Chiwoniso gone too soon!


THIS week ends on a rather sombre note as we mourn the passing on of music maestro Chiwoniso Maraire.

Sukoluhle Nyathi

The death of one so young is always poignant as the question will continue to linger on in our minds about the lyrical masterpieces she would have sung had she lived on.

Mai is one such song which plays in my head as I write this piece and sadly her children will stand at her graveside and sing the same ballad.

Chiwoniso made her debut into this world 37 years ago on the March 5 1976.

She is well known for her evocative lyrics delivered against the trademark mbira sound.
Her youthfulness reminds me of Lebo Mathoso who met her early demise at 29.

Lebo’s vocal range was often compared to Brenda Fassie who departed in her prime at 40.
Chiwoniso was one of those enigmatic performers who like Thandiswa Mazwai, has a mesmerising stage repertoire.

Chiwoniso will undoubtedly be remembered in the hall of fame alongside divas like Busi Mhlongo and Miriam Makeba.
I am certain these women will congregate in heaven and make beautiful melodies.

However, even in our sadness we are comforted by the fact that their music will live on.
I love music. I can’t imagine a world without it. There are some songs that have an ability to strike a deep chord within me and move me to tears.

There are others that will propel me to the dance floor within seconds. I have a deep appreciation for music from the classical compositions of Mozart to the more upbeat tempos of house music and spiritual pining of gospel chords.

I believe there is a song for every mood and moment. We all consume music in one form or another.
Yet more often than not, we pay very little homage to the crafters of such harmonies.

Until recently, pursuing a career in music was considered a dubious pursuit.
Even when you look at some of the employment profiles in census data most do not even acknowledge music as a profession let alone and industry.

Yet for the most part in some countries it is a billion-dollar industry which contributes significantly to the gross domestic product.

Where would the likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z be if it were not for illustrious music careers?
A few years ago I worked on a consulting assignment for the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Economic Development. The brief entailed the establishment of a Music cluster to develop the music industry for the benefit of the province.

As you are well aware KZN is a hub of musical talent. The province gave birth to the Grammy Award-Winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
For many months I interviewed musicians from across musical genres like Durban kwaito, gospel, house, maskanda and rock ’n’ roll.

I conducted a detailed study of the music value chain from the origination of the music in the studio.
Engaged with the sound engineers, producers, composers who are often overlooked but make more money than musicians.
I travelled the journey of the song when it leaves the studio till it’s packaged into a CD or receives airplay on a local radio station.

You would be surprised at the amount of politics and bribery behind those stages.
On concluding this project, I had a more profound respect for musicians and swore I would never buy a pirated CD or scourge the Internet for free music downloads. Piracy has deprived musicians of their daily bread.

I was watching an interview with Babsy Mlangeni and was shocked to see that for all his fame his royalties could not even buy himself dentures.

All aspiring musicians are looking for that big break that will catapult them into the limelight. Even Oliver Mtukudzi started this way playing in the murkiness of seedy hotels.

Zahara was also strumming her guitar in obscurity in the Eastern Cape before the lights of Johannesburg illuminated her.
So when they are discovered, they are quick to sign the dotted line and many unknowingly sign their lives away.
It’s for this reason you hear of musicians who are bankrupt even after an eminent career with number one hits.

As much as music is an artistic pursuit there is also the business aspect of it which involves profits and returns through a long value chain, a side which many artists don’t understand or appreciate. The more astute ones have realised this and have now taken over several aspects in the value chain from producing to distribution.

However, for the most part there remains a musical dissonance between the music and the money.
Until there is a harmony between the two, musicians will continue to sing themselves into lyrical poverty yet they contribute to the musical richness of our lives.