Business of smoke and mirrors

Abel Sithole’s funeral

The provincial heroes’ acre in Bulawayo’s Nkulumane suburb is set upon a hill. Walking inside the hut that bears the names of fallen heroes of our struggle, one gets the feeling of sorrow.

State of the Art with Admire Kudita

Abel Sinametsi Sithole (being laid to rest) left a huge musical and war legacy.

Abel Sinametsi Sithole (being laid to rest) left a huge musical and war legacy.

These are men and women who had given their youth to the cause of liberation. Many survived the freedom fight itself and many lived to see the new Zimbabwe. As I looked around to see the pictures of some of the men and women former combatants and the narratives of the famous battles of the liberation wars, I was struck by the fact of our mortality. One minute you are here and the next moment you are gone. What matters is what you left behind: your legacy. Abel Sinametsi Sithole left a huge musical and war legacy. But I will not dwell much on the legacy in this article.

Heart-rending
I reported in my story last Friday that the Cool Crooners did not get much from their liaison with their manager and that their parting was not so rosy. This can be construed as implying that there is something amiss. Stay with me. To be fair, mourners heard a heart-rending tale of the late singer’s last days on earth at the graveside.

The grand daughter whose name has slipped my mind, moved mourners to tears as she recounted the singer’s last days.

It was a cautionary but all-too-familiar tale. The niece detailed how wherein he would visit the offices of the current War Veterans minister Tshinga Dube for assistance on a regular basis, asking for money for food or medication. It is within this context, concomitant with stories such as the tragic Bhundu Boys one, whereby the manager allegedly ripped the band off, that one hears whispers about similar developments concerning another famous music brand. All across the globe, the entertainment sector is replete with such stories. One only has to Google search.

Global picture: Managers get a bad rap

One standout story is that of Lou Pearlmen, founder and manager of the famous platinum selling boy bands of the 1990s, NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. According to reports by the likes of Hollywood Reporter and Billboard magazine, though the manager reportedly boasted that the groups had earned upwards of US$50 million apiece, he had paid them US$300 000 between 1993 and 1997 when they were under his guidance! In essence they would have been “earning” US$12 000 each per year only as per a Vanity Fair report. The groups sued him for fraud and misrepresentation and won. He died in prison while serving his sentence for economic crimes. Rihanna, Billy Joel and Sting are some of the more illustrious examples of artiste-manager con jobs.

Cool Crooners case

It is thus tempting to believe the worst about managers of artistes given the foregoing. But from further digging, the picture about the Cool Crooners is one which can be summed in the words of notable arts practitioners such as Saimon Mambazo Phiri of Sabela Music Projects. “I don’t think that woman (Jackie Cahi) ripped off the Cool Crooners. She did what she could.” How should Mambazo know anything about this band? His relationship with the band predates their 2002 Blue Sky documentary and French excursion. He has the lease to use the Stanley Square facility for his projects and rehearsals which the Cool Crooners use to date.

Relationships count

Hailing from the same Mzilikazi area as some of the Crooners and being a long-time supporter of the legendary band, he had that kind of relationship with them.

The relationship culminated in Mambazo helping to organise a performance opportunity in 2009 at Womad, which happens to be one of the world’s biggest festivals.

This would have been a prime opportunity for the band and a useful trajectory into the United Kingdom for the jazz band, whose act was a throwback to the 1950s doo wop groups and jazz’s golden era. Started by former member of rock band Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Womad was one of the launch pads for the famous Bhundu Boys. I googled Womad 2009 and, behold, Cool Crooners were in the final line-up to perform alongside Gabriel and other World Music luminaries!

Missed opportunity

Mambazo remembers organising and succeeding to secure six-month visas to go and perform at Womad in the UK.
The deal fell through, principally because of the hurdle Mambazo encountered over their contract with Sony France. It was a 10-year contract that, among other things, precluded the Cool Crooners from performing on tour with non-French musicians.

“I had had several emails with their French rep and he told me that they had exhausted the European market and were scaling down on their touring as it was expensive to do so. So I went to speak to Peter Gabriel around 2009 on their behalf as I was already in the UK busy with my other projects such as Zambezi Express. Jomo Mhone was going to be tour manager for that trip and had even spoken to the likes of Paul Lunga (Jazz Impacto), and ex-Bhundu Boys members Rise Kagona and Kuda Matimba to back them.

“I had a contract with them and the Womad people got cold feet when the French record label started expressing their displeasure at the proposed gig. The Cool Crooners had been coming to me for advice and assistance in securing gigs.

They needed to work and eat. Needless to say, the deal fell through, I lost money on visas and ticket fares.”

Admittedly, Mambazo, though well-meaning in trying to push Cool Crooners in their lean years, was a novice concerning the intricate workings of the music industry at the time and he admits as much.

Mirage and reality
Like all mirages, fortune that much coveted partner of fame, is elusive. It does not follow that fame will bring fortune along to meet your family.

She may not come. She may be held up by Fate. This seems to be the case with the Cool Crooners. They were receiving cheques in Botswana from Sacem, the music rights association in France that does collections on musicians’ behalf. But the late Sithole did buy a four-roomed apartment at Soshangane Flats in Nguboyenja from his royalties. The cheques were less regular in 2009 at the time of Mambazo’s working with them, however.

The Cool Crooners were going through a dry patch and the country was in the doldrums economically.

Jackie Cahi says as much: “There was a period when we didn’t see much of each other, but I wouldn’t really call it a parting of the ways rather an inevitable side effect of life in Zimbabwe where especially for the few years around 2008 most people in the country were struggling to make a living, myself included.”

Long story short

Long story short is that I managed to meet the manager of the famous group of the Crooners. What happened to the money?

“The Crooners were paid royalties for record sales for a number of years through Sacem, the French music rights association. Reconciliations were sent direct to them and did not come through me, so Lucky or Timothy would be the best people to ask about that . . . the deal with Sony was initially facilitated by Patrick Meunier, my French partner. Sony sponsored a lot of the first tour to Europe and the United States, but record sales did not justify the expense and the second album, Isatilo, was produced by Futur Acoustic at a loss to the record company and to Patrick Meunier personally. I can put you in touch with him if you want more figures and numbers.”

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