The Musicable project by arts and culture organisation POVO Afrika Trust, which started in June 2023, recently came to a successful close, with multiple highlights and successful outcomes.
The project, supported by Music in Africa Foundation, in partnership with the Goethe Institute, saw the mentorship of three women artists with disabilities, Jacqueline Mpofu, Chipo Muchegwa and Sithandazile Gumbo by established and seasoned fellow-musicians Raven Duchess, Pauline Gundidza and Vuyo Brown, respectively.
Throughout the two-month mentorship, the mentors imparted their industry knowledge and skills to their emerging counterparts to increase their aptitude to make it in the competitive music and arts industry – where it takes more than talent alone to go far.
Through shadowing their mentors, the mentees got to experience the amount of planning and hard work that goes into being a professional musician. They learned lessons like the importance of networking and building a strong brand. Mentorship sessions also included vocal training, music composing and recording one-on-one masterclasses.
At the end of the mentorship process, each mentee, with her mentor, shared what their experiences in a series of Roundtable discussions which brought together fellow artists, members of the press and various stakeholders in the music and arts industry. These ran under the theme “Amplifying Our Voices & Our Stories to Express Ourselves as People with Disabilities”.
“Amplifying Our Voices & Our Stories to Express Ourselves as People with Disabilities” Roundtable Discussion series
Harare, Saturday 21 July, 2023 – Watch Video Highlights Here
The first Musicable Roundtable Discussion took place at the Afrotopia Café, situated within the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare. Participants of the Musicable Project, Jacqueline Mpofu and her mentor Raven Duchess went into conversation with various members of the music and arts community, as well as disability advocates. Sign language interpretation at the event was provided by Susan Masona.
Those in attendance included former Senator representing persons with disabilities Nasper Manyau, renowned disability advocate Masimba Kuchera, as well as persons with disabilities who have been active in the music and arts scene, including actress Edith Masango, actor Vaneldo Mutubuka and Bright Kadengu of music group Soul Bone. Organisations represented at the event included the Zimbabwe Musicians Union, Centre for Children with Disability, Albinism Dare to Dream, Magamba Network, Chenhaka Trust, Edith & Esnath Women’s Solidarity Network, Junior Court and the ZIHRT. Veteran musicians and arts practitioners Penny Yon and Sam Mataure, members of the press from a number of media houses, freelance journalists and bloggers also attended the event.
Highlights from the discussion were Jacqueline sharing her experience as a musician returning to the music scene with a disability following a road accident in which she sustained a spinal cord injury. She spoke about how she is now noticing the infrastructural shortcomings that become disabling factors, including mobility challenges using the public transport system, as well as accessing recording studios and arts spaces, some of which are in buildings without ramps or elevators to facilitate easy access for wheelchair users. There was resounding support and solidarity from those who attended, with Masimba Kuchera offering free consultancy services on disability advocacy issues to the Musicable project. Pauline Gundidza – another of the project’s mentors, made a pledge to give free recording sessions to musicians with disabilities and their collaborators at Afrotonic Studios, to bring more music that advocates for the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities onto the mainstream popular music scene.
Raven and Jacqueline shared their collaborative song “Nyarara Kuchema”, which had debuted on Star FM the previous day and it was very well received by the audience, with heads bopping and feet tapping along to the catchy tune. The song was penned by Raven Duchess and recorded as a collaboration between Raven and Jacqueline during the Musicable project. The song speaks of hope, asserting that “disability does not translate to inability”, sung over a fusion of Afro-pop and Afro-jazz rhythms.
The event ended with festive networking, with many linkages being created and an opportunity for some press members to interview the artists, as well as a chance for audience members to take photos with their favourite musicians.
Bulawayo, Saturday 29 July, 2023 – Wath Video Highlights Here
The Bulawayo edition of the Roundtable Discussion had a good turnout, with resounding support from the Disability Community. Notable figures in the media, arts and disability advocacy circles, including Tsepang “Tsepy The Legend” Nare, Marvellous Tshuma “Queen of BaTonga” of Albinism Connect, Mgcini Nyoni, musicians Asaph and uZanele attended the event, which also had considerable media coverage from national and online media organisations. The audience also included a number of students from King George VI school, with some aspiring musicians among them. Courage Chipatiso, was the sign language interpreter at the event.
The conversation between moderator Soneni Gwizi with mentor Vuyo Brown and her mentee Sithandazile Gumbo flowed smoothly and brought out many of the highlights of the mentorship relationship and progress made by Vuyo and Sithandazile. They delved into what the whole experience was like for the ‘new baby’ in the industry – Sithandazile, focusing on the positive highlights, including her first radio interview experience.
Questions and comments from the audience indicated that there was much work to be done in order to bring more artists with disabilities into the mainstream industry through more engagement with music promoters, producers, recording studios and radio stations to ensure equal opportunities and a conducive environment for artists with disabilities to thrive.
There was a brief Listening Session, where attendees were treated to music by Vuyo Brown and Sithandazile Gumbo, who at the time were still working on their collaborative song “Siyafana”, which was released a few weeks later. The song speaks about the universal traits and qualities that unify us as humans despite physical differences, also celebrating the beauty and uniqueness in how each of us was created. A surprise twist also came in the form of some music tracks from audience member Susan Silamba, a talented and young musician who is blind who has been recording music for a number of years now. It was great networking for the musicians and artists and an exciting moment for the aspiring youngsters to meet the music stars.
