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Respect one another - Interview with Hope Masike
Zanele Manhenga,
September 09, 2009

Why music as opposed to being a doctor?
I'm a doctor too. Music is therapeutic. Life kind of directs you to know where you are headed and what your calling is. When I was young I used to sing a lot. In my family every other person used to sing. We used to sing hymns, choruses from church, different things. Everybody used to sing. But I was one of the most musical people in my family. And in a way, life directed me there. It was like, not exactly that there was nowhere else to go, but it was the most obvious thing to do. In school when we did art, I almost always had the best painting or the best drawing. I wasn't in many choirs in school because the schools I went to didn't have choirs. But really in my life, it's been music, art, fashion designing and stuff like that.

When did you decide to go professional?
There isn't exactly a mark, some point in my life where I drew the line and said ‘now I'm going professional'. I've always been doing music. But there was a point where I didn't know that there was that line between doing it professionally and not doing it professionally. I grew into discovering that there's a professional side to this, and deciding that I'm going to make a living out of doing music. So I started doing it professionally.

What genre is your music?
From what I have learnt here at school when you talk about genre you talk about what I am addressing in my songs. Which is pretty much determined by the lyrics or the mood of the song. Most of my songs are about love; we can't run away from that. Humanitarian themes also: speaking against wars, just being a good person in society. In three words that's how I would define my genre. The style of music I do now is mostly traditional and jazz. Traditional because when I came to school I started studying ethnomusicology, and naturally we started learning mbira, marimba blah blah, and blah. And then jazz because I've always loved jazz, I've always listened to jazz and now I'm studying jazz, funny enough. So yah. The style is a fusion of mostly afro music and jazz.

When did you release your debut album?
On the 5th May 2009.

Where do you do your performances?
The Book Café mostly because I have a permanent spot there on Tuesdays, and Ubuntu Restaurant. The rest is corporate gigs mostly. And when I travel with a certain program or for a certain festival. That's mostly what I do. The most permanent is the Book Café.

What are these festivals?
I'm a member of UMOJA Cultural Flying Carpet. UMOJA is a cultural exchange program with Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Netherlands, Norway, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Zanzibar. I think that's pretty much it. So what we do is we have two main camps every year, one regional and one international. We go and we share ideas. Obviously from a cultural perspective. So what you have to do is exhibit your culture from your country. The current culture and all the other cultures you have had. So lets say its Zimbabwe, you'll present hardcore mbira music, hardcore marimba, and then you find sungura in the presentation also, and you'll find a bit of jazz because its part of or culture. And then after the presentation we do workshops where we teach each other about our cultures. And then after that we have a main performance where we bring everything together from different cultures. Different countries. Well, that's about UMOJA. Certain other avenues have also opened up through UMOJA. Certain people see you there and they invite you for their Festivals.

Like quite recently we were invited to the Royal Netherlands for the UBUNTU Festival. Because the guy who was directing the Festival, the Artistic Director, is also the artistic director in UMOJA. So he got us the jobs at the UBUNTU Festival. And UBUNTU was amazing because the Europeans love my CD; its sold better than here.

So you blame the people in Zimbabwe for not appreciating your music?
Here it's not even on the market yet. I can't even start comparing here and the Netherlands. But in general it's much easier for the guys over there to pull out 10 euro for a CD. Whereas people here have a lot of other things to consider before they start considering buying a CD, especially when they can just burn it and just get exactly the same copy. Over there there was a point when I ran short of CDs, and a woman came up to me and said: ‘May I buy your CD?' and I said ‘I don't have any more' and she said ‘Ok with your permission may I please burn the copy from someone else but I still have to pay you.' And I was like ‘No, you're burning and it doesn't matter and you can't pay me for burning'. But she was insistent, and she was like ‘no no! I'm feeling bad that I have to burn but please just take the money.' That's kind of different from here. People will just burn it. They don't really respect buying the original and having you [the artist] benefit.

What measures do you think should be put in place to make sure that Zimbabweans appreciate their own?
To start with, I'd say it begins with our economy. You compare Zimbabwe and the Royal Netherlands and we are miles apart. Like I said before, people here, our priorities are different from people in the Netherlands. They can afford to invest in original CDs. People here really don't invest in even getting the actual music that you like. How many people go to the shops and get the artists that they really like. Like they say ‘I'm looking for Salif Keita' and you buy the CD. People don't even think like that.

