Mai Mwamuka and Zim’s most lucrative arts award

14 Nov, 2021 - 00:11 0 Views
Mai Mwamuka and Zim’s most lucrative arts award Mai Mwamuka

The Sunday News

Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter

IT was a bombshell that exploded from out of the blue.

For hours, people had sat quietly, watching patiently as every award winner strutted to onto the stage, their purposeful steps filled steps with gleeful excitement, and left it with gong tucked under their arms and joy sitting snuggly in their hearts.

It was a glorious occasion and each award was greeted with the pomp that arts lovers have come to associate with Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards but while every winner was cheered, there was one award that everyone was waiting for.

As the hours ticked away on the night of 6 November, all that had gathered at the City Hall would have been counting down to the minute when the winner of the People’s Choice Award was announced.

This year’s crowning of the people’s champion would be an unprecedented occasion in the history of local award shows. A shiny trophy or some prize money is usually the sum of the reward that anointed winners are deemed worthy of but this year at the RBAAs, things would be different.

As had been billed for weeks, the winner of the People’s Choice award would walk away with a fully serviced stand with all the building material needed to construct a new home in Cowdray Park.

Before that hour at the Large City Hall, with the stroke of midnight not too far off, all sorts of names were suggested as potential winners of this life-changing award.

But when the moment of truth came, the name Mai Mwamuka reverberated in the halls where city fathers usually meet to discuss the weighty matters that affect Bulawayo.

For Mai Mwamuka and her undoubtedly thousands of followers, this was a moment of truth, a joyous occasion when the fruits of her hard work had ripened in front of their eyes. It was now time for the gospel singer, preacher cum marriage counsellor to feast. This was the day, or rather the night, that the Lord had made.

However, for many at the City Hall, the decision was a shock. Out of all the names they felt would have been read, Mai Mwamuka was the last one they had expected.  For the second year running, the popular mainstream acts touted by some self-appointed arts gurus had been pipped by an unlikely winner.

Last year, Skyz Metro FM’s Marnuse Ndlovu left musicians and other acts that deem themselves popular smarting when she emerged as the people’s choice. It was not long before some cried controversy, alleging that the vote had been rigged in favour of the “unknown” Mai Mwamuka. Who was she? Was she even from Bulawayo? What are the names of her most popular songs?

As whispers of her victory trickled from the City Hall to the rest of Bulawayo and beyond, her life and work were put under the microscope. However, while some searched for a conspiracy, a carefully woven web of deceit by the organisers to give this “unknown” gospel singer the most lucrative arts award in Zimbabwe, some began taking lessons.

Some had seen Mai Mwamuka lay the building blocks of her career that would finally lead to that house in Cowdray Park on that warm November night. And so it was a chance to reflect and taking lessons from her, a woman who is clearly the master of her game.

“As an organiser, the Mai Mwamuka saga has shown that when we say vote, artistes themselves need not to sit-down, they have to run around and really try to make their own people vote,” said Raisedon Baya, one of the organisers of the RBAAs. “It should not be about emotions, with people saying we should have given it to who and who. Once we say it’s a People’s Choice Award it basically means only votes are going to count and only the votes of the people are what we are going to consider which is exactly what we did.”

After Mai Mwamuka’s victory, Baya said it was important for artistes to pay attention to the craft of audience building, something that most neglected as they went for the glossy fame of likes and retweets on social media.

“I think as artistes we need to know the difference between fame, which is sometimes empty, hollow and meaningless and proper popularity whereby you are known by your fans. In the latter case your fans are ready to support you by voting for you as we had in the People’s Choice award or in normal times when you stage shows and they come and pay to enjoy your music or whatever you are presenting.

“A lot of Bulawayo artistes need to invest in what I call audience building. We are always complaining, other people are thought to be doing better instead of showing them the way that things should be done. For me, we need to be going out there and selling music and having shows, rather than waiting for someone to do for us. I think we need to invest more in making sure our own people like our products rather than placing a few newspaper articles or going on radio shows then thinking we have made it.

“I think the way that we measure success should be different. It should be based on what your music brings to the table not how many times you have been in the newspaper or how many times that your song has been played on radio. I think we need to make money out of our art and the only way we can do that is if our fans are prepared to back us. Very few artistes can put up money to put up a show at a venue like City Hall because they know that no one will come. So, I think we need to keep hammering that point. Your worth is in your fans. These are the people that are able to come and support you physically or by paying for events,” Baya said.

Rapper Asaph said Mai Mwamuka, whose music most people on social media confessed ignorance of after her unlikely victory, had shown the importance of prioritising a core fanbase that would support one through thick and thin.

“She is not a new artiste. She has actually been in the game, winning best gospel year after year after year. So, for me what artistes can learn from her is consistency and the importance of cultivating your fanbase. She has this fanbase in gospel circles and she is not necessarily even trying to grow it. It’s not like she is out there like other artistes publicising herself and trying to get to the Harare market or the South African market, no.

“She just looks at her fanbase and tries to cultivate that and I think as artistes that is something that we should do. Cultivate your own fanbase even if it’s just 20, 50 or 100 people. Those are the people that will pull you through. If they vote for you every year, your name will always pop up out there until you maybe walk away with a house too,” he said.

Asaph’s views were echoed by comedian Ntando Van Moyo, who said most artistes seemed to lose the plot by trying to cater for people who were not interested in investing in their careers.

“I think that the first and most important lesson is knowing who your fans and who you are creating your art for. I think there’s danger in wanting to please everybody and trying to appeal to Bulawayo and this is what most artistes do. If you appeal to drunkards, make sure you make art for drunkards and if you appeal to churchgoers make art for churchgoers. That is what she did. She didn’t care what people from certain areas and sectors said, she concentrated on her constituency.

“You find someone who does kwaito now trying to appeal to the hip-hop crowd or a comedian trying to please the rap crowd. You have to know yourself and stick to your lane. I think people should stop this thing of saying they are creating a “Bulawayo sound”. She did not do that. She gave her fans a sound that they want to hear and that is what the likes of Magwaza, Ndolwane and all those other guys who fill up stadiums have done. They create content that resonates with their people,” he said.

For Mai Mwamuka, it was indeed the Night that the Lord had made.

“I have done music and never sold any CD to anyone. I have done shows and never asked people to pay. I always do all this for free because I believe my music has to change people’s lives. When people asked me why I was giving music for free and doing shows for free, I told them that the Lord will pay me one day, and today he has done just that,” she said, with tears of joy licking her cheeks.

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