The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
THIS time last year, promoters in Bulawayo had their hands on their heads.
For a few months before the onset of last year’s festive season, it had seemed like they were back on track, after a long Covid-19 induced hiatus. South African acts, for so long the cash cows of local promoters, were once again flooding into the city, and shows were recording unprecedented numbers.
With their pockets bulging on the eve of the festive season, it was fair to assume that most promoters expected more of the same. Then. enter the omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus.
After stellar work scientists in South Africa and Botswana, it was revealed that a new variant had been detected and it was possibly more infectious than the Delta variant that wreaked havoc in this part of the world only a few months prior.
The fourth wave, for so long feared, was on Zimbabwe’s doorstep, and subsequently the government had to take steps to protect the country. One of the measures announced was the mandatory quarantine of those coming into the country for a period of up to 10 days regardless of whether their PCR tests came out positive or negative.
“Foreign Artists coming into Zimbabwe MUST undergo PCR testing and will be quarantined for days recommended by the WHO (World Health Organisation), even if they present negative PCR test results from elsewhere…All shows, performances MUST end one hour before the start of the curfew period or at 2000 hours. This is to give ample time for patrons to travel to their respective places of residence before the start of the curfew period at 2100 hours. Meanwhile, all clearance letters already issued for shows shall be subject to the above enhanced protocols and promoters should stand guided,” the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe said in a communiqué that came after government announced its new Covid-19 regulations.
Blaq Diamond, Kabza De Small and Maphorisa were some of the stellar acts that would no longer be able to grace Zimbabwe due to this decree.
A year later, the picture looks a lot rosier for promoters. People now walk the streets of Bulawayo maskless and fears of curfews are starting to become a distant memory, a recollection of a circumstances that soon will become a bed-time story for children that are lucky to have been born after that grief-stricken period.
Dr Tira, Amaroto, Master KG, Winky D and Sir Trill are just but a few of the stars that are set to grace Bulawayo over the next month.
For Mduduzi Mdlongwa of 3D, who was counting his losses as the Blaq Diamond and Sir Trill gigs were cancelled last year, this year’s festive season will bring a semblance of normalcy and, hopefully, a cash injection into promoter’s bank accounts.
“We look forward to this festival season, particularly this one because we are coming out of a Covid-19 era where, we never saw proper festivities and entertainment around this time. As promoters we were totally frustrated so we are looking forward to people coming through from all over the world. People are coming to see their relatives after a very long time, so there should be a lot of celebrations going around.
“We are looking to capitalise on that with people coming to events that are meant for them so we should be having a positive bank balance after all is said and done this festive season. It’s been over three years without people having the proper festive season, doing the family gatherings and everything else that comes with the silly season. We are really looking forward to this and people seeing each other after a long time,” Mdlongwa told Sunday Life.
Fellow promoter, Joe Da OG echoed Mdlongwa’s sentiments, saying that with little travelling restrictions, promoters could at least look forward to a more fruitful festive period.
“It makes a bit of a difference but I think Covid-19 also impacted this festive season promotion spirit and we will see how things go now that Covid-19 has subsided. People are now free to travel and with those increased numbers maybe we will see something with a bit of fire,” he said.
Joe was however, eager to caution fellow promoters, as he does not believe that people still have the same spending power as they used to in the past. This, he said, might mean that the bumper festive season promoters are eyeing is an illusion.
“We can’t really run away from the fact that festive season is a little bit different from your usual months, from January to October. However, it’s no longer what it used to be. Back then, festive season would kick in from the end of November right until December 31st. You had weddings, private functions, corporate functions, international events and everybody just having fun. Now with the shrink of our cash flows it has really reduced the impact of the festive season. People don’t have as much disposable cash as they used to have. People still try to make the most out of the little they would have so while it might be time to cash-in, things just aren’t what they used to be. Now the vibe is lower. A family that used to afford a lot of Christmas clothes for the kids can no longer do that effectively,” he said.
There was still room to manoeuvre, Joe said, for the wise promoter that was prepared to offer a wholesome entertainment package to prosper.
Away from the major music shows, the ROIL Bulawayo Arts Awards are also taking place during the festive season this year. One of the organisers of the event, Raisedon Baya, said this year’s award ceremony would be a test run and if successful, the event might be held in December again next year.
“In arts promotion, there are basically two kinds of promoters. There are those ones from the onset that are looking to make some business from the arts. So, these ones put up events to make money and most of those are usually found in music. Then there are those like us, are more about the arts themselves and developing them. We are community based and it’s not really about the money but the arts themselves.
“I think there’s room for both developmental oriented promotions and commercial promotions. Obviously there will be competition and people will go where they think they will get the best entertainment and I think that’s a part of life. For us we have two events that we are looking to promote. We have the Bulawayo Arts Awards that are happening on the eve of Christmas, and this is an event that is both promotional and also business oriented and if it’s successful we might do it every year because we have a feeling now, because of the excitement that we are witnessing, that people are looking forward to an event to dress up for during Christmas,” he said.