What do you think is the reason people don't buy original CDs?
Because of their priorities. You are thinking about bread before you even go to what music you want. You are thinking about how you are going to pay school fees for your children, before you even get to buy a CD. In general the money people are getting where they work, most people, and the money they need, they spend per month, really don't tally well. The money that they're getting is really much less than what they actually need. So priority wise, already we are different from people in Europe. And then secondly us artists, we need to brand ourselves in a professional manner. We need to carry ourselves in a manner that says this is business just like any other business, this is how I make my money, and I survive. For people to respect you, you have to respect the profession itself. We need professionalism in the industry. Which is to say that we artists need to respect each other also. We need to make ourselves respected by people who hire us. We need to have organizations that stand for artists and everybody in the country needs to know that I can't just hire an artist and offer them $50. We need to have organizations that stand for us and protect us. And also, I don't know which Ministry should be addressing this. But, I'm sure we can do a lot more against piracy than what's being done now. Again it goes back to priorities and that people are worried about the bread and butter issues really.

Since music has so many challenges maybe it is not worth pursuing?
This is a National Crisis; it's not like its music alone. So if you pack your bags and leave the music industry wherever you go there are challenges there too. The country really has been going down in general. Maybe now we are beginning to pick up and it will get better. But every sector, every industry has been going down. If the health sector itself has been going down, what of music? So it's not about packing your bags and leaving the music industry. The best we musicians can do is like I said; we start trying to push the industry to improve; us the musicians, because no one is going to do it for us. And an international tour, or just one gig outside Zimbabwe, really opens up your mind, and then you see that there's more to music, there's more to me than just Zimbabwe. If it's not working here, it's not the end of the world.

What inspires you?
If you really believe in your vision, then nothing can stop you. They say love conquers everything. But if you don't of course it won't. So if you believe in your vision, it will work out. There are challenges everywhere. The music industry just seems to be more difficult because you are in the public eye, and people will talk a lot about whatever happens to you, people will want to comment on it. And then it will seem like the music industry is really, really even more difficult. When it comes to the social side of things and your image, it is difficult. But making it in the music industry in general is about you having the passion and driving your vision. Using that passion. You're going to face a lot of obstacles. Especially if you are a girl. A lot of things happen. But then if you decide that there are a lot of challenges and so-and-so tried it and it didn't work out, and if you look at someone else's failures and say ‘then it won't work for me', it won't work for you for sure. Look at yourself for who you are. Use your passion for the music to drive the vision to wherever you want to go.

Do you feel females in the industry have a hard time breaking through?
In a sense yes. Especially if you're young. Because, in African culture, men go after the girls, it's not the girls who go after the men. If you are fifteen, it means young boys who are nine years old want you. The 15 year olds want you, 25 year olds want you, 50 year olds want you, and 75 year olds want you. Whereas with guys its bit different. As I said there are unique situations. In general for a girl, you really seriously have to look after yourself. You really have to look after yourself because there are a lot of people who want you for the wrong reasons. And who'll do the wrong things to you if you give them the permission.

How have you managed to keep your band together?
In the music industry, especially in our country, there isn't that much security when it comes to bands. The band members themselves don't have any security in that they don't have a permanent job in that band. The bandleader, herself, in my case, doesn't have the security that these band members will be there permanently. And also we can't require them to be there permanently because art is about freedom; it's about free expression. So band members are allowed to move on at any time they want. Also the bandleader is allowed to say, ‘I don't want this band I'm choosing a different path today, so I'm going to start, doing sungura, and I'm going to recruit new band members or maybe I'm going to do without a band'. The most important thing is having a constitution when you start so that everybody knows what could happen at what time, what rules and regulations there are if you don't do this and things like that.

Describe your stage performance
Art is really a very personal thing. It gets so personal; it's deeper than the word personal itself. So, every performance is different because it's determined by what kind of a day I've had before I came on stage. It's determined by what happened backstage before I went on stage. It's determined by the background I've had, how I was brought up even. Its determined by the people I have onstage, it's determined by what I ate that day even. So it's always different every other day. Also what kind of a performance I give is determined by obviously where I am performing. The Book Café is half a bar, half a cultural centre so you have to approach it with a different presence on stage and a different presentation altogether. If we do a corporate function and people really want to discuss business and stuff like that, you can't be dancing Chinombera and having people shouting ‘CHA CHINOMBERA! CHA CHINOMBRA!!' Every performance has got it's own design, determined by a thousand other things that happened that day or that have happened ten years ago in my life. Before I go onstage, I always tell myself and try to drill it into my head that I'm just going to break a leg, I'm going to totally express myself, just let it be about you expressing yourself. Whatever I do I don't even know what I'm going to do there, but I tell myself that ‘This is the time, you are the queen of the stage, lead it.'

Were do you see yourself in the next two or so years
To be honest, only God knows that. I don't like thinking about that too much or else I'll limit myself. What I know is that I'm going to take a lot of music journeys, I'm going to do a lot of exploring, I'm going to try a lot of different things. And who knows, maybe in the next two years I'll be a saxophonist. I don't know. What I know is that I'm going to be doing a lot of art and I'm going to be keeping the basic principles of art. Redefine life, look for the meaning of everything and go with it.

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