The Bulawayo Arts Awards have sealed the city’s place as the creative nexus of Zimbabwe.
State of the Art with Admire Kudita
It was always going to be the biggest night ever. How so? Because all the ducks were in a row. A few days before the awards night, every gong was carrying prize money. Ninety-five percent of the major expenses for the show were paid for.
One of the generally unheralded but vital ingredients for a successful gig was to be delivered by the ultimate in sound systems — Sound Kulcha — an outfit that has served the events scene ably. The stage design was handled by Thando Phiri who is one of the foremost set designers. Motion graphics were superbly done by Chinhoyi University alumni and renowned multimedia specialist Kudzayi Chikomo and his One Meeta Productions outfit.
History in the making
Let me take you to the awards night. The first thing that strikes you are the scores of people milling outside Bulawayo’s Large City Hall. The young and the sleek. The old and the cultured. The medley of personalities in some of the most audacious ensembles you will see this side of the globe.
Take the Sarah Mpofu-Sibanda (owner of Fingers Modelling Agency and svengali of a string of former beauty queens such as Samantha Tshuma). Her outfit is pure drama a la Hollywood. Her hairstyle needs only to be seen to be fully appreciated for its originality and sagacity. The cleavage-displaying blouse is age-defying. The accompanying green designer skirt has the longest slit you will probably ever see, but it is all tastefully put together. And showstopping.
The brothers have put on their fabulous suits. I see some in blue threads but most have taken the safe route. Bow ties and black tuxes seem to dominate. You have the sense that some are channeling James Bond from the suave affectations and the swagger of their strut on the red carpet. Photographers from local media outfits such as Fusion Media are doing something akin to the famous last feast of the crocodiles documentary filmed in Kenya’s Maasai Mara game reserve. It is a feeding frenzy. They snap and snap almost hungrily.
Up comes Edith WeUtonga, a Harare-based Bulawayo-spun singer and current leader of the Zimbabwe Union of Musicians, for her turn in front of the lens, in front of the banners listing the host of sponsors who partnered the awards.
Meanwhile, the other local celebrities are being conveyed onto the red carpet by a fleet of luxury BMWs from the BMW Club of Bulawayo from their private function and queuing up to get their moment to be interviewed by red carpet hosts, former ZiFM broadcaster Morris Touch and ex-beauty queen Bathabile Dlamini. Another MC known as Cde Phil helps out.
Making one’s way to the entrance, there are scores of people trying to negotiate their way in without having bought a ticket prior. At this point the tickets are sold out and there will be sad faces tonight . . . So you are standing out there with your queen in tow.She is seething with rising impatience and you are begging to get inside. You know she cannot “waste” her dressing effort, but the security folk will not budge.
There is a crazy vibe and groove seeping out through the crowd, further complicating your life. One moment it is the pulsating beat of Sandra Ndebele’s latest scorcher Ingoma. The next it is Lovemore Majaivana’s classic. The missus will not take no for an answer from the security guys. She sees me happily wave my VVIP ticket and the waters part as I enter the hallway. She wants in.
Now inside the Large City Hall, you see a vision of a stage complete with trusses and stage lighting that is superlative. You see the beautiful crowd who are seated and looking resplendent at their tables. The ladies seem to have prayed the winter chill away for their dresses are decidedly summer.The sitting arrangements are as follows: the five-dollar tickets are mostly upstairs on the balcony rows, the VIP tickets are in the middle, whereas the VVIP ticket holders are sitting close to the stage. The artistes and their partners are in their VIP seats, anxious for the results.
Latterly, the brother sits smugly with obviously relief at a VIP table-bossing it as he orders his liquor. I do not know how the Houdini act was done with this brother. Maybe a scalp helped him, but secrity at the door had been tight. His wife or paramour is proudly watching the proceedings. By now, it is a rapper called T1NDA (Tawanda Denga), whose turn it is to rev up the crowd with his Christian rap.
