For a long time artistes in the city became synonymous with constant grumblings over marginalisation from the airwaves, funding opportunities and general support that they felt artistes elsewhere were getting.
After years of lamentation, some of the artistes decided they would not continue to sit on their laurels and they teamed up with foreign promoters and in no time artistes from Bulawayo were littered around the globe. This gave rise to a generation of artistes that made a name for themselves outside our borders before they were even known here. Some of the groups remain virtually unknown in Zimbabwe but big in Europe and elsewhere. How many know and actually appreciate the sounds of Mokoomba and how many would pay to watch them perform? This is a well travelled group from Victoria Falls that has played at some of the most prestigious stages the world has ever seen.
We believe it is against this background that artistes in the region came up with festivals to celebrate this talent that was mostly exported in the bud. The festivals showcase largely raw talent with sprinklings of polished performers and we believe it is such festivals and other arts gatherings that exposed some of our performers to foreign promoters that saw an opportunity to make a name for themselves and some bit of money in the process through offering unique performances to the foreign audiences.
And as the foreign legion of artistes nurtured at home grew, it was felt there was a need to celebrate our own locally so that we could encourage them to aspire, to dare, and to dream. Arts awards by their nature celebrate artistic excellence and we believe that they have a big role in terms of encouraging and growing the industry through the recognition they offer to artistes.
Bulawayo will soon play host to the Bulawayo Arts Awards, and we believe these are welcome awards that have grown over the past three years. However, it is important that the organisers stay in touch with the expectations of the artistes. We say so against the background of the withdrawal of some of the nominees under unclear circumstances. It might not be the only awards ceremony that witnesses withdrawals but it surely does not mean that withdrawals do not warrant interrogation.
It is impossible not to communicate, some theorists have argued. This rings true in this case, since by refusing to be associated with the awards, the artistes are communicating a certain message. Organisers should be neither defensive nor adopt the ostrich posture but engage, consult and where possible, involve so that it does not become a case of “nothing for us without us”. While we wish all the best for the local awards and urge sponsors to come on board in their numbers, we also feel organisers should be malleable enough to tweak their template in line with industry expectations. We also believe the criticism and comments that the organisers have received are important as they are a measure of how seriously the people take the awards, and how they have embraced them as their own. Let us harness that deluge of interest in the arts and reward those that deserve to be rewarded. After all we are supposed to be celebrating excellence. May the awards leave an excellent taste in the mouth, and the artistes’ pockets!