Zimbabwe: Foreign Artists do not come cheap

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Not long ago, many Zimbabweans in search of fertile ground for a diversity of foreign musicians looked up to Johannesburg, South Africa.

With the advent of the 2010 World Cup, South Africa became the envy of many Zimbabweans. This was so when it was announced that The Black Eyed Peas, Shakira, Alicia Keys and John Legend were some of the stars performing at the inaugural Fifa World Cup Kickoff Celebration Concert at Orlando Stadium, Soweto, on June 10.

The concert was being billed as the greatest entertainment event to be held on the African continent, and was broadcast to over a billion people in 92 countries.

The price of tickets ranged from R200 to R500. In an economy like that of South Africa, this was affordable and Orlando Stadium had full capacity audience.

Zimbabwe, despite a weaker economy, is however slowly turning the tables as big name artistes such as Akon and Sean Paul are slowly trickling into the country.

Sean Paul proclaimed that Zimbabwe was a concert country and is looking forward to having some reggae sunsplashes here.

As more and more reggae and dancehall artistes make a beeline to Zimbabwe, one begins to wonder what the sudden attraction is.

Since 2009, after the introduction of the multi-currency system in the country, foreign artistes have found Zimbabwe once again attractive for doing business as anyone can trade throughout the world with the US dollar without hassles. The universal regard for money is the one hopeful fact in modern civilisation and artistes, just like diamond traders, will travel anywhere to get it. As George Bernard Shaw put it many years ago, “Lack of money is the root of all evil”, because all evils, be it robbery, adultery, theft, prostitution, fraud, bribery and other bad practices are motivated by the need to make money.

On the other hand, money is the most important thing in the world. It represents health, strength, power, honour, generosity and beauty. If one has money, he can solve many problems.

Music promoters bring in foreign artistes with the hope of attracting large audiences who will in turn spin such projects into money-making ventures.

These promoters try hard to be careful, proficient and efficient because of the big financial risks involved.

The amount of groundwork required before a show is put on is quite phenomenal and often requires a considerable amount of financial backing.

The business begins with choosing popular acts which the promoter feels will draw large crowds of people. After contracts have been signed, there is a lot of bureaucracy that has to be attended to. The artistes themselves end up in Zimbabwe due to the attraction of money. The cost of staging a concert with an international artiste ranges from US$20 000 to US$2 million depending on the popularity of the artiste.

Usually, the music promoter will pay the artiste 10 to 15 percent of that budget for two hours’ performance.

Foreign artistes who have cashed in on performances in Zimbabwe from the beginning of 2010 include Sizzla Kalonje, Yassus Afari, Sean Paul, Brick and Lace, Beenie Man and King Sounds — all from Jamaica.

Other artistes included Freshly Ground and Hugh Masekela from South Africa; Salif Keita from Mali and Akon from the USA.

In two weeks’ time, Zimbabwe will be playing host to another dancehall artiste from Jamaica, Capleton, who will close the year 2010 with two concerts to be held in Harare and Chitungwiza. But that is not the end of musical entertainment in Zimbabwe as more and more artistes are lined up for 2011. Macka B, the Jamaican singer and social commentator, is lined up for a performance in Zimbabwe at the end of March 2011.

Twenty-year-old American rapper Sean Kingston has used YouTube to announce a planned tour of Zimbabwe in the New Year. Kingston, who shot to fame in 1997 with his smash hit, “Beautiful Girls (Suicidal)”, says in the video that he will perform in Harare on April 23.

I do not believe the promoters who arranged the concerts in 2010 made any money, some due to lack of experience or by simply being egocentric, others due to sheer arrogance and reluctance to engage known experts in the game.

There was a time when a fool and his money were soon parted, but nowadays it seems to be happening to every Zimbabwean music promoter. Imagine an artiste like Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Black Eyed Peas, R. Kelly or Usher coming to Zimbabwe next year. The promoter goes around boasting to all his admirers that he is bringing so and so. The budget for such a concert would be around US$2 million.

The obvious choice of venue would be the National Sports Stadium. Let’s say, the stadium is filled to its full capacity of 60 000. Charging concert goers US$20 each to attend it in this economy is considered a bit over the top, but assuming that everyone pays, some US$1 200 000 will be realised, making a loss of US$800 000, yet the promoter still goes ahead and makes such plans. When will he learn?

My dear, my very dear promoter, on this thread full of incoherence, your tortured accounts and what amounts to no more than gloating, your thread is not a beacon of reason and light. Knowledge can be communicated to you, but not wisdom.

I am not trying to discourage future promoters of musical events, but all I am stating is that there is a need to plan carefully before jumping on the bandwagon.

Just because you have been able to speak to R. Kelly is no reason for excitement and then begin to yield to his ridiculous demands. Some of these artistes have got clever managers who will put forward all sorts of conditions which you will only realise at a later stage that you neither have the experience nor the skills to even hold a concert for a bunch of drunkards at a local beer garden.

I do not feel obliged to believe that the Almighty who has endowed all of us with sense, wisdom, reason and intellect, has intended us to forgo their use. It is one thing to interpret your dreams into silver and gold, but one needs to tread very carefully the path that he follows to achieve this goal. Zimbabwe, unlike South Africa, does not have the concert-going population to warrant a budget of US$2 million.

The economy here forces promoters to charge US$20 or less for fans to attend an international concert as evidenced by the recent Real Deal show where only a handful reluctantly paid US$100 to be in the golden circle. In South Africa a VIP ticket costs R500 (about US$75) and hundreds of people

To say that when Zimbabwean promoters dream, they are not conscious, is to speak loosely. Come on guys, you can make this country the hub of musical entertainment if you try harder. You have read my case, and if you are not wiser than when it started, you must be at least better informed now. Nuff said.