The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu , Sunday Life Reporter
AROUND this time, ten years ago, the Kalawa Homecoming bug had already bitten Bulawayo.
News about that year’s Kalawa gig was already trickling in, with music fans being drip-fed bits of information about who would be on the line-up for that year’s festive season blockbuster.
For that year, Oskido, the Kalawa supremo, had something extra special planned for Bulawayo.
In a city that is always yearning for the better days of yesteryear, the line-up for that edition of the Homecoming was tailor-made for a thoroughly good time for lovers of the fabled “old school.”
Zola, Mdu, the late Mandoza and Trompies made for a tantalising squad of performers. It was a meeting of Kwaito music royalty in the City of Kings and the crowd that turned up for the occasion did not disappoint. From Bulawayo, Harare, South Africa and even Botswana revellers arrived in their droves to sample music from the young men who had made the crossover onto the 20th century memorable across southern Africa.
If, 10 years ago, you would have told any reveller on that night on 27 December that only a decade later, the Homecoming would be a fast-fading memory, they would not have believed it.
If you had told them that the highlight of the festive season, and what is now a sure bet to be one of the biggest events ever hosted in the City of Kings, would be a “picnic event,” they would have pointed you to the nearest asylum.
On 31 December this year, the celebrated Munch and Sip promises to host the mother of all events. Given what has happened in the past, it is not hard to imagine that this event will match, or even surpass the best of the star-powered Kalawa Homecoming.
Usually held in open spaces where people can enjoy food and drinks with music sometimes in the distant background, “picnic” or “lifestyle” events have become a hit in Bulawayo.
While for years, Bulawayo artistes have complained that South African acts are stealing their shine, getting paid a premium while they scrounge for peanuts in the city, these outdoor events have shown what is possible even with an all-local cast.
Once in a while, Bulawayo still hosts blockbuster events featuring South African acts. However, these events are now few and far in-between and their success rate keeps diminishing. Despite high expectations, as the recent Young Stunna gig showed, the organisation behind these gigs, which can feel like grab-money-quick schemes, leaves a lot to be desired.
The fact that they are held late at night, with artistes usually coming on stage after midnight, has made them less desirable to a certain audience of people that still want to have fun but do not necessarily want to stay up well past midnight.
On the other hand, events such as Garden of House, Sneaker Expo and the recent Doek and Slay have pulled impressive numbers, without importing extra expensive acts from South Africa. All these events, are centred on a concept which, through aggressive advertising and marketing, the organisers then ask the rest of Bulawayo to buy into.
“It was an idea that came up over drinks,” Davison “Diva” Feliate said about the founding of the now popular Sneaker Expo. “You know when alcohol is involved, people talk a lot. I was there, Leroy Waps was there, Mlamuli “Mlatso” Moyo was and so was Mthulisi Moyo. At the time, they were doing events so it was a meeting of guys that love shoes and guys that are doing events. So, we thought, let us just try something. This was before we were formally registered or anything like that,” he said.
A hallmark of the city’s explosion of lifestyle events is how founders have leveraged on their friends in various fields to spread the word and put together memorable events that leave their audiences yearning for more.
“When it started, it was during Covid-19 so we just put a few things together resource wise. We paid for the venue and Allan came from the UK for the sound. I think what made the first one successful was that we got a lot of support from our friends and colleagues that we worked with every other day. They were very hands-on when it came to the idea of the Expo.
We did the first and there were 100 people. We realised that people were enthusiastic about it because this was a new idea in the city, a new idea in the country I suppose,” Feliate said.
Like other lifestyle events that are now flourishing around the city, Diva said the Sneaker Expo was a labour of love, which was made possible by the availability of a network of people that wanted to show their support.
“There was a limit in the first edition to 100 people because of Covid-19 but we grew into the next one, which was last year. We had more resources and we had a line-up of DJs and entertainers which cost more money but we were just trying to grow the brand. So, we had 500 people and this year, we tried to engage more partners and corporates because the bigger the event, the bigger the costs. I am happy to say there are people who have been with us from day one and we value those people. It’s not solely our effort in growing this because there are people who have always been there and have stuck with us as we grow the concept. There’s extended support including some of our friends in various fields that are hands-on and have made sure that the idea comes to life,” he said.
Dalubuhle Sibanda of Umahlekisa Entertainment said lifestyle or picnic events were gaining traction nowadays because people wanted a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
“It is all about the show of lifestyle and looking good. In an economy like ours, people need to be seen as happy, looking happy, and enjoying life. Happy pictures translate to happy memories,” he said.
Sibanda said these events were also gaining in popularity because they were heavily marketed on social media, giving people the feeling that the event was collectively owned by everyone. It is a concept that applied to the Kalawa Homecoming of old, where even diasporans felt that they were coming home to enjoy with their kin and kith. In other big shows however, revellers are merely guests invited to spend their money.
“What I have come to realise about the picnic events is the power of social media. There’s a big difference between that and the night concerts that we see. The lifestyle events, which happen during the day mostly, are all about showcasing people and their life, which makes for good social media content. You come there, you have your sneakers on point, your dress code is on point, you are on green grass, there are photo booths around so everything just feels very Instagramable,” he said.
The choice of venue, Sibanda said, had a telling effect on how the event was ultimately received.
“If you look at the events, for example, Munch and Sip, the only one people said was boring was at Sailing Club and I can say maybe it was because it was not on the lush green that is usually associated with the event. Garden of House is always in the nicest venues but if you put them at the Art Gallery, you probably will not get the same kind of numbers they usually get. Look at where the Doek and Slay event was hosted. It was on the green of the Queens Sports Club. So, I would say, these events are thriving because they make for greater social media content,” he said.