The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
DURING his burial on Sunday last week, there was a moment when the Master of Ceremonies requested that Cal_Vin’s song, Thabani, be played as a tribute to the rapper.
The song choice, right before any speech eulogising the fallen rapper was made, was both apt and haunting. It was apt because the song spoke about how unloved he felt in his own city, the same city that had turned up in its thousands to bid him farewell.
It was haunting because on this same song, he raps prophetically about how he was going to die this year.
“Batshele u Cal_Vin uzokufa lonyaka
Eyi, hey wena
They wanna do me like Majaivana”
Those lyrics, those on the day of his burial, seemed to haunt the Bulawayo Amphitheatre as they poured out of the speakers, leaving a bitter after-taste on a day that seemed more of a celebration of his life than a mourning of his death.
In the song’s chorus, Cal_Vin gives a nod to Majaivana, the man whose pen came up with some of those lyrics. The rapper, a keen student of music from across genres, had given Majaivana’s Ingwe Ban’ a modern twist. The message that the two songs, made two decades apart from each other, was essentially the same.
The echo of Majaivana’s cry of discontent, a by-product of the cold shoulder that he felt his city and country reserved especially for him, was heard by Cal_Vin 20 years later and in his death, those at Amphitheatre heard it too. While Majaivana is alive, the legendary musician is “dead” to fans and followers alike — as he has left no trace of his existence for the best part of two decades.
From Majaivana all the way to Cal_Vin that cry is very familiar to those that follow music in the city. When Novuyo Seagirl was booed off-stage last year at Queens Sports Club, that very same cry was heard. When Asaph produces hit after hit, dominating the national charts but walked around with barely any recognition in his city, that cry is repeated yet again.
But is it actually true that Bulawayo does not support its own? And what about those that claim that Bulawayo artistes, sandwiched between musical powerhouses Harare and Johannesburg (South Africa), do not make music that matches the standard of their local and international rivals? Cont Mhlanga, a long-time advocate of local art, told Sunday Life that the problem did not lie with artistes but with middlemen who were supposed to make their art accessible.
“For starters music is a product that consumers must access in order to consume. That’s the first challenge when it comes to Bulawayo. The second point is that musicians are manufacturers of the music product and, therefore, musicians are factories that make products that do not have wholesalers and supermarkets to sell to consumers. That’s the biggest problem in Bulawayo.
“Bulawayo itself does not have the required solid music infrastructure that can make its own talent be easily supportable by Bulawayo consumers and that can make its talent bankable. It just does not have that infrastructure. We underestimate the role of infrastructure in making talent bankable and I think I want to speak to that,” he said.
Cal_Vin’s burial, Mhlanga said, showed that Bulawayo knew its heroes and would celebrate them when they were alive if given enough exposure and access.
“What you saw at the late Cal_Vin’s send-off, when a lot of people stood on their feet, that tells you that people in Bulawayo are very aware of what their talent is doing. It tells you that people know what their talent can do and is capable of because no one has known Cal_Vin for anything else except the music that he made. It means that people know and appreciate that there are people that make good music in Bulawayo. So, the challenge is not with the music makers or the audience themselves, but somewhere in the middle of the two.
“In fact, the turnout at the send-off should give a lot of young artistes in Bulawayo courage and hope that people in Bulawayo are aware of what they’re doing. The bankability of what they do and people coming to consume their art is a different ballgame that requires a whole different people to address and not the musicians or the consumers themselves,” he said.
Playwright and critic Raisedon Baya said while artistes might clamour for more support from the wider Bulawayo public, they had also let themselves down by failing to build support structures, starting from their own homes.
“On Twitter someone said ‘why do you want us to support an artiste whose family has never been seen at their event’ and that rang true because if you go to a lot of your white communities, remember they aren’t as many as black people, you will find they have family there. If you go to a theatre show, they will fill-up the theatre, if you go to the music academy when there is a show, they fill up the place. Why do they do that? It’s because the families are their first base of support, their first port of call.
“They don’t just come to see the show, they also pay and support the show. If we hold shows our families should show support because we expect them to believe in whatever we do. We cannot expect people from outside to buy-in to our work when our own people, our own blood, our own relatives don’t buy into your work as an artiste. I think that’s one place where we can blame ourselves as artistes,” he said.
With most major companies headquartered in the capital, Baya said corporate support was also hard to come by. While their counterparts in Harare walked away with lucrative endorsements, Bulawayo musicians had to make do with scraps tossed their way from time to time.
“I would also blame our corporates. I am not saying they should support all artistes but I think they should support a few events but you rarely see them and I think the biggest problem is that most of the people making the decisions in the so-called bigger companies are probably not in Bulawayo. The decision makers are probably in Harare.
“There are a lot of problems but the solutions come with organisations, come with putting structures, come with advocacy and also come with an understanding from artistes that at the end of the day they might not make it despite their hard work. I say this because there are lot of young, and even older artistes, that believe that someone owes them success. We owe it to ourselves to push and push and push,” he said.
At times, it seems as if there is a cultural umbilical cord that connects Bulawayo to Johannesburg. According to Baya, this had led to local artistes, who have lesser means and are not as exposed in mainstream media, being compared unfavourable with their South African counterparts.
“I would blame our general public. Whether it’s due to socialisation or bias, especially in music, I think they prefer South African work. There is an inferiority complex whereby it’s seen as not nice to like local things. It’s quite fashionable to know what’s current in SA whether it’s in music or other things. That’s why you find even social media challenges, whether it’s John Vuligate or Jerusalema, a lot of locals jump onto it.
They think it takes them to another level but when we do our own everyone is laughing and making jokes about it because we’ve really become a laughing stock,” he said.
Fellow rapper, “Kabelo KBrizzy” Matiwaza said while some might blame audiences, the problem sometimes is that the economic situation made it difficult to support local musicians.
“At first, I also used to think that people in Bulawayo also don’t support, but as my understanding grew, I also realised that economics also comes into play. The medium family in Bulawayo right now is struggling to put food on the table so it’s very unfair for a large group of artistes to expect people to buy an album, buy merchandise, attend three shows a month when they don’t even have transport money to go to work or are struggling to just put basic commodities on the table for their children. It just won’t work. That’s why it takes the extraordinary once in a month shows for people to show up because people just sacrifice for that one time,” he said.