ZIMBABWE is overflowing with untapped artistic talent.

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Talk of poets, instrumentalists, singers, rappers or dancers, the country has them aplenty. However, there are few platforms for talent development.

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Chiwoniso

Chiwoniso

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In its small way, Book Café in Harare, in collaboration with Pamberi Trust, has over the past 18 years played a big role in unearthing some artistic gems.

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Through its vibrant youth programme, a brainchild of the late Paul Brickhill, Book Café has given upcoming artistes the opportunity to showcase their talent during their Monday Open Mic sessions.

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Open Mic sessions on Monday evenings provide instruments and a stage free of charge for young artistes to show what they have — and also get mentoring from established artistes.

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The youth programme has gone a step further by introducing Tuesday Night sessions, where outstanding acts from the Open Mic platform get further exposure to live performance.

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This initiative has seen the selection of two acts being featured in the weekly double-bill event.

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The best act from the Open Mic platform gets the opportunity to show what they are made of during a monthly event dubbed the Music Factory. It is every upcoming artiste’s dream to perform alongside popular acts and this initiative has given emerging individuals this opportunity.

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Promising artistes are given the chance to show their capabilities to wider audiences by performing as supporting acts to established musicians.

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In an interview with The Sunday Mail Leisure, programme project officer Hector Mugani highlighted some of Open Mic’s highs and lows.

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“We have numerous artistes who have become forces to reckon with in the industry after utilising the Open Mic sessions. One example is Chiwoniso Maraire who used the Open Mic sessions as a platform to launch her solo career in the ‘90s and with her talent she went on to the Tuesday Night slot from which her fan base blossomed,” said Mugani.

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Silent Nqonqo Nhendere is a talented guitarist who started with Open Mic in 2013 and has established himself as one of the most sought-after session musicians in Zimbabwe, working with Audius Mutawarira, Cynthia Mare, Ba Shupi and Tehn Diamond, to name a few. Ba Shupi himself started with Open Mic.

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“Connections are important in the arts business and the traffic of stakeholders in the arts industry that pass through the Book Café on a daily basis is huge.

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“Ba Shupi is a good example of an artiste who benefited from connecting with an established artiste as it was during one of his performances at the Open Mic sessions that he got to meet Stunner and the two went on to record ‘Godo’, a hit song that saw him shoot to stardom.”

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Bris Mbada is another artiste who was discovered via Open Mic by producer Papa Lodza and he has grown to become one of the most creative rappers here.

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The comedy industry, which has been rising steadily over the years, was natured and popularised at this platform, with almost all the major comics in the country having used the Open Mic platform.

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“If you take a look at Simuka Comedy, which is one of the country’s biggest local comedy clubs, you will realise that the brains behind this initiative met during Open Mic sessions. Established comedy clubs also use this as an opportunity to scout for new talent,” said Mugani.

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There are many others: Hope Masike, Jam Signal, Jah Prayzah, Tally B, Probeats and Gary Tight all came from Open Mic.

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At one point, Open Mic was known as the Book Café Academy of Performing Arts (Bocapa), which was more of a competition.

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“The level of seriousness was higher during Bocapa since it was a competition but we had to discontinue it due to financial limitations. The advantage of this current setup is that it harvests more talent than the competition.”

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Mugani said their major challenge was funding.

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“Many people in Zimbabwe are not willing to invest in upcoming talent and would rather fork out their money for artistes that are already established. Even in terms of attending shows, people do not usually get excited by upcoming acts.”

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Open Mic is for anyone interested in showcasing their talent as it only requires registration before the session starts.

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Book Café has existed since 1993, collaborating with Pamberi Trust to offer diverse entertainment as well as space for artistic development.