A day in the streets with Bulawayo budding gospel musicians

The Chronicle

Kudzai Chikiwa, Showbiz Reporter

It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon and the Bulawayo crowd has a life of its own with its people moving like enchanting shoals of fish. 

It’s certainly busy as the hustle and bustle brings life to the city.  The popular 6th Avenue spot where commuters catch kombis to the western suburbs is engulfed by a gospel atmosphere. 

Knowledge Nkiwane, a gospel musician, has taken his music to the street and is singing: “Cain umyenzeni umfowenu (Cain what have you done to your brother)?” 

A short distance further west near Basch Street Terminus, popularly known as Egodini, the story is the same as two other young artistes, Hlengani Sibanda and Innocent Nyoni, probably inspired by their elder colleague Nkiwane, have also ignited the area with gospel music.  

It has become the norm for people who frequent these areas of the city to enjoy the sweet melody of these budding artistes’ music.  

However, what is most saddening is that while some artistes have found themselves on high profile stages, possibly more easily, the story is far different for the hardworking street singers. 

They move around the city for hours with pushcarts fitted with PA systems blaring their music. Navigating the pushcarts while singing and dancing, they stop every now and then to do impromptu performances with the hope that people will buy their music for $2 per DVD/CD.

Saturday Leisure caught up with the three artistes who are very passionate about their work.  The artistes who have not been spared the ongoing price hikes, lamented lack of funding and promotion in the music industry, especially for upstarts like them. To double their headache, piracy has reduced the incomes they realise from their business.

Nkiwane, despite having performed at the Gwanda International Gospel Festival about thrice, said he has not secured any promoter yet.

“No one has approached me to be my promoter, that’s why I’m still in the street, despite performing at such a big event,” he said.

Speaking to the Saturday Leisure crew while attending to a fan who was reminding him of his show that will be held in Ntabazinduna, Nkiwane said gospel music in Zimbabwe is under-marketed compared to other genres like hip-hop and Zimdancehall.

“If a Zimdancehall singer performs today, tomorrow he wakes up with a promoter. In no time, he’ll be a prominent figure even with just one single,” said Nkiwane. “For gospel singers, you struggle.”

Disciples of Jesus Christ (from left): Hlengani Sibanda, Praymore Moyo and Mpenduloyenkosi Mosee Sibanda) perform in the streets of Bulawayo

The gospel artiste, who has been in the industry since 2003 and has taken his street performances countrywide and neighbouring South Africa said Zimbabweans should learn to appreciate gospel music as is the case in South Africa.

“In South Africa, my music is played on KwaZulu-Natal TV and has become so popular even though I’m a Zimbabwean. People in SA can even drop a coin when they don’t have money to purchase a DVD,” he said.

Nkiwane who solely depends on his music for a living said his sales have dropped since the price hikes with piracy greatly affecting his sales too. Pirates he said, sell their music for a paltry 50c.

Sibanda (27), known for his Restore our nation hit which is a prayer to God to intervene in the challenges that Zimbabwe is facing, concurred with Nkiwane that despite their best efforts to sell their DVDs for $2, their business is crippled by pirates.

“We sell these DVDs for $2 but these criminals burn (pirate) and sell them for as little as 50 cents. This cripples our business because to record a video, you need something like $300. These people rip us off as they have nothing to lose because they sell stolen products,” Sibanda said.

He suggested that Government gives them permission to form anti-piracy associations which have the power to apprehend and fine those who pirate their works.

“The police are doing nothing to help us so we’re ask Government to allow us to deal with these thugs on our own or else we risk losing business,” said Sibanda.

Nyoni (26), a popular wedding MC when he is not on the street performing, criticised some Pentecostal churches for taking advantage of artistes.

“Church leaders invite us to their services and we perform, but they do not pay us. Sometimes they invite us to perform for free and promise to buy our DVDs in return, but they never fulfil their promises,” Nyoni said.

In order to reach out to as many people as possible, Nyoni said they have embraced social media and have Facebook pages on which they upload their music and schedule of shows. 

However, they do not regularly update the pages as they often have no money to buy data bundles to upload new content. 

“I have a Facebook page but I can’t afford to upload videos everyday as data bundles are expensive.  In the end, we lag behind in terms of followers and fans,” said Nyoni.

The gospel artistes are, however, hopeful that one day, their dream of representing Bulawayo will come to reality. For now, the streets are their stage. — @tamary98