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Interview with Penny Yon, Arts Administrator for Pamberi Trust
Elizabeth Nyamuda,
April 04, 2013

Read Inside/Out with Penny Yon

Penny YonLet’s hear about how you started. . .
I come from a long line of musicians; there has always been a band in my family. My late father played in various bands and ensembles from a young age. They first came to Mozambique from the Island of St Helena, South Atlantic Ocean as a family when my dad was very young and there he learnt to play piano, saxophone and violin. He and his brother played music to accompany the silent movies in Beira. They would go there with the piano and violin and play music for the exciting parts! It’s a rich background that I come from.

I started piano lessons at the age of six until about the age of twelve. I had formal lessons and afterwards played for love, enjoyment and for myself. At the age of eleven I started the guitar, and then when I was in my thirties I started on the bass. I have played with a Jazz group called, ‘Mhepo’ which was well known in the 90s and the 2000s. Today I play with my brothers, Richard and David, who are great musicians and we play mostly at private parties or private occasions. I also play at my church at Fountain of Hope Fellowship in Arcadia.

Getting down to work . . .
I am the Arts Administrator for Pamberi Trust. I’m involved in development projects. One of my favourites (being a woman artist) is the gender programme called FLAME (Female Literary Arts and Music Enterprise). It started in 2006. FLAME encompasses various activities including Sistaz Open Mic, which has become a popular institution here at the Book Café. On Saturday afternoons we provide a friendly space for women artists to come out and do their thing and gain exposure and experience. Many of the women who have participated in Sistaz Open Mic have gone on to develop successful careers and have really moved forward in their careers as a result of that initial exposure. So it very fulfilling to see people moving ahead and to see women artists coming out so strongly. When I was an emerging woman artist and still learning the instruments and coming out to the public audience for the first time, it was really scary! There were no support systems other than the sisters who had gone ahead of me and would mentor me. So this is what we try to do with the FLAME project, mentor emerging female artists. Also there is the youth project, nurturing young talent coming out of Zimbabwe. We have a great team here at Pamberi Trust!

Changing times . . .
It’s been very exciting moving the Book Café into a different home. The new venue provides spaces, which are very comfortable, and artist friendly. Every single space that we have is designed not only for the enjoyment of the audience obviously, but also for the facility of the artists. We have a big stage indoors, a small outdoor stage under the mango trees where there can be a solo mbira player, or solo guitarist or poetry reader on a fine day. We have spaces for film screenings and workshops and a new bookshop, which is a great addition to our facilities. Thus the Book Café is an arts community centre where artists gather not only to get bookings to perform, but also a place to meet.

Have women artists in Zimbabwe made any strides in the music industry?
Sure, you look at the women artists now that are coming out, those who are already established and those who are emerging onto a bigger stage and they are doing amazing things. Back in the day, even five years ago, there were hardly any women instrumentalists; mostly they played piano. That is like a traditional woman’s thing, the piano. There have been some great guitarists that have been coming out. Now we see Tariro Ruzvidzo whose solo career is TariNegitare. She has been doing really well and has travelled to different places outside Zimbabwe. Edith Katiji known as Edith Weutonga plays the bass guitar, and is a great singer, songwritter and actress. Tami Moyo, who is just 14 years old, plays the guitar. She is so comfortable with the guitar, and its fantastic to see the younger generation coming up with such ease.

What are the challenges women artists face?
Well of course its a male dominated industry, it absolutely is. There are certain challenges, risks and dangers, which are unique to women artists. For example the working hours - it’s often a late night thing and also the environment they play in. These are the things that have to be dealt with as a woman in a special way and obviously different from male counterparts. There is still the social traditional challenge of convincing elders, or parents that it is viable employment, as well as respectable with a possibility for growth and the capacity to earn as well.

Any advice to share with upcoming female artists?
I would just say guard your reputation very carefully because it’s so easy to be categorised in a way that one wouldn’t want to be. As a woman and as a woman artist and as a fantastic artist, it takes hard work. The male artists also work hard to get where they are. But women have to work even harder because of the other responsibilities like babies, a home to run and a man that you are going home to and all of those things. However a male artist has more freedom to spend lots of hours in practice time, and personal rehearsal time. You are not going to make it just because you are a female guitar player, it must be because you are a good guitar player. We have to work harder and aim higher because of the things we are still up against in this day and age.

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