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Asaph’s record deal will open the door for other artistes




THE nation’s culture capital, as Bulawayo is known as in local arts and culture circles, in some ways lived up to its billing with a number of entertainment events featuring local and international artists taking turns to titillate audiences. 

Take, for instance, the controversial Bulawayo Arts Festival funded by Nhimbe Trust, Intwasa Arts Festival, Bulawayo Arts Awards and the Zimbabwe Hip Hop Awards (11th edition).

These major events helped to cement the fame of the city as a cultural hub.

The year was speckled with events by private promoters at places such as UMguza Dam, BAC Leisure Centre, Queens Sports Club, Hartsfeld. The most recent gigs were the ones by Big Zulu from South Africa held at Hartsfield and reportedly garnered a considerable audience. What was intriguing for me was the cover charge upwards of a stupendous US$100 per person for the VIP ticket.

Well, South African artists, even the Johnny Come lately with even just one hit song can make a killing in Bulawayo. So it was with Big Zulu I can imagine. 

Strange or not so strange?

My head is still ringing over the strange phenomenon. I submit that it is strange because local artistes tend to struggle to gather the crowds.

It used to be that the mantra was that there is no money in Bulawayo. But the facts suggest otherwise.

What is it that makes local fawn and fall over themselves to attend gigs by South African artists and yet fail to equally storm the gigs organised by local artists. Even the local music promoters insist that staging shows with locals does not make business sense for them. But this is the proverbial chicken and egg scenario. What goes first, a promoter investing in the artistic property or a promoter waiting to merely pounce on what is already popular? It is easy to pontificate on the subject of support for local artists but it is a layered discussion with various strands. 

Rare hit

Take, for example, the case of Sikhosana who had a runaway hit with Ntethe mid-year. He split public opinion over what was considered the quality of his music. Quite a few sneered at his rise but, in the end, Sikhosana now has a music career, cows and a home under construction! All from the attention his music generated for him.

Of course he had angels in the form of musician Madlela Sikhobokhobo and journalist Zenzele Ndebele utilising their platforms and influence to push him. So this case sort of helped chip away at the notion that Bulawayo folk do not wish to support their own artists.

I would not be sweeping in describing local audiences. I mean, when for instance the Bulawayo Arts Awards began five years ago, there were naysayers. Some of us were strident supporters.

We have been vindicated since as the awards have grown in popular and corporate support. So my take is that audiences here are hardy but, once they have embraced you, you are set. 

The biggest winner

Born Tafadzwa Tarukwana, and trading as Asaph, one of Zimbabwe’s foremost hip-hop talents was perhaps 2021’s biggest winner beyond the awards: signing with US global hip-hop label Def Jam.

The deal means that the artiste is poised to record and have his music distributed and therefore exported to a global audience.

He has a real chance to launch into an international market. He has beaten the likes of Winky D and Jah Prayzah to the punch from an export point of view.

Of course Winky D has had his moments of international recognition and is no push over, but the Asaph deal is symbolically very important for the fledgling music industry in the country. The signing is the fruition of many local hip-hop dreams over time.

The likes of Tehn Diamond, Junior Brown and Simba Tagz would give anything to be in the space Asaph is in right now where he will likely have access to the likes of South Africa’s Nasty C and AKA.

The meaning of the Def Jam signing

“Like the signing of Peter Ndlovu saw the discovery of plenty other talented Africans back in the day, the People’s Rapper has done it for hip-hop, a signing by Def Jam Africa can easily be a fantasy for most.

#HipHopCapital Salutes Asaph today and always for his hard work and perseverance. This is a great time to be alive for any dreamer across genres and disciplines.

A loud message for everyone: HOLD ON TO YOUR DREAMS. Congratulations Asaph to you and yours!” observed Bhekithemba “Thorne” Sibanda, a radio DJ and head of operations with the Zimbabwe Hip-Hop Awards. He is amongst an earlier generation of hip-hop heads vicariously living their dreams through the new generation to which Asaph belongs. 

Parting shot

Karma is locating Bulawayo artists who have done so much with so little and it is only a matter of time before a critical mass of artists from this cultural hub truly explode on the world stage.

For now, we have to be content with Asaph breaking through and representing the entire nation in the music realm. I can also mention here what I heard on the 8pm news bulletin the other day.

Apparently, Zimdancehall musicians have an opportunity under DJ Fantan and associates at Chillspot to record their music for export to Jamaica.

But they will have to chant in English. That’s a no brainer. Dancehall as rendered by Zimbabwean artistes is not a unique genre separate from dancehall the Jamaican export.

The fact that it is rendered in the vernacular does not in itself change the music’s Jamaican DNA. It is indeed time local artistes stopped hiding behind the Zimbo tag and compete globally!

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