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Turf battles in arts universal

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LIFE just like the arts and entertainment is a struggle for survival, recognition and relevance.

In Zimbabwe for instance there is so much mudslinging, pulling and blame shifting about who is who in the industry. There are those that feel that they are looked down upon despite their efforts. There are those that think it’s their language or their tribal inclination that leads to them being sidelined.

So many artistes complain that their music is not played and because they lack airplay their creativity is deliberately suppressed. It’s the fight for survival.

The question I pose this week is whether Zimbabwe’s arts and entertainment battles for turf are in themselves unique to this country or they are just the small fish in an ocean infested with sharks.

My point is Zimbabwean artistes need to look around and probably find solace in the fact that the problems bedevilling our arts and entertainment circles are almost universal. I have travelled all over the world and I can share for a fact that from one country to another I have visited it seems the “local” artistes moan and groan about problems similar to those affecting Zimbabwean artistes.

Certainly two wrongs or rather the frequency of problems does not justify anything, but the truth is the concerns in the arts and entertainment industry worldwide are bigger than Zimbabwe.

In most countries local artistes complain that their music and their productions are suffocated by international music, films and plays.

While we debate regional balance of broadcasting in Zimbabwe we need to be aware that others including ourselves still have to interrogate the colonisation of our people, our television and radio stations by the so-called international greats. The smaller fish worldwide continue to scream about the influence of music, films and dances from the super powers of the world especially the British and the American productions.

I never seem to stop asking myself several questions for which answers always seem to elude me. Is it a coincidence or just sheer talent that the Beyoncés, Madonnas, Pinks and Justin Biebers of the world are known and selling at every corner of the universe?

What if the Zimbabwean in Bulawayo never heard Beyoncé’s song in their life? What if the teenager in New York listened to Makoomba as frequently as we listen to Shakira? Does it mean Hollywood has the best and for how long shall it remain so? What are they doing better than all of us?

Will we live to see a day when Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi’s music is played on iPod, radio stations in underground trains and homes in the UK and the US? Will there ever be an artiste from Africa breaking the charts internationally without singing some World Cup theme song or any songs deliberately promoted for a purpose by the powers that be?

I believe the arts and entertainment products are as good as who packaged them and told us they were.

No matter how good some products from Africa will ever be, unless and until they are managed and marketed by the biggest record companies like Sony International, Universal, Warner and EMI, among others, then they could only go as far as we always imagine.

It’s all about marketing and those Gods of the entertainment industry simply colonised the whole world. Whether that is good or not is certainly a topic for another day, but the truth is that talent and creativity are not the only reason why the whole world plays music from Europe and America or why we all prefer films produced in Hollywood.

Learn from the best! We should not thrive to stop these entertainment super powers from selling to Africa. They are only doing their work and doing it well.

It’s either we find ways to make them sell African talent as good as they sell European and American talent.

The truth is that the moment they realised they had a lot to gain from the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba they embraced them, idolised them, gave them awards and sold their products.

Sometimes you need to be visible and aggressive in a manner that cannot be ignored. No doubt, Africa has talent and judging by the popularity of African shows internationally surely there is a future for arts and entertainment from Africa on the world market.

We just need to find a way into mainstream media like MTV, Sky and other global channels, let alone creating our own and that requires not just talent and creativity, but a whole new marketing strategy for African arts. The lack of African arts visibility on the international market is deliberate.

Unless and until the lion learns to tell his story then stories of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. Have we totally emancipated the arts and entertainment industry from imperial forces? Keep walking.

 Follow me on twitter @NkueInnoeDube

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