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Zimbabwe Artists Develop Alternative Skills to Survive


Some artists in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, are turning to second lines of business because they cannot survive on what they earn from their creative efforts. Musicians are doubling as fast food operators, cross border traders or taking part-time jobs. They’re also adapting their styles to reach new audiences. Voice of America Zimbabwe service reporter Netsai Mlilo is in Bulawayo.

Musicians and artists in Bulawayo -- known as the City of Kings -- say their fortunes are on the wane due to the protracted financial hardships of fans and buyers. Khuxman says he has had to change his musical style to boost his fortunes. Khuxman used to play Kwaito and Afrop-pop but has shifted to disco tunes to attract fans with spending power.

Kwaito and Afro-pop are popular with teens who don’t have money for CDs or live shows. Khuxman adds that such young listeners have no qualms about pirating music either. But he says economic pressures are keeping him from realizing his full potential as an artist, “I can say being an artist in Zimbabwe at the moment is very hard. As an artist you have to be free to sing about what you see happening around you. But then you find that you are not free to sing about what you see happening because everything seems to be politicized now. If I can sing about the shortage of fuel, it’s something that's real, that's happening. But once I start singing about that then you are likely to get into trouble with the authorities."

Khuxman now doubles as a part time producer with a local recording studio to make ends meet.

Dancer Sandra Ndebele is also trying to diversify her sources of income. She says she could no longer afford to live like a celebrity on the money she makes from dancing, “I think here in Zimbabwe, because of the hardships of life, you are being taught to be multi-talented -- not only to be a stage performer or a guitar player. I can sing, I can dance, I've got a restaurant that I'm running and I also make the costumes that I wear on stage. You see why I do that is because I want to earn extra cash on the side because my music can't sustain me. You can't earn a living with music only."

Ndebele has also gotten into cross-border trading. Though show business can be very profitable, she notes that performers are often exploited by promoters, and most of her colleagues sign contracts that earn them little because they are desperate for money to meet basic needs.

She agrees that piracy is killing the music industry adding that royalties are scarce for many local performers because their music is rarely played on Zimbabwean radio stations even though the national public broadcaster says it promotes local artists.

Visual artists are in a similar predicament – their costs for paints and canvas have soared; few collectors can afford to show their pieces since the former flood of tourists is now but a trickle. Some enterprising artists now travel to South Africa on a regular basis to produce pieces for art dealers in that more prosperous country.

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