He rocks. Him and Ramsey K (Kasawaya), who comes after and does a medley of Zimbabwean classics from Majaivana, Themba Ndlovu and Paul Matavire (incidentally Paul was a member of the Jairos Jiri Band here in Bulawayo), you will remember him singing Khisimusi Isifikile. Which notable artiste does not have roots in this town? Let us see: Leonard Dembo lived and work here at Schweppes before turning to music. Andy Brown used to practise with Mukoma Hudson Simba at Davies Hall. Bhundu Boys’ David Mankaba and Pied Pipers’ Jonah Mutuma. I could name many more.
The awards show
After a late start, the opening act of youthful dancers stomp the stage like wild horses on steroids. You have groups such as urban dancers Salt and Dance crew alongside pantsula dancers and other traditional dancers forming a mass of synchronised movement, including a hat-juggling act that got a rousing response from the excited and well-heeled audience.
The show is, indeed, now on and in walk the hosts for the night. Chief Godfrey Koti of Star FM, actress Charlene Mangweni and poetess Sthandazile Dube are all dressed to kill. At one table is sitting the director of the National Arts Council Elvis Mare and his deputy Nicholas Moyo. On another is Busisa Moyo of United Refineries and possibly his colleagues from the corporate sector. Representatives from the British Council and Alliance Francaise on another, captains of industries, socialites and others, politicians from across the political divide from MDC and Zanu PF.
Also present are: resident minister Eunice Sandi Moyo, former deputy prime minister Thokozani Khupe and former deputy Mayor Gift Banda.
I would be remiss not to mention that the standout performer for me is Mzoe 7, who enters the stage in the song of the year finalists segment with all the gusto and water-tight choreography of any of the foremost Naija acts such as Wizkid or P-Square. Wearing bangles that glowed in the dim lit stage, the moves and energy of his perfomance of his hit Kwasa Kwasa/Shake your Kilimanjaro created a kind of pandemonium, especially in the balcony section.
Mzoe 7 is the one who did it for me as a performer. Having been nominated for Best Alternative Artiste and Song of the Year, he did not scoop the award, losing to Jeys Marabini and Madlela respectively. Madlela is usually an actor and comic and his comical song is a runaway hit, Ngizamnanka usaMaMo, this side of the country. It is the comical story of a cuckolded man’s desire for vengeance.
Grand feast and milestone
Other perfomers on the night who do well are Asaph, a rapper, whom reigning Zimbabwean hip hop music king cal_vin beat to the Outstanding Hip Hop Artiste gong. The crowd seems to favour Asaph, judging from the cheers at his entrance. It is perhaps because cal_vin has been winning a lot or maybe because they really believe Asaph’s time has come.
There will be other awards. The June 30 awards marked a milestone in the city’s efforts to position itself as the creative nexus, the entertainment industrial complex because no other city has ingrained in it this kind of multi-racial and multi-ethnic DNA.
The crowd was motley. Indians, coloureds, whites, blacks, Shona, Venda, Kalanga, Ndebele, Tonga, Chewa, Nyanja sat side by side. At the close of the five-hour extravaganza, the crowd remains intact as the resident minister Eunice Sandi Moyo and the Bulawayo mayor Martin Moyo stand next to each other on the stage to receive thank you hampers from CZI president and United Refineries president Busisa Moyo. It was a poignant moment because in African politics, they normally avoid appearing together. I suppose that there was an understanding in this awards show that art is bigger than people’s egos or party lines.
The event has caused a disruption. Tweny-five thousand people watched the show, which was being streamed live, courtesy of Zimpapers Televison and The Chronicle. ZBC pulled out last minute. But it was no real loss because cyberspace was lit with the show. At present, over 35 000 views have been garnered by the show with over 4 000 commenting on Facebook. In the end, the biggest winner was art itself and the city has just flipped the script if the feedback on social media is anything to go by. Nothing succeeds like success. Bulawayo is now officially the city of dreams and the dreamers behind the awards have pulled off one of the single greatest feats in Zimbabwean showbiz history starting out with a zero budget.