The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
WITH the Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards only a month away, Raisedon Baya is a worried man.
Like most Zimbabweans, Baya checks the foreign currency exchange rates like some check the weather in the morning. Things have changed a lot since he announced last month that the award show’s sponsors, Roil, had more than doubled the RTGS$20 000 sponsorship they gave the ceremony last year.
Since that momentous announcement at the Bulawayo Theatre, the madness on the black market has continued with prices also going up. This is perhaps why when Sunday Life meets him at Studio Nosh, a small café located in a pocket of the National Art Gallery, he is reluctant to order anything fancy.
The menu is certainly tantalising. On offer is a full English breakfast, complete with toast, fried eggs, baked beans, sausage and tomato. Also on the menu is a platter of veggie spring rolls, beef samoosas, chicken kebabs and mozzarella tartlets.
The options are mouth watering but after comparing the US Dollar and RTGS prices, he settles for lemon juice. The message to the waitress is clear: Baya is a man working with a budget in mind.
This fact is important for a man who is now coming to terms with the fact that the award ceremony’s $55 000 purse might not be enough to bring the glitz and glamour that they have served Bulawayo over the last few years.
“That’s now our biggest nightmare,” he says. “Roil last year put up $20 000. This year they said we’re doubling that and they’ve put almost $55 000. Three months ago we were saying that even with $55 000 we would do the awards and they would be amazing but now that $55 000 is not enough.
“Remember we chose the Trade Fair which is unlike the City Hall where you would just walk in and everything would be sorted. With the Trade Fair we need to do a lot more work and in addition we also need to sell the idea to people and convince them that we need to fill it up which won’t be easy because it takes maybe four times the amount of people the City Hall does.”
Money issues are not the only problem that the BAAs have had to face this year. In its edition, the award ceremony now seems to be attracting as much criticism as it does praise. People who celebrated its birth three years ago are now a critical, pouring scorn on a toddler that emerged and became the city’s darling in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Baya has noticed this as well.
“Perhaps the challenge this year has been the fact that maybe to some people, the Bulawayo Arts Awards are growing and growing too fast so they’ll do anything to throw spanners in the works. As for ourselves, we believe that if you do something and people are not talking about it then you’re not doing it right.
“When you’ve an idea, you get so many people that are eager to tell you how to execute it. It’s like you’re walking on the right side of the street and then someone tells you to walk on the left. Unfortunately most of these experts have never done anything,” he says.
Tired of know-it-alls’ advise and misgivings, Baya points out that while some might see them as bumbling organisers that stumbled on a fantastic idea, many do not realise that this idea was a long time coming. Years before the bright lights and shiny gongs, Baya and his comrades in the arts toiled in the shadows and came up with the idea of the BAAs.
“We didn’t stumble on this. We really put a lot of thought behind this. It’s an idea that has been brewing for eight years. We thought of and discarded a lot of ideas. For the past three years it’s been trial and error. But some people think we don’t know what we’re doing,” he says.
Recently, Baya woke up to the news that Oskido had renounced his Zimbabwean roots. The BAAs, it seemed, had forced his hand, leaving him no choice but to clarify an issue that had been hanging over his head for years. While the issue touched many Zimbabweans, for organisers of the BAAs it was a more direct blow.
Baya does not touch his drink as he talks animatedly about the issue, only nibbling at the sliced cucumbers he fishes from the depths of his lemon juice.
“For us, to be honest, we responded to it but maybe we shouldn’t have responded. The reason being that we sent out the nomination and he didn’t officially write to us as the BAAs and say I don’t want it. We just read it in the papers like everyone else.
“There was too much talk and at the end of the day we felt that if he doesn’t want to be Zimbabwean you can’t it on him. It’s like throwing a birthday party for someone that doesn’t want one. Officially to us he has never responded so if he were to come on the day and say I’m part of the nominees there would be no way for us to stop him from participating,” he said.
Critics of the awards had also pointed to the nomination of Winky D and Jah Prayzah as evidence that the award show was now losing the plot. Baya dismisses such viewpoints with contempt.
“We’re not looking at Bulawayo as a confined space. In three or four years we would like to see someone from Mutare or Uzumba saying I’m looking for bus fare, I want to attend the BAAs. We don’t want it to look like we’re shutting out people that are not from Bulawayo.
“We’re giving away 50 awards on the night and out of that number 49 will be given to Bulawayo artistes. I don’t know why people would think one award would then dilute the intention of the ceremony. If one person comes and dilutes the whole ceremony with their presence then I think there would be something wrong about the structure of the whole award ceremony,” he said.
Three weeks before the awards ceremony, Baya and his team are understandably anxious about the awards ceremony. Will they surpass the first two editions? Will they fill the 4 500 sitter Zimbabwe International Exhibition Centre Hall 4? Will the money that they have be enough? With local support Baya believes all those questions have positive answers.
“The BAAs are a business idea. That’s one important thing that we as organisers don’t want to lose sight of. As a business that wants to operate and grow in Bulawayo, we need the community to support us,” he says.