Where are the female artists?

‘If only I knew the things I know now’. This statement is almost a cliché now. I have heard many arts practitioners saying it, well including me.

Often, we traverse on the same path, probably putting on different shoes and expecting to reach a new destination. On many occasions, I have heard female musicians complain that the playing ground is not level. Some even go the extent of suggesting there is no ground at all for them, there are just mere pebbles floating. Over the years we, as a society have managed to objectify female artists in ways that my pen cannot describe.

A few days ago, I read with dismay an article which suggested that ‘THE BIG FIVE’ had vacancies. Before the pronounced vacancies we had Tuku, Macheso, Winky, Sulu and Jah Prayzah making the elite five. This is a list of highly talented artists, they deserve the fortune and glory they bask in. Of course and the scrutiny that comes with occupying such a place in a highly opinionated society such as Zimbabwe. Gary Tight, Andy Muridzo and Sam Dondo were the suggested new entrants to the big five. Believe me, if our economy was stable these three represent not just the future but the present and beyond the future. It’s unfortunate that real bucks are made by the BIG FIVE. But there is something inherently wrong with that list. WHERE ARE THE LADIES?

Are Zimbabwe’s female musicians so pathetic that they cannot even make numbers on the substitute bench? I don’t think so! I am one who thinks that Fungisai Zvakavapano for instance has been consistent, churning hit after hit. I understand that to make it in Zimbabwe you have to release hits.

Hasn’t Fungisai done that from day 1? She has her own share of controversy, which I think was calculated to see her in the limelight but it all failed because of a reason we all know. She is a woman. She tried performing in a pub and was persecuted.  the highly ‘moral’ police thought her place was the pulpit.

Still they followed her and called her a gangster in Christ, after her working together with Killa T.  I guess the continued onslaught is what led her to making ‘The Fungisai pose’ which is some sort of corrupted genuflect, typical of ‘varoora’. She is still making hits despite the change to Zim Dancehall soundscape. Of course, we won’t give her credit but we all know ‘Vanondibatirana’ was beautifully sung, with a catchy melody and everyday lyrics which resonate with every soul. It’s just that she is a woman!

I also think Diana Samkange’s Kwayedza is one of the top albums for 2016. At one time I was tempted to do a comparative analysis of her album with Mudhara Vachauya. These two albums were released on the same day, produced by the same producers, some songs are actually similar. Mationesa for instance takes the traditional Jah Prayzah style which in the Zimbabwean music corridors is called ‘chiTsviriyo’. I wanted to write about how Diana sings across different Zimbabwean traditional music styles and how Jah Prayzah has done the same while at the same time crossing over to ‘Afro beats’.

But before I could not do so, there was news that Jah Prayzah sexually abused Gonyeti her former band mate.

Many did not believe Gonyeti. A lot was said particularly on social media. One question which recurred is “Why didn’t she report early?” ‘She is a sour loser’, some opined. In the midst of all the harsh words thrown at Gonyeti, I read veteran film maker Marian Kunonga’s view in one of the numerous threads I followed. While I can’t reproduce what she said verbatim, her statement was indicative of the abuse which is rampant in the arts. In her lonely comment buried by many insulting Gonyeti, she retorted that what happened to Gonyeti has happened and is still happening to many not just in music but in the arts industry as a whole. It’s unfortunate that they don’t speak out.

Now that Gonyeti, has gathered the courage to speak out, what do we do? She becomes the proverbial sacrifice. We have conjured up all sorts of theories which point to the fact that she invited whatever befell her, whether imagine or real. By extension we have pushed the narrative that female musicians are of loose morals.

It certainly no longer surprises me not to find women on the big five for I know we have made them lesser humans.  However, we cannot normalise that. We or at least I, need role models for my daughter. I don’t want her to look far afield when she thinks of how a successful female musicians looks like. Women are abused left right and centre and back and forth as if its not pain. I will be happy to see even one female lead band making it into the BIG FIVE. One who will defend and stand for other women.

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