It was clear that Sithandazile’s journey resonated with so many people, who are so pleased to see her emerge onto the music scene. There was a lot of encouragement, not only for her but for other musicians with disabilities to proudly take to the stage and assert themselves as talented artists in their own right.
Mutare, Saturday 5 August, 2023 – Watch Video Highlights Here
The third and final edition of this inaugural series of the Musicable Roundtable Discussions was held at the Holiday Inn hotel in Mutare. It was attended by artists and arts practitioners from within the city and surrounding areas, with some travelling from Rusape and Chipinge to attend the event.
Panelists Pauline Gundidza and Chipo Muchegwa spoke in depth about their experience on the mentorship programme, and what they both learned and discovered about each other and about themselves, with moderator Soneni Gwizi punctuating the conversation with encouragement and useful information for everyone present. Spiwe Mhere provided sign language interpretation on this occasion.
Soft-spoken and reserved, Chipo expressed her gratitude to Pauline for being a good mentor. She emphasized that she was aiming for the global stage and didn’t want to be known only as an artist with a disability but as a force to be reckoned with in the industry by all her musical counterparts. Pauline had a lot of positive words to add regarding Chipo’s talent as a musician and having gotten to know her on a personal level. She also shared how they now have a mutually beneficial relationship as fellow musicians, with both learning from the other.
The pair’s song, which was a collaborative project that was also one of the programme’s components, was a hit with the audience. The song, entitled “Rudo Rwekare” talks about the dating game, lamenting the absence of old-fashioned courtship and romance with the advent of the ‘mjolo’ trend that currently prevails. The song brings together the two artists vocal prowess and speaks to the theme that has been common in both of their repertoires. The music video for the song was launched online in September, through Chipo’s social media pages.
Among the Mutare audience were two young artists with disabilities, Jadee Shara Devine and Macho Man. Both came prepared to share their music and they blew the audience away. Jadee’s vocals and message in the track “Don’t Forget” left the crowd mesmerised. Jadee is truly talented and is set to make her mark in Zimbabwean music. During the discussion, Macho Man spoke about his wish to also be included in the big music events and to collaborate with big artists. He mentioned that meeting Chipo was a “dream come true” for him.
Mutare’s Musicable Roundtable Discussion event was an emotional and encouraging end to the series.
Soaring on a High Note: Participants Shine at Major Festivals
A number of developments and offshoots from the Musicable project have already been sprouting, much to the delight of the project organisers and participants, who have all kept in touch and formed a strong bond through online communication.
Sithandazile Gumbo has been touring various parts of the country to perform at national events, now stronger in her vocal prowess and more confident in her ability to communicate with technical crews and event organisers about her requirements both on- and off-stage as a musician with albinism.
In fulfilling the pledge made during the Harare discussion, Pauline Gundidza and the Afrotonic Studio started their work with other artists when Macho Man visited the studio and had a great session with them. Following this, he went on to record with Chipo at her home in Norton, using the home studio kit from the Musicable project.
Other highlights to top the success of the Musicable events included Chipo working with South-Africa based producer Mr Brown, whom she met at the Music Crossroads in Harare while attending her vocal coaching session facilitated by the Musicable project with Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana. Through networking with the festival organisers at the Harare roundtable discussion, Chipo also went on to perform at the 2023 Shoko Festival’s “Peace in the Hood Concert” in Chitungwiza, where the songstress stole the show and was a crowd favourite.
Most recently, Jacqueline Mpofu came back to the big stage in October, where she was part of the line-up of Ammara Brown’s backing band at the Jacaranda Festival, which gave an electric performance at the festival. With a fresh confidence boost and determined to get back into doing what she loves and does best, Jacqui expressed gratitude to her fellow-musicians for the warm welcome they gave her. “The experience was out of this world. Mostly emotional, all sorts of feelings. First I couldn’t believe that it was happening and the love from Ammara and the band was overwhelming. There was lots of love, celebration and tears.”
Jacqueline also expressed gratitude to Raven Duchess, her mentor during the Musicable project, for getting her out of her shell. She went on to share that she is looking forward to doing more projects and shows and even recording and releasing her own music soon.
The inaugural edition of the Musicable project has highlighted the need for more main-stream linkages for musicians with disabilities and for a greater level of awareness and consideration of disability issues among stakeholders in the arts and music industry. POVO Afrika is committed to continuing in facilitating more engagement and mentorship programmes in the future.
Video highlights of the 2023 Musicable project can be found on the POVO Afrika social media platforms. All the songs produced during the project can be found on POVO Afrika’s SoundCloud.
The Musicable project was propelled by the Sound Connects Fund, an initiative by the Music In Africa Foundation (MIAF) and the Goethe-Institut. The Sound Connects Fund is made possible through the financial contribution of the ACP-EU Culture Programme, a project implemented by the Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and funded by the European Union (EU). The Fund is also co-funded by Goethe-Institut and Siemens Stiftung.