Bluez Café breath of fresh air

The local arts community in Bulawayo should be feeling elated after the Africa Day launch of the Bluez Café that saw a host of illustrious Zimbabwean acts grace the stage before an enthusiastic multi-cultural audience that included National Arts Council deputy director Nicholas Moyo alongside the likes of Theatre-in-the-Park founder Daves Guzha and ZiFM’s Larry Kwirirayi.

Admire Kudita

Under a uniquely warm evening sky on Africa Day, while being “tormented” by the wafting aroma of vors seething on the braai stands, multi–racial families huddled together to experience the music of a motley collection of artistes from newbies Afroqueens, MAP (Music According to Percussion), soul singer Kay the Soul Prince, Stango & Nongoma, the vivacious Dudu Manhenga, and famous imbube ensemble Black Mfolosi. Sound Kalcha, Bulawayo’s highly professional sound engineering operation, provided the sonic backdrop at the Zanele Manhenga-directed event.

Amagugu International Traditional Heritage Centre and Ama’books publishers displayed their wares in the entrance hall while the seven music groups that performed represent “the diverse programme that Bluez Café is working towards, ranging from the newest emerging acts of women instrumentalists, to the big guns of Ndebele music with years of acclaim, and the fresh new sounds of other young and gifted Zimbabweans in between”, according to Penny Yon, the marketing and public relations executive of Bluez Café.

Incidentally, Yon, a respected musician in her own right, is an experienced industry hand, having previously worked as an arts administrator alongside the late Paul Brickhill at Harare’s Book Café. Book Café is a famous incubator of many Zimbabwean musical legends. For a long time, it was the go-to place for seeing some of Zimbabwe’s hottest artists across the arts spectrum.

“Building on the legacy of Bulawayo’s rich cultural tapestry, and in partnership with artistes and other cultural partners, Bluez Café has now started on the road to create a vibrant and multi-dimensional cultural hub in the centre of Bulawayo, a space for artistes and arts practitioners — a space to create, a space for free expression of cultural identity; a space of tolerance, inclusion, unity, respect, dialogue and compassion, ” said Yon in her new role at Bluez Café.

The new joint opens a new chapter in a historical building which was originally the Scout Hall and later the Youth Contact Centre run for a long time by Les Watson who is now retired. Incidentally, Josh Nyapimbi (Bluez Café director) is a former patron of the youth centre.

Nhimbe Trust (which runs Bluez Café) shared its vision with Bulawayo artistes at a consultative meeting on April 6, which is one of helping “meet some of the needs of Bulawayo artistes of all disciplines — music, spoken-word, literary, visual and fine artists, film, drama, dance and craftspeople — by providing spaces for meetings, workshops, access to rehearsal facilities, performance platforms, and programmes for the development of the arts”.

Bluez Café management thanked Sound Kalcha, Orap, Pamberi Trust, Wholesale Beef, Bakers’ Inn, Africalia; and John Gara for using his instruments in the successful staging of the historic venue launch in what could portend the future of Bulawayo’s cultural landscape.

Messages of support came from far and wide:

Paul Lunga, UK: “I send my greetings from London to all Bulawayo musicians and to Nhimbe Trust. Thank you for inviting me to this special occasion, your official opening. Apologies I could not attend . . . but I feel very honoured to be invited. I have also communicated to some colleagues in the music industry in the diaspora, including Joseph Matare, who is based in Switzerland, a very notable bass player and educationist, and others in the UK. We in the diaspora will always support this project. It is a very good project indeed. I think musicians of Bulawayo are blessed with this project. I wish I was there, but all the same I will continue to support it, in abstentia.

Bjorn Maes, Programme manager, Africalia, Belgium: “Africalia have been a partner of Nhimbe Trust in Bulawayo for the past 10 years, and done some amazing stuff together, seen each other grow, and we are happy to still be involved with Nhimbe Trust. I congratulate the team for opening Bluez Café on this beautiful day. In the course of my experience of working with cultural development we have learnt that venues, arts festivals and youth centres involved in the arts are very important for the development of arts in a country, very important to create opportunities for young people. I am very excited that Nhimbe have partnered with YCC to make the Bluez Café a reality as of today. I am looking forward to the future of this exciting new venue; I am sure there is a lot of talent that will be involved in this venture, come to this place and make it their home. I wish you all the very best, and thank everyone that’s been involved in making this a reality. I welcome a lot of new partners still, the City of Bulawayo, other sponsors and donors, and young people with talent to come and join the Bluez Café. I wish you all the best.”

Les Watson, UK: “I have been involved with YCC for a long time . . . it has survived and is now facing a much brighter future. I am absolutely delighted to be involved. Great to see the things we sent are being used to good effect, and the Bluez Café now will make the place much more vibrant, viable and hopefully we will be able to support Bluez Café and YCC and Nhimbe Trust as much as we can from the UK over the coming years. So, good luck to everybody and I look forward to hearing more about how things are going and continuing to thrive. Best wishes to everyone.”