How Covid-19 morphed the Zimbabwean music industry

The Zimbabwean music industry is largely multifaceted. Until the late 1990s, the recording industry operated primarily in South Africa and Zimbabwe (Ambert, 2003). However, our industry has seen several bouts of challenging times over the decades and is currently battling through an unprecedented time fighting the novel COVID-19 coronavirus.

Written by Argus Mepo and Norman Mafuratidze

For the Zimbabwean music industry, the pandemic had been a significant turning point for the broader arts and the creative industry, music included. The measures to contain the spread of the disease have revolutionised and altered the status quo of our industry in many ways. With the aid of the pandemic, fundamental avenues within the arts sector have been opened whilst a myriad of changes have also been brought about. 

Sting event 2014

In its report on the situational analysis of the Zimbabwe music sector, The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe conceded that the digital environment has changed the status quo and acknowledges the need to pivot creative entrepreneurship within the industry. The Council hopes that this would translate to the country’s long-term economic development. But in what ways has the industry changed?

As argued by Argus Mepo, the absence of the Kombis for more than a year now has restructured music distribution and consumption.

The Kombis acted as a bridge between artists and music fans and incredibly pushed local music. With their absence, the industry has shaken, several artists have released music projects, but to no avail, that extra push that the Kombis provided is no longer there. 

Before the emergence of Covid-19, live musical performances were the primary source of generating income for most musical artists and related stakeholders in Zimbabwe.

Kessia Magosha at a recent activation

Undeniably, the throttling of live shows has led to a shrinking revenue-generating potential for many stakeholders who rely on music. 

We strongly argue here that music is an ecosystem that comprises interrelated stakeholders other than the musicians themselves. Families of band members, promoters, dancers, music stables, bouncers, deejays, MCs, bar entrepreneurs, and venue owners are also interlinked to the diverse music industry.

The halt of live shows has also negatively impacted these individuals. The employment carnage, therefore, should not be viewed myopically to exclude these crucial stakeholders.

The advertising industry, which has also been relying on the music industry, specifically for printing the posters of live shows, electronic promotion and even activations, saw its work halting due to this pandemic. 

Attention also shifted to the new school movement during the lockdown from the generation of Winky D, Seh Calaz, Jah Love, Stunner, and Jnr Brown to the new crop such as Holy Ten, Nutty O, Anita, Kae Chaps, Poptain, Quonfuzed.

So the lockdown created an even ground that ushered the dominance of new players to curb radio’s influence, which has been alleged to have been biased towards mainstream acts.

Nevertheless, the pandemic has also offered a clarion call to the stakeholders to revamp their efforts and be part of the information revolution by embracing digitalisation and incorporating it within the arts sector.

Indeed, the lockdown also saw the booming of virtual studios where virtual shows were hosted. Impressive stages, state of the art cameras, and superb lighting have also been part of these virtual studios.

Freeman, Alick Macheso_ NashTV

The likes of Nash TV and Dollarbills Entertainment have been the champions of hosting virtual shows. Their studios are charming.

Virtual shows have also been able to empower and amplify the artists during this lockdown. For example, the partnership that Gateway Stream has had with other artists like Nutty O, JahPrazyah, Ishan, Tamy, to mention just a few, saw fans from across the world paying per to access Livestreams of various shows.

Gateway Stream has acted as a gamechanger that will remain a strategic institution in the post-Covid era.

Janet Manyowa _ Gateway Stream Events Evolution

The pandemic has been a  hidden blessing to the creative industry. Through massive internet consumption due to the lockdown, new stars were birthed. The likes of Van Choga, K.Chaps, Mark Ngwazi, Holy Ten, Anita Jaxson and the enduring Poptain finally got their breakthroughs.

Bloggers and online content creators have also shaped the music industry’s direction, taking advantage of the interconnectedness of music fanatics by the internet.

Recently blogger cum journalist Plot Mhako kickstarted his Kombi Platform program, where he interviewed more than 200 artists from most parts of the country. His platform has already produced new voices like the Soul Jah Love lite, known as Chipoko Chasauro. 

Another change is that streaming will continue to be part of us, at least in the foreseeable future.  However, given that we have no functional and competent homegrown streaming platforms, revenue from streaming will remain restricted to international platforms that are technical and challenging for many of our local artists. 

The fast-paced nature of the industry will continue to see us with less frequent hit songs.

As the industry struggles to adjust and collegiate online with offline music consumption, we will see fewer hit songs. However, we argue that once the new normal becomes the next normal, hit songs will “precipitate” again.

Zimcelebs, Nash tv, Earground and Ngoda TV will continue to register tremendous growth, and channels are likely to proliferate even more.

We also predict the growth of online entertainment and television as an inevitable revolution.