The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
WITH the Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards less than a week away from holding their third edition, Saimon Mambazo Phiri, feels like the event’s founders are no longer in control of the ceremony.
Like farmers watching the seed of a flower they planted grow, the five men who initially pursued the idea of the BAAs can only watch knowing that in as much as it belongs to them, it also belongs to those who come by once a year to criticise or praise its petals.
It is a product that not only belongs to the men whose hands tend to it, but to the passerby who is there to admire its bloom or, when the worst comes to the worst, its death.
But before it was anyone could admire the BAAs for their glitz and glamour, they were just a seed germinating in the minds of Saimon Mambazo Phiri, Raisedon Baya, Nkululeko Nkala, Reason Rizzla Sibanda and Vusumuzi Siqalaba.
It is this seed, which comes into full bloom once every year, that Mambazo feels like they no longer fully control.
“The first year we were in control, the second we were partly in control but now we’re running a people’s project. We have had to learn that other people’s opinions matter even though it was our idea,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of Wednesday’s host reveal event where it emerged that comedian Nceku, model Samantha Tshuma and Lorraine Sibanda would be the main stage hosts of the event slated for 29 June at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair.
Things were not always like that. At first, the ceremony’s masterminds were also plagued by doubt, unsure whether they could introduce an event of the BAAs nature to the city’s arts calendar.
“The dream started way back. The idea was (conceived) like eight years ago. The idea was there but the question was how to make things happen because we didn’t have funds but three years ago we said let’s do this. The idea was not to pay people but to bring them under one umbrella and say let’s celebrate them,” said Raisedon Baya.
While the idea to host an awards ceremony for a city that had for so long cried of being sidelined when it came to arts honours, it only truly came alive after another ceremony — the 2013 Nama awards held in the City of Kings for the first time that year.
“So when we eventually got around to it four or five years ago, the calls were getting louder. When we did the Namas we had a taste of what it’s like to do these things. I was one of the people who, after that ceremony, felt we could do this. That particular event just rekindled a spirit that was already there.
“When we did the Namas, even people in Bulawayo were saying we couldn’t host a ceremony like that in Bulawayo because we did not have the infrastructure but we did and so naturally it was easier for us to go back to the City Hall because we had already tried it,” said Phiri.
At first, Phiri said, the plan for the award lacked the focus that they would have later on.
“When he (Raisedon) was pitching it to me it was so broad. They would be categories like Outstanding Footballer, Outstanding Businessman. It was a mouthful. Then a few years later Matsika (Megafest Business Awards) took the business side and I remember telling him that Raisedon there goes your idea. But this is the thing with ideas, there’s no monopoly to creativity. If you’re thinking of an idea probably a hundred other people are thinking of it,” Phiri said.
While the Namas gave the idea fresh legs, Phiri credits Nkala for keeping them on their toes and encouraging them to go through with the idea.
“Among all my peers like Raisedon, it was Nku who really acted like the glue to keep us together. He kept on saying let’s do this because time is not on our side and in the end we ended up being the big brothers to him, big brothers we never had ourselves,” Phiri said.
The project had many false starts and Nkala said it was from those aborted initial plans that he realised that not everybody necessarily needed to be on board with the idea.
“For many years the idea of the awards had been muted by a lot of people. So when the Namas came we felt that maybe we could do it so we formed a shadow committee with the likes of me, Babongile Sikhonjwa, Mambazo and others who do events.
So we had a meeting and that was the end of the idea. We did this again two more times and that’s when maybe we realised that this wouldn’t work as a collective idea,” Nkala said.
Nkala remembers those first days as he and Baya brainstormed about how they could bring the idea of an awards ceremony to life
“When I was in Europe in 2016, I don’t know if it was because I was bored or whatever, I decided to get in touch with Raisedon who already had a concept around this. We started working on the concept, tweaked it and when I came back on 13 January (2017) I set a meeting for 14 January and told him we need to do these awards. The awards started at the veranda of Raisedon’s house. I asked him when we could hold the ceremony and he said we would sit down and decide on a date and I said no, we need to set a date. So we set a date before we had anything else decided.
“So the first thing we needed to do was gain legality and so I got in touch with Siqalaba because we needed a promoter for this kind of thing or the National Arts Council would clamp us.
I then told Raisedon that we needed to approach Mambazo and since he had been on the initial committee, I knew he would jump at the idea. A week or so later he suggested that we add Rizzla,” he said.
For Phiri, the award ceremony is now a triumph, a triumph that proves what can be achieved when people value actions more than words.
“You know I call Bulawayo the city of ideas. You go to workshops and people have briefcases and laptops and during tea breaks they’ll say I want to see you about this idea. The problem seems to be the execution. If you get to the awards on the 29th just know that we’re also equally surprised.
If you get to the awards and you feel like they’re successful, we will feel like we’ve done a good job just because of the amount of battering we’ve had to do,” he said.
Organisers said advance tickets were selling well, with the general ticket going for US$5, VIP US$10 and VVIP US$15.
Payments can be made in electronic money equivalent to the US dollars or RTGS dollars at National Art Gallery in Bulawayo and Zimbabwe International Trade Fair offices.