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Professionalism in the music industry: Interview with producers Ishe and Macdee
Zanele Manhenga,
August 06, 2009

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Ishe & MacDeeIsheunopa Jere and McDonald Chidavaenzi are prominent producers who have worked with the likes of Alexio, Andy Brown and many other musicians who have become hits.

What makes a producer?

Macdee: Number one it has more to do with you having a good background of music, a basic understanding of music as a whole. Having a variety of types of music you listen to and understand. For example I can listen to reggae and I understand the roots of reggae. So if someone says I want you to produce a reggae track you can produce it. Number two you have to have a creative mind; I can get an idea from peoples footsteps. And you need to have a strong understanding of music as an art. In other words the theory of music and what makes the best progression. And you have to keep the people motivated.

What does a producer do?

Ishe: I make music for the artist from the word go. Usually when these artists come to us they don't even have the slightest idea how they are supposed to sound and most of them don't know their voice range and how many octaves they can sing. We make a concept for each artist which goes along with the voice and range so what they come with is their lyrical content and sometimes we even write for them some lyrics. Things like that. So when they say we are unprofessional I tend to wonder.

Macdee: An artist comes with some lyrics and a slight idea of what they want and they describe what they want to end up with. I convert these ideas and try and understand the artist as a person. To say what kind of groove can suit this person. I dissect the whole concept into different parts and say how can we come up with a catchy chorus and things like that. And I teach them these new concepts, and I give them a key that goes along with their voice after checking what voice range they can sing up to. As soon as I understand their limits I work with their limits.

Do producers have styles of producing?

Ishe: As producers we have our own concepts of making music. We might use the same programmers or software. But at the end of the day we are all different human beings. We are all unique, and we have unique styles.

Is it a calling to be a producer?

Ishe: You have to be a good musician to be a good producer, and you have to have an ear! To a certain extent it's a calling. There are good musicians that have tried it and have failed. To say the least you have to have the calling and it's a passion. And you need music talent which is God given. Listen

Why are artists saying they need professionalism from producers in the music industry?

Ishe: We are doing our best to be professional under the circumstance that we face each day. In Zimbabwe the music industry does not have the support it deserves. Mostly we are forced to work in substandard conditions.

What does being professional really mean?

Macdee: Being professional is doing your duty in whatever project you are working on. Doing your duty to the best of your ability and meeting the required standard or even going beyond the standard. And also making sure the needs of who you are producing for or working, with are met. Making sure every one is satisfied with what you are doing.

Ishe: And we achieve that even in the prevailing conditions.

To artists who feel producers are unprofessional what would you want to say to them?

Ishe: Stop pointing fingers, work hard to improve your music, work on getting better and the sky will be the limit!

Macdee: As for me my dream is to see Zimbabwe recognized musically. I will always stick to my duty to make sure the artist continues to be the best wherever they go. Listen

So you guys say you are professional; then who is unprofessional?

Macdee: It's not a blame game. I don't think we are supposed to be looking for some one to blame. We need to identify the problem. For example, why is it that only two artists are internationally recognized when we have a vast range or artists in Zimbabwe? For me I think the problem is that Zimbabwe is a tough country when it comes to music. Just when you think you have done your best a listener comes and criticizes. The general public is not supportive to what we do and they are very challenging. What people need to do is to appreciate the artist: buy CDs, don't pirate and when artists are having a launch go there and support. You should rather criticize after you have listened. Listen

Don't you feel left out when artists don't mention you in their live shows?

Macdee: I would say that we have learnt to grow as producers. When I started music in 2004 and still trying to make a name, you are trying to make people know there is some one called Macdee out there. You do a song and it goes out there and no one says anything about you being the producer - its rather annoying and so disappointing when you want to make the name. But when you get the name and everyone knows you, you just laugh and say this is what artists are like. If they don't say anything about me being the producer, for me my pride and what would make me feel better is just seeing that I have done a good job - that is satisfactory enough. That's what I rejoice in even if they don't mention me. Listen

What recognition have you had as a producer who has worked with a number of artists?

Macdee: I was awarded 2006 Producer of the Year when I worked on Alexio Kawara's album Fimbi Yangu. It was a great honor.

What name do we give a person who has worked with so many artists?

Macdee: I would say the best word you could give me right now is professional. Other producers have come and gone but I am still here, and I promise to be here for awhile.

Ishe: With the number of artists we have worked with, the artists wouldn't come to unprofessional producers.

What role can the media play in the industry?

Ishe: They must stop this PHD thing (the pull him or her down thing). They go all out to find something bad to write about artists. They don't go all out to write good things about artists; in the print media. When an artist releases a 15-track album please try as much as possible to play all the songs, coz we put the same effort in for every song.

Did you feel the pinch of the political and economic weather in Zimbabwe as producers?

Macdee: Yah we had a couple of flops in 2008 because of the political environment. But it taught me one thing: it takes a true Zimbabwean to stand even in the times when things are hard. Many people ran away. We had a lot of flops because people could not afford to buy music. They would view music as a luxury coz their number one concern was food. It was really devastating but we took those albums as training ground for better things to do. Now in this season with the inclusive government things are getting better. We are seeing people buying music better than last year. And are hoping, if peace prevails we get to a whole new level. I am also wishing and praying that with this whole inclusive government thing might get us having more radio stations and more television stations where we get to market our music. I always cry when people opt to watch ETV when we got ZTV. I know we might not have matched the standard yet but let's believe in what we have first so we can improve. I hope this current set up in the government can help us get where we want to get to. Where we can have our own radio stations that would increase our music outreach. Listen

Do you think the Government of National Unity is working?

Macdee: Yah I would like to believe their efforts are being seen. I would hope that it moves at a faster pace but I guess we just have to patient. If you look at things now people can afford to go to shows now. For example Tuku charges 20 dollars and people go to his shows. But just switch back and go to six months ago people could not afford such luxury. People would stay at home and look for mealie meal, queue for sugar and things like that. I for one have noticed the change. But I would like it to go more directly to our industry.

Would you want the arts to be removed from the Ministry of Sports Education and Culture?

Macdee: I think that would help, it would be great coz looking at our industry when we as musicians and producers want to do stuff we have to go to other organizations that deal with arts instead of going to the Ministry it's self. I think that would help.

Maybe you guys are the ones to gather people and lobby for that change?

Macdee: I know decisions like this are major decisions and take time. I would like to commend the current Minister - they are trying their best. I saw one of the guys two weeks ago at a certain launch. They are there, you see them here and there at least when they see things happening, they will notice directly that we have are shortage there. They would appreciate the need to have a separate ministry for the arts. If they see that they can't support us whilst other ministries shadow us then they would appreciate the need to have a separate ministry for arts. I tell you if we would be recognized in such a way music could become a major income earner in Zimbabwe.

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