Bold strategy in the making for Zimbabwe’s music industry

Music industry in the face of COVID-19

In times of crisis, people need culture more than ever. Spontaneous concerts are taking place in apartment balconies. Consumption of cultural content such as music, films, literature and performances through television, smartphones and radio have all increased dramatically. Amidst the health crisis, culture is the primary coping mechanism for many people around the world. The pandemic has shown that creativity helps us become resilient.

The very sector that is providing comfort and strengths to the crisis-struck world, however, is one of the most precarious. Today, the music industry is in dire need of institutional and financial support for its survival. With the spread of COVID-19 and the cancellation of public gatherings, musicians in Zimbabwe, who rely heavily on live performances to make a living, have been hit particularly hard. The current crisis thus highlights the need to secure internet access and digital tools for Zimbabwean musicians. “This is an opportune moment to try to structure partnerships with mobile internet service providers and cultural and creative industries (CCIs). Artists and CCI players need support to be able to get online to continue to produce and disseminate their works. Ensuring that artists have digital skills, including digital monetization skills, becomes more crucial”, advises Ms Yarri Kamara, a public policy consultant based in Burkina Faso. “The crisis opens space for assessing the need for well-constructed, practical and accessible strategies, and to re-imagine the socio-economic importance of the arts”, adds Mr Farai Mpfunya, a Zimbabwean CCI expert.

While the unprecedented disruption to cultural life and livelihoods caused by COVID-19 is evident, the pandemic also revealed and magnified the creative industries’ pre-existing volatility. The lack of social and economic safety net for cultural practitioners, while exasperated by the pandemic, is not new. In order to develop a truly sustainable, crisis-ready music industry, Zimbabwe must develop a holistic mechanism that not only champions talents, but also elevates musicians from constant precariousness.

Zimbabwe is betting on its CCIs to support the development of the country’s economy. The launch of a revised national cultural policy by the President in November 2019 attests to the political commitment towards CCIs. As CCIs have largely been informal in Zimbabwe, the professionalization of the creative sector is key. In 2012, it is estimated that CCIs already contributed 6.96% to the country’s GDPWith many Zimbabweans depending on CCIs as their source of income, it is high time that laws governing the sector are adopted to respond to today’s challenges. The Zimbabwean government is determined to launch a National Cultural and Creative Industries strategy and is working to operationalize it by implementing a pilot process for developing a music industry strategy, replicable to other sub-sectors, with the support of the EU/UNESCO project.

A strategy to respond to challenges faced by music industry players

In early March 2020, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) and UNESCO kicked off the implementation of a project funded by the European Union aimed at supporting Zimbabwe in developing a national strategy to reinforce its music industry. The pilot project will serve as a template for the development of other industries in the future, notably film and visual arts. The EU/UNESCO initiative is supported by two experts who have joined hands to advise and guide Zimbabwe’s national team: Ms Yarri Kamara and Mr Farai Mpfunya. The experts will be providing support to the NACZ by analyzing the music sector and researching innovative models from other countries. They will also facilitate international exchanges of good practices through the set-up of peer-to-peer learning mechanisms.

On the occasion of Ms Kamara’s first mission to Zimbabwe in March 2020, consultation meetings were held in Harare and Bulawayo. The meetings provided relevant stakeholders, including musicians, an opportunity to express their concerns, needs and challenges. “They know their industry and how they want to see it grow” said Mr Mpfunya. “Seeing their enthusiasm and passion during consultations with musicians and music industry players was the most memorable and rewarding moment of this first mission. It is everyone’s hope that the strategy that will be formulated will not just be a piece of paper but result in palpable actions on the ground”, added Ms Kamara.

Strengthening the music industry across its value chain

Music is the country’s most popular and accessible art form, and a key expression of Zimbabwe’s unique cultural identity. Therefore, the project’s focus on the music industry can garner wide support, especially from the youth. Developments in the digital realm are making it easier to harness the opportunities offered by the music industry, further boosted by cheaper and higher performing digital tools. Zimbabwe’s “75% Local Content Policy” has also strengthened access to broadcasting.

However, several challenges hinder the development of the music industry, limiting music’s contribution to the economy and livelihoods. De-structuring of the music value chain and piracy are some of such obstacles. “There is tremendous raw talent and energy, but supportive gatekeeping functions are missing”, indicates Ms Kamara. “Zimbabwean record labels have disappeared over the past few years due to piracy. The essential functions they used to play in the value chain – such as nurturing, promoting and distributing musical talents – are now neglected or undertaken by the artists themselves. This is not ideal from the industry perspective if we want quality music products”, she added. “Designing a more conducive regulatory environment will help build the momentum for change. A strategy document fully endorsed by government will open immense possibilities”, completed Mr Mpfunya.

 

Together with Zimbabwe, this EU/UNESCO project is currently supporting twelve selected beneficiary countries from around the world in the design of new regulatory frameworks aimed at strengthening their national CCIs. It is doing so by providing expertise and support for peer-to-peer learning opportunities with fellow public officials in partner countries, thus contributing to the creation of international South-South networks for creativity.