Poverty stalks musicians’ families
was Biggie and his outfit, Bhundu Boys, that they toured the breadth and width of the globe, chauffeured to venues from luxury hotels.
Tembo’s phenomenal rise and fame even saw him share the stage with Madonna at Wembley Stadium before 250 000- plus audience in 1987.
Sadly enough it appears that his fame and fortune went away with his death.
His widow, Ratidzai is now squatting in an unelectrified two-roomed cottage in Snake Park and survives on selling sadza.
Biggie Tembo’s contemporary James Chimombe’s family is lying in more or less similar grim predicament.
Chimombe, a reputable lyricist and a gifted guitarist, had a distinct and varied musical style.
He became popular with his unique blend of African contemporary jazz which he fused with Zairean rhumba, South African mbaqanda and Western blues making him one of Zimbabwe’s creative music icons of all times.
The success of Chimombe in music quarters was predictable given the intensity of his creative lyrical talents, thus it was no fluke that his music transcended Zimbabwe borders, naturally earning him fame and fortune.
Sadly enough he passed on leaving a wife and several children.
More than two decades after his death, Chimombe’s music is still rocking the airwaves – and people find time to dance to his soulful tunes – record producers and retailers are also racking in on sales from his music estate.
What is baffling is that Chimombe’s children are living from hand to mouth, and one of them, Freddy, is now blind and literally a destitute.
The question many would want to ask is: What really went wrong?
Is it a matter of mismanaged fortune on the part of the artistes – the thousands they racked in from show proceeds that were swept away probably through merry making and unprecedented carousing in the company of sweet ladies – or was this a result of fate?
Or to stretch our imaginations a little. What if the same predicament that befell the Chimombe and Tembo families finds new prey among the crop of our celebrated musicians today.
The likes of Tongai Moyo or Alick Macheso?
Questions can build up and explode but the fact is Zimbabwe music and those at the helm of the many music organisations purporting to carry the interests of musicians at heart have a lot to do.
Music is a timeless investment that does not have a sunset zone in terms of sales and generating revenue through both conventional and unconventional channels.
This means that whoever is Chimombe or Tembo’s recording company could be basking in glory from sale proceeds. Both Chimombe and Tembo’s audio CDs and cassettes are on sale in the record bars and flea markets and many shops selling music, two decades after their deaths.
And to imagine that the offspring of these greats are living in poverty in the peripheral and most unpleasant places of the country is a major challenge for all music organisations and stakeholders in the country.
The welfare of the current crop of musicians and their families is under threat of being neglected the day the organisation they are in goes defunct and another one is formed.
Informed by barrages of problems faced by artistes and their families especially in times of illness and death, artistes are urging each other to invest wisely and secure their future.
At the last annual general meeting of the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association held in Harare last month artistes unequivocally stated that they needed to invest for their retirement and for their siblings.
“We have earned ourselves ridiculous names in society because of the way some of our members have fallen – through illness and death.
“Most of our departed colleagues died literally impoverished,” Albert Nyathi chairman of the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association said.
The subject of discussion at the meeting revolved around the welfare of the artistes in life and death.
It was also the opportune time for the unveiling of the Celebrity Funeral Fund, a brainchild of the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe.
Nyathi urged fellow artistes to join the fund, saying it was a noble idea which will cover the funeral expenses of the artistes.
But the question that still hangs in the minds of the people is whether this is enough to serve the image of the artistes and their siblings during their lifetime and in death?
However, recording companies feel that siblings of artists need to have alternative sources of livelihood apart from royalties and sales.
Emmanuel Vhori, the managing director of Gramma said offspring of late artists needed to look for other sources of funding, apart from relying on royalties.
“The money may be there but cannot meet all their financial obligations. We often encourage them to engage themselves in other projects so that they are at least able to sustain themselves and the rest of the family.
“But the sad reality is that advice often fell on deaf ears,” he said.
Giving an example of the late Dembo, Vhori said the late musician made a number of investments for his family, and as result, his family was not struggling.
“He planned for his future and as you already know, his siblings are managing. He had a house in Belvedere among his investments. His sons (Morgan and Tendai) seem to be doing well.
“But of course, there are situations like that of the late Chibadura, who ended up selling all his assets, to solve some problems he encountered during his last days,” he said.
In light of the voracity of piracy Vhori urged siblings of artists to look for alternative ways of getting money.
“Sales continue to dwindle and that alone has got a bearing on royalties.
“Those with instruments, now need to put them to good use, things are not rosy,” he added.
Zimura official, Polisile Ncube, who urged artistes to invest wisely, supported his sentiments.
“Days will not always be sunny, so you need to prepare for the rains,” she said. While alert artists, will certainly take cue from Polisile’s wise counsel, meanwhile the world will continue to crumble around Ratidzai, Freddy and several voiceless individuals, whose plight is yet to be highlighted.