring.  This is however not to say that artists should limit themselves to the paying audience only.  As Hope Masike candidly puts it “just remember , TMU (take money united), serve God, change lives ..., recognition will come as a bonus, or never come.”

Marian Kunonga alias Marikun ChiheraFilms had some tough love to share.  Being a film maker Marian was unhappy of how women musicians are portrayed in music videos and how sometimes the lack of coherence between video and song does a disservice to the musician; how women artists are continually objectified. “Truly speaking trying to slot yourself in the Zim big 5 is lack of ambition grow bigger than our tiny country ad grow wings,” she says.

Diana Samkange, Queen Mashie and Vimbai Zimuto called for the organisation of women musicians in a way that makes them forces to reckon both within their individual capacities and as a collective. More collaboration, more synergies among women artists even with their fellow male counterparts.

The debate was never about favours, it was about interrogating and trying to find out why women in music are not making it to the selected group of the Big Five.  This would therefore bring out a plethora of issues but it cannot be overstressed that this discussion was not to seek preferential treatment for women artists.

The struggles that women artists go through in the industry are so many.  There have been there and continue to haunt them even though a few strides have been made in recent years.  Women artists understand their situation better and it was refreshing to hear many of them contribute to the debate with confidence and stipulating what it is they want for themselves as players in the industry.  #PullHerUp seems to be trending these days on social media wherever women artists support each other and is a highly commendable development which has potential to build strong synergies among women artists.

We hope to see more collaborations and platforms created by the women artists themselves to promote women artists in all sectors as well as groom young women artists who need guidance and support from those that have gone before them. 

If the art is good, it may take time for some to accept but good things always have a way of attracting recognition.  It is good to see Fungisayi Zvakavapano-Mashavave on the poster above amongst three of the musicians in the Big Five.  We also hope to see more of this kind of representation.  Aluta continua!  Let the music play.