When forgotten musician Peter Tangwena began selling CDs at Mereki Shopping centre a few years ago, he became a subject of serious ridicule and laughter because he had reduced himself to a vendor when other musicians were concentrating on their core business.
Various jokes were made about Tangwena with some claiming that his albums were not even among the CDs that he sold because he knew no one would buy his music. Others said it was Tangwena’s way of saluting musicians that had given him stiff competition in the industry and a sign of accepting defeat.
Indeed things were hard for Tangwena because he had gone past the days of fame with his songs “Siyana Newangu” and “Mutinhimira”. The musician had to devise other means of survival. And at that time, it was a disgrace for a musician to sell CDs. But things have now changed. Most popular musicians and filmmakers have turned to self-marketing and many are going on the streets to sell their products.
They might be celebrities but the high level of piracy and lack of innovation among record companies have pushed the artistes to the streets. Although authors have also been affected by piracy and various conflicts with publishers, very few have actually taken to the streets to sell their books. Because of the nature of the literature market, authors supply their material to schools and academic institutions, which makes their line of trading decent.
They also take advantage of literary gatherings and online platforms to sell the books. At this year’s Zimbabwe International Book Fair many authors went around selling their books. But their counterparts in music and film are forced to go on the streets because they target a mass market. They now compete for street space with pirates and some have also conceived means of evading municipal police officers in order to maximise their street sales.
Musicians like Jah Prayzah, Mathias Mhere, Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave, Kudzi Nyakudya, Peter Moyo, Prince Musarurwa and Selmor Mtukudzi have taken their albums to the streets. Fungisai recently launched her album at the Harare Agricultural Show where she sold her CDs. For his recent two albums “Kumbumura Mhute” and “Jerusarema” Jah Prayzah went on a street marketing campaign and personally sold some copies.
Selmor says she gets better income from selling her own music. Most of the musicians have employed many sales representatives to do the work daily. They set speakers at street corners and play loud music to advertise the selections on sale. Some office occupants in the CBD have complained about the noise at their doorsteps and it is the other reason why council authorities sometimes go after these music vending artistes.
One thing that most of these artistes concur on is the issue of piracy which they say has wiped their income. Because record companies have not been innovative enough to counter pirates while law enforcers have not been strict on piracy, the artistes have decided to go it alone. They set tables side-by-side with vendors of pirated discs and that life has become normal for our musicians and filmmakers.
“We used to believe in the recording companies but now it’s a thing of the past. You know our fans these days prefer to buy our music on the streets where they think it is cheap. Selling on the streets is another way for us to fight piracy,” said gospel musician Nyakudya.
Fungisai said selling her music is another way of meeting her fans. “I have just released a new album and I’m promoting and marketing it with the aim to meet the end user in person. “It is an opportunity for me to connect with fans and avail my music in person so that my music is accessible especially now when the music distribution and marketing channels have dwindled,” said Fungisai.
The issue of availability is a major concern. “People love our music and sometimes they have no choice but to buy from pirates because the music is usually nowhere to be found. Gramma/Ngaavongwe records are still selling on my behalf but their distribution channels and manpower have significantly been reduced and I’m just playing the part to cover the gap,” she said.
One popular musician said he can sell an average of 200 CDs per day. Afro-jazz musician Prince Musarurwa said he moves around with his CDs every weekend and the returns are good. Some producers of local films usually go on the streets after sunset and set their mini projectors on top of cars to screen their productions and sell copies of the films.
Film producer Leon Fidelis Mberi of the “Fidelis” series said selling on the streets is profitable and he has been doing it for a long time and will continue until a lasting solution against piracy and distribution is found. However, the artistes also have to play “cat and mouse” with the municipal police. Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme said the musicians should register as vendors for them to do their business freely and should go to designated areas.
“All vendors, even musicians, should register with the city council. Making noise is not allowed and they should follow council by-laws. “They must apply to the council for them to play their music so that they are given specific time to do so and avoid interfering with other people’s business,” he said. Musarurwa said he avoids conflicts with council authorities by selling his music out of the CBD where there is less monitoring.
“I don’t sell in the city centre, I go direct to the fans, I move around in different locations where I sell my CDs without them (municipal police) on my back,” said Musarurwa. The issue of pricing used to be a major concern for these artistes as they initially charged more than vendors of pirated discs due to high costs of production.
The artistes have now resorted to budget CDs, which have low production cost and can be sold for $1. “We now peg our CDs at the same price with the pirates though we have other better packaged products that we sell for $2 and $3,” said one musician. Although the artistes say they are making profit, record companies have a different view. Diamond Studios manager John Muroyi said the artistes get income that is below their potential returns when they evade record companies and traditional distributors. “Musicians no longer have faith in the recording companies because they think that we spend their money for our personal uses when it’s not like that. Now they are producing sub-standard CDs,” said Muroyi.
“What they don’t know is that the $1 that they charge does not give them a good profit margin because the production costs are high.” He also said the artistes now believe in third party contracts where they just pay for the recordings and then take their projects and sell them on their own. Managing director of Gramma Records Emmanuel Vori said the musicians have the right to make decisions about their products.
“We are still selling on behalf of some musicians but we don’t force every musician to work with us. They are free to do what they want with their music,” said Vori. Record bars have also lost business as they used to be music retailers of choice before artists decided to sell on their own. New Look Record Bar owner Richard Rumungwe blames this on the record companies saying they are not paying musicians adequately.
“The recording companies are no longer paying the musicians for their efforts. The important thing that they have forgotten is marketing which they used to do. Long back they would move around marketing new albums in the record bars around the cities but they no longer do that,” said Rumungwe.
“Selling has become difficult and we now order products upon requests and this has reduced our sales.”