2020: The year music paused

THE year 2020 started pretty “normal” for the Zambian music industry. But what is “normal” for the Zambian music industry? A music industry that has no shops selling musical consumables such as CDs, record players and vinyl records.

These three are hallmarks of most countries where there is some control of piracy. The Zambian music industry has failed to control piracy and it is not even being talked about seriously by anyone of note anymore. It is like the country has accepted that this abnormality is now “normal”. The first two months of 2020 were also “normal” in that the Zambia music industry where artistes miming to their songs on memory stick were called “live”. However, due to the rainy season, there are not many “live” or indeed real live shows from December to about April. The months from May to July are also a bit chilly by Zambian standards so the peak for performances whether live or “live” is between August and the first two weeks of November. Most of these performances, for secular artistes, take place in bars, night clubs, restaurants and at weddings in Zambia. Gospel artistes perform live in church as well as other venues.
COVID-19 was a major game changer for most businesses and the music industry was at the forefront of these negative changes. The first reported cases of COVID-19 only occurred in March 2020. The Zambian government was quick to respond and announced partial lockdown measures in the same month. These partial lockdown measures included, at the national level, the closure of schools and universities, as well as bars and restaurants. Only a limited number of people were allowed to attend funerals, weddings and churches. Civil servants were allowed to go for work, but on a rotation schedule so as to limit the number of people in the offices. Many companies and organisations also adopted this approach.
The closure of bars and restaurants meant that the places where most musical artistes perform to earn a living were not available to them. Weddings, another avenue, was also not available to them. Business became very slow or next to nothing for most musical artistes, as the case was for most sectors of the economy. In other really normal territories, musical artistes got some revenue from the sale of their musical consumer products but that is not an option for most in Zambia. There are some who have publishers that have connected them to online streaming services.
So, from March until September 2020 when President Edgar Lungu announced the relaxation on the COVID-19 restrictions, which included the reopening of bars on a “pilot basis”, musical artistes in Zambia could not earn a living through performances. In response, the Ministry of Tourism and Arts through the National Arts Council of Zambia (NAC) put out a call on Zambian artists, arts cooperatives, artist managers and promoters in all art forms who wished to undertake business investments in the creative industry to apply for the Presidential Arts Development and Empowerment Scheme.
The first K30 million was awarded to a number of artists in August 2020. These included a number of musical artistes. The funds are loans administered by the Citizen’s Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC), which is managing the funds for the government on a revolving basis.
There are those who are still in denial that COVID-19 exists despite the many strong messages from competent and qualified authorities such as the Ministry of Health. This is evident by the lack of following of the rules in various public places in Zambia. 2020 ended with a second wave of the pandemic in the world and here in Zambia. This scourge is deadly and has claimed and is still claiming many lives, with new and more highly transmissible variants.
On the world front COVID-19 was responsible for ending the lives of a number of notable musicians. Some of those who have been reported to be victims of COVID-19 are Manu Dibangu, Toots Hibbert and Charley Pride.
Emmanuel N’Djoké “Manu” Dibangu (12 December 1933 – 24 March 2020) was a Cameroonian musician and songwriter who played saxophone and vibraphone. He developed a musical style fusing jazz, funk, and traditional Cameroonian music. His father was a member of the Yabassi ethnic group, while his mother was a Duala. He was best known for his 1972 single “Soul Makossa”.
Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert, OJ (December 8, 1942 – September 11, 2020) was a Jamaican singer and songwriter who was the lead vocalist for the reggae and ska band Toots and the Maytals.
A reggae pioneer, he performed for six decades and helped establish some of the fundamentals of reggae music. Hibbert’s 1968 song “Do the Reggay” is widely credited as the genesis of the genre name reggae. His band’s album True Love won a Grammy Award in 2005.
Charlie Pride (March 18, 1934 – December 12, 2020) was an American singer, guitarist, and professional baseball player. His greatest musical success came in the early to mid-1970s, when he was the best-selling performer for RCA Records since Elvis Presley.
During the peak years of his recording career (1966–1987), he had 52 top-10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, 30 of which made it to number one. He won the Entertainer of the Year award at the Country Music Association Awards in 1971.
Pride was one of three African-American members of the Grand Ole Opry (the others being DeFord Bailey and Darius Rucker). He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
We look forward to the mass distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Zambia so that one day, soon, our lives can revert to normalcy.
Happy New Year!
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