The Sunday News
ARTS FOCUS with Raisedon Baya
YEARS ago, when we were just starting in the arts, our young group, we called ourselves Township Artists then, was invited to perform in Harare at a regional platform. It was funny how it really happened. One of our group members saw an advert in the newspaper about the event, phoned the organisers and luckily the Chief Executive Officer of the event was the now late Nhlanhla Masuku.
He was excited about us and quickly invited us to Harare to perform. In our excitement, especially about going to perform in Harare we never asked for a contract or agreed on how much we were going to be paid for the event. Even today it’s something we always laugh about.
I remember us taking a train to Harare. It was cheaper and we were also trying to avoid accommodation issues. To us the Harare trip was nothing but an adventure. We were going to conquer Harare and that was what was more important. When one member of group raised the issue of accommodation another said he had relatives that were willing to accommodate us — it turned out to be a lie anyway. Young minds. Innocent thoughts. All we wanted was to be seen, to showcase our talent on stage. Everything else was secondary.
The event was at the Sheraton Hotel (now Rainbow Towers) when the Sheraton was still the Sheraton. We got there, were awed by the building and the food and Harare itself. We performed in front of hundreds of delegates. We did our best. The crowd loved us. The organisers were happy. It was after the performance that Masuku (may his soul rest in peace) came to us and asked how much we expected to be paid. I will never forget that night and that question.
Here we were, having travelled over 400 kilometres to Harare, performed and yet had no idea what we were going to be paid. At that moment we realised we were going to accept anything. We quickly consulted and then threw a figure at the man. I remember we asked for $300. It was good money, according to us. But we had not factored in things like transport, food, accommodation and the like. I remember Masuku looking at us with surprise and then shock. Then he was shouting: “$300 is nonsense!”.
We were all taken aback and were about to cut the price by half when the man told us what he was prepared to give us. “We will pay you $1 500 and give you accommodation. You guys can’t travel all the way for peanuts. How do you arrive at your charges, anyway?”
To cut the long story short we were given another performance and ended up getting paid $3 000. It was the biggest payment for us in years. And we never forgot the generosity of Masuku. There are many business lessons in this story. First lesson is contracts are important for any business transaction. We were just lucky that we found a really good-hearted businessman who realised that were just young artistes and instead of exploiting us he empowered us. The second lesson was never leave your home and hometown to perform without knowing where you will sleep after the performance.
It must be in the contract and if not, you must know this in advance. Many artistes, especially female artistes, end up being compromised because of accommodation issues. The third lesson is about knowing one’s worth. You must know your price and never compromise on it. Don’t be in a habit of charging according to how your client looks, have a charge or a price for your service. And be sure of what you are charging.
Experience has taught us that it is young artistes that are usually exploited more. They are told to do things for exposure or to build relationships or it’s the young artistes themselves offering their services nearly for free. It is these young artistes that need to be protected. They need to be taught the business of the arts and have their eyes opened. The older artistes know the tricks, if they get exploited it is not because they do not know, but rather are willingly being exploited.