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.