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The Diaspora puzzle… Top musicians struggle to break through.

Besides Oliver Mtukudzi, top local musicians are struggling to break onto the international market and most of them depend on Zimbabweans in the Diaspora when they go for international shows. Top local performers that include Pastor Charles and Olivia Charamba, Alick Macheso, Jah Prayzah and Suluman Chimbetu have toured many countries yet they are still to spread their wings beyond fans of Zimbabwean origin.
The Diaspora puzzle… Top musicians struggle to break through.
It has taken musicians that are not highly-rated at home to fly the flag abroad without necessarily trailing Zimbabwean fans.

Musicians like Mokoomba, Hope Masike and Tariro neGitare as well as mbira groups, Mbira DzeNharira and Mawungira eNharira, have performed at festivals and big stages unknown to top artistes.

Self-exiled singer Thomas Mapfumo did his part before alienating himself from his fans back home.

Names like Bhundu Boys, Stella Chiweshe and Chiwoniso Maraire also made it on the international scene during their time but the current crop of top singers is still to solve the puzzle.

Most of the musicians admit they are facing challenges on their international assignments. They have been trying various tricks to get international recognition.

Sulu’s publicist Joe “Local” Nyamungoma said they are worried about their failure to go beyond the Zimbabwean market in the Diaspora and they have been working hard to win the battle.

“Our international shows have become predictable. It is like preaching the word to the same person over and over again when a preacher should reach to new souls,” said Nyamungoma.

“This year we are working hard to penetrate new markets. That is the main reason why Sulu has fused Dendera with the acoustic guitar and that is why we have been using horn instruments in some of our songs. We want to add that jazzy feel to Dendera so that we reach out to other audiences abroad.

“Our trip to Seychelles showed us that we can entertain fans of various races. It was a carnival and people from different backgrounds came. This year we are looking for such platforms as carnivals and festivals so that we perform to mainly non-Zimbabwean audiences that attend those international platforms and get exposure.”

Jah Prayzah brought good news of reuniting with his Zimbabwean fans during his recent tour of Australia but the musician also used the opportunity to work with some musicians from the country in search of an avenue into that music industry because his shows were dominated by Zimbabweans.

Pastor Charamba says he made his current album “WeNazareta” specifically for audiences abroad. The album did not do well locally because it has a jazzy feel. In defending the change of style, Pastor Charamba said they intended to go beyond the Zimbabwean market.

“The album is made to appeal to other audiences that might not be the traditional followers of Fishers of Men music. When we go out there (for international shows) we have opportunities to reach out to new audiences that might not be the traditional Charamba followers.

“We have learnt from our tours that we also have to do something for the international market so that our music cuts across races and nations. We have been awaiting that breakthrough for sometime and we have to take the challenge. We should not only play for Zimbabweans when we go on international tours.”

Artistes manager and music promoter Spencer “Boss Spencer” Madziya said quality is the answer.

“I believe that quality above everything sells. How the product is packaged and how artistes present themselves. Collaborations with renowned and upcoming artistes in other countries will give us that edge to attract people in those countries besides our brothers and sisters based there.

“For example, when Tuku or Mokoomba tour they have quite a lot of other nationals in attendance because they have packaged their music to attract such audience.

“We also need quality videos that can actually be played on international television stations. Basically, it boils down to investing in the product that we send out there,” said Madziya.

Music critic Fred Zindi said Zimbabwean promoters that hire local musicians for foreign tours target Zimbabwean fans.

“The promoters of these artistes are Zimbabwean, for example, Fungwa Mawarire, Ezra Sibanda, Arthur Janjawa and even our own boxer, Dereck Chisora was involved in promoting Macheso. Who do these promoters know apart from fellow Zimbabweans?

“There are, however, a handful of artistes from Zimbabwe who have broken the international market by performing to large non-Zimbabwean audiences because they were/are handled by European promoters most of whom do not care about the Zimbabwean Diaspora.

“For instance, The Bhundu Boys were handled by Gordon Muir, a Scottish national who was friends with John Peel, a BBC Radio DJ who gave them massive airplay. Rozalla Miller was managed by Chris Sergeant, a British national from Wolverhampton and Mokoomba was connected internationally by Joe Herrmann who dealt with European promoters internationally.

“These European promoters just target the venues they use to promote their other groups. That is what makes the distinction between the audiences the artistes draw.

“Hope Masike is in a precarious position because when she gets into Europe, she performs with a group known as Monoswezi (a combination of musicians from Mozambique, Norway, Sweden and Zimbabwe).

“Thus the audience is mixed with the majority being European,” said Zindi.

Zindi’s sentiments were echoed by another critic, Memory Chirere, who said lack of international exposure limits our musicians.

“It depends on how much the audiences in other countries know about our musicians. Rhumba was popular here because many people from the country were in countries where it was popular during the liberation struggle.

“When fans in foreign countries are exposed to our music, some will like it. A lot of marketing has to be done internationally for the musicians to breakthrough. Mokoomba was well-marketed globally and made it even when it is little-known back home,” said Chirere.

Mokoomba manager Marcus Gora concurs that their secret was international marketing.

“Mokoomba broke on to the international scene first by winning the talent search, Music Crossroads Inter-regional Awards in Malawi in 2008 and touring Europe in 2009 and 2010.

“The second most important development was the release of their second album, “Rising Tide”, which was produced by the great female bassist Manou Gallo from Ivory Coast and now based in Belgium under the direction of Belgian agency Zigzag World.

This album went on to win numerous awards including the prestigious Songlines Music Awards – Best Newcomer

“The band made a good buzz with these initial tours and this opened doors to future shows.”

Hope Masike, who is currently on a tour of Finland said maintaining a network internationally keeps her going in foreign lands.

“Growing and maintaining a network of people everywhere and working with them on improving music everyday is the answer to international success,” said Masike. Herald

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