Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Zed Artists Should Get their Act Together

I took a two-week break from blogging because I was attending the World Event Young Artist (WEYA) in the United Kingdom. This was an event that was hosted in Nottingham and featured over 800 artists from around the world and across disciplines. There were musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers, poets, film producers, gastronomists, writers, photographers and many others. Even though the majority of artists who were there were aspiring, the way they presented themselves was something to admire.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the Zambian contingent in my capacity as a writer. The last international event I attended while people were dishing out business cards, I was busy writing my details for them on a piece of paper. So from that previous experience I learnt my lesson and this time around, I had my business cards in my wallet ready to dish them out. Unfortunately, once again, I was one step behind. On top of exchanging business cards, these people were also dishing out CD copies of their poetry, showing off hard copies of their books and asking for each other’s websites, none of which I had. All I could say is that it is expensive to publish in Zambia, and I am working on a website. Working on it in my mind that is.
In Zambia, we have become accustomed to finding excuses why the arts are not doing well in this country. Regardless of which art one decides to affiliate themselves to whether it is music to book publishing, film production to painters, there is always a reason why it is not developing. The musicians will say piracy, the writers will say publishing costs are too high, the film makers the cinemas will not show their films and for the painters, it is Zambians do not appreciate art. In all honesty, I have realised that these are all excuses that we choose to fall back on whenever things are not going our way. There are challenges everywhere and these are the challenges we have to accept as Zambians.
Previously there have been complaints by Zambian musicians over companies and organisations bringing international acts like Fally Ipupa, Koffi Olomide or even Freshly Ground for their functions. The Agricultural and Commercial Show will bear testimony to much of this flack. Their reasoning is that there Zambian musicians who are capable of commanding the same audience. Really.  Well I beg to disagree, I am not player hating or anything but Zambian musician standards fall short. It would have to take a lapse of mistaken identity for me to go and watch most Zambian musicians. Many release music only for a moment, and once it is over played it gets to irritation point that is it. As long as live performances are going to be playbacks and booty shaking dancers as the only entertainment, then yes we will continue to pay K20, 000 for such shows and reserve our K100, 000 for the international acts. For international musicians such as Freshly Ground, I can still listen to their Doo Be Doo song, which was released some eight years ago. I know Zambian musicians will claim that they are not paid enough to perform with a live band, but how is that my problem. I just want to listen to good music and if you can produce good music then I will pay.
For us writers we always say that publishing in Zambia is very expensive. If that is the case, then publish outside Zambia. Currently, there are many options of getting published, e-books, self-publishing and one could consider publishing in China or India where it is relatively cheaper. The painters should perhaps sensitise us on how to appreciate their artworks. Maybe it might not need sensitisation but something else which they need to figure out.
The one thing that I understood from some of the artists at WEYA is that we need to consider ourselves as brands. We need to have something of value worth offering the public. Once we have that product that we are offering, we need to let the rest of the world know. Have business cards, website, Facebook page, twit, be on youtube if possible, move with the books or CDs. We need to do whatever it takes to make our presence known. However, this should all go with a quality product.
Even though we accept that there are challenges it does not spell doom and impossibility. There is no use complaining, blaming government and wishing that when these change then it will be better. Other artists out there are still going to be releasing music, publishing books, directing films and preparing to be the next Picasso. So we can choose to sit around and come up with more reasons why things are not happening for the artists in Zambia, or we can ask ourselves how we can make things happen now.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Should We Consider The Zambian Flag Racist?

When I am bored, I occasionally let my brain drift away. I tend to think and often question some things that most people take for granted or are not even bothered with. It was during one of these drifting episodes that I decided to chew on the Zambian flag. I was wondering for something that brings so much pride and identity to a nation. Why isn’t the person or people who designed it ever mentioned. I definitely know that I did not read about them in school, and the person or people continue to remain anonymous. However, one aspect that has been picking at my brain is the black on the flag and what it symbolises.
One of the early lessons in Social Studies in primary school is to know what the elements of the flag mean. The green represents the vegetation, the eagle for freedom, red the blood that was shed during the struggle for independence, orange for copper. And the black for the people of Zambia, this is where I am beginning to wonder whether it is still appropriate to have the black on our flag. The black on the flag is supposed to represent the majority of the Zambians who in all honesty are black. However, I have deliberately used the word majority, this implies that there is a minority that is not black but is Zambian.
The blanket meaning of black on the flag is supposed to cover all people who call themselves Zambians. If we were to analyse this to some degree it could be considered racist. Before any reader goes off calling me unpatriotic let me get that out straight away, and state that I am one patriotic Zambian. I am only attempting to look at this issue from a different perspective and perhaps give the voice to what non-blacks are thinking but do not know how to say it out.
 The other argument that I clearly know will come, is that the majority of the Zambians are black after all so why should we care about the rest. True but then again, just because we may be in the majority does it mean that we do not need to consider the minority. After all, the civil rights movement in the United States was based on the injustices towards the so-called Black Americans who were in the minority. The world over, minority groups have often been overlooked just because they do not have the strength in numbers. They probably have to fight a little harder just to be heard above the majority voices.
This country has a lot of non-blacks who consider themselves and we too have come to consider them as Zambians. One has to look no further than our very own vice-president Guy Scott, even though he may be Caucasian he is very much Zambian even fluent in Bemba. We also have sports personalities such as the Singh family and recently crowned African Rally champion, Mohammed Essa whose lineage can be traced to India. However, like some Indians in this country, they have come to call Zambia home and consider themselves Zambians. I have even met others at the border who have Zambian passports. In the event that these individuals I have mentioned who consider themselves Zambians are asked to explain the meaning of the black on the flag they might give the default answer it stands for the black Zambians. Therefore, where does that put them who have a different skin tone? Shouldn’t they feel represented too on the flag?
Let us face facts one does not necessarily have to be black to be called Zambian. We have people who were born here or who have stayed in Zambia for decades that they literally call it home. When fellow Zambians are suffering they feel the pain, when there is injustice they speak out and when the Chipolopolo was winning the Africa Cup of Nations, they were celebrating with us. To me, it does not matter whether we have only a thousand or a hundred non-black Zambians, they are Zambians and they should be considered at least.
This piece is by no means attempting to say that Zambians are racist. In fact, bias aside we are one of the friendliest people in the world. It is about the flag. I am well aware that changing the flag to include non-black Zambians is perhaps a farfetched campaign, though some countries have done it before DR Congo (even though for different reasons), it is not impossible. Alternatively, we could redefine the meaning of the black on the flag to elaborately cater for both the black and non-black Zambians. Perhaps it is only me who is nuts and I should not attempt to make an issue out of it or do you agree with me?