Creativity is the human prerequisite that defies what is known by exploring uncertain possibilities and thus, what drives innovation. In recent years, the notion of the creative industries has obtained an elevated position in global intellectual discourse, and a lot has been said about its role in today’s world. The collapse of the industrial past have given rise to a fresh crop of “professionals without ties” promising an even brighter future, with factories and warehouses converted into shining hubs of intangible creativity, occupied by shiny happy individuals. The underlying theme here is that you can’t work down a mine, construction, or in a factory anymore, but if you like, you can become an artist and architect, designer and stylist, or work in tourism, or open a cafe, or make computer games and mobile apps. In this sector, you are basically free to make the most of your creative capability.
Cynically, as eccentric as the sector claims to be, it comes with its own set of myths,the confirmed wisdom that students, gets out and even experienced creatives often take at face value. “This is how it works.” “That’s just the way it is.” While there may be a seed of truth in them, the reality is usually more sophisticated than we are led to believe sometimes, and these myths risk perpetuating damaging narratives, limiting what creatives feel they can do and be, and forcing everyone down the same career path.
One hot-button topic that has always been debated is that one has to go to Harare or merely colossal cities to make it or have a superb career. Long-standing arguments hold that the megacities provide opportunities, exposure and the critical mass to support most writers, musicians, illustrators, makers, and tinkerers’ activities. Technically, one needs enough people to open a cafe or to fill the seats of an auditorium, and cities provide a pool of people large enough to support two or more cafes or it could be a theatre.
Samanyika rap/hip-hop musician Flexxo Mushawarukwa, who relocated to Chitungwiza recently, said unlike Mutare, his new residence provided him with a much livelier music scene in terms of gigs as most musicians there take music seriously that they consider it a “job”. Chi-town, he added, also comes with the convenience of working with renowned and professional creatives like composers, producers and vocalists.
Indistinguishably, Marcus Zvinavashe, part of the Caligraph, a Harare-based startup of mural artists, said he moved from Bulawayo to Sunshine City because there are more opportunities accessible there compared to other smaller cities. He said not that smaller communities do not have the opportunities, but just that Harare presents more.
“That you have to move to Harare to make it is not just a myth; it is a proven fact. Look at the current advertising industry, you will see that most of the people doing copywriting, conceptualisation and graphic designing are native to Harare. That says a lot. For me, coming from Bulawayo to settle in Harare is also a fact. I recognised earlier on that if ever I’m going to do anything; if what I do is to work, it has to be in Harare because it has vast opportunities,” avered Zvinavashe.
Another line of thinking presupposes that cities provide a diverse range of skills, ideas, opinions and networks since creative folks need the challenge and stimulation of this diversity to produce novel ideas and creative solutions. Audiences tend to be conservative, but culture relies on new ideas.
Mutare hip-hop star and Diamond FM presenter Kritik Igwe adduced that the persuasion that one has to be in the metropolis to have a great career owed chiefly to the inference that Harare has the most culturally and demographically diverse people. He added that more opportunities also arise there because the city boasts top mass media infrastructures and headquarters of most corporates which make it easier and faster for an artist to approach an organisation for whatever creative arts-related business.
Admittedly, city lights have always had some kind of hold on creative people and as a result, we have familiarised ourselves with the idea that “making it big” means moving to a big city. Particularly, the links between opportunity, success and the city are tightly bound as cities have played their parts as important hubs of creative life overtime.
But the narrative has dramatically changed in recent years. There seem to be on the rise a neo-liberal thinking that beckons that creatively-inclined folks do not necessarily have to move to Harare or megacities to make it. To them, that is hook, line and sinker. Creatives, the argument goes, can create and make the best of or out of what they do from the fringes of Harare and could still attract consumers. Creating and serving from smaller cities and communities enables people to find their own creative spaces, and here it is easier to stand out if you’re fed up with the competitive, constantly churning culture associated with big cities. There there are lots of perks, less at stake financially, and you won’t necessarily have to work a million side jobs. Also, there is a greater community spirit that satisfies socially-minded entrepreneurs.
For the years that I have worked within the creative sector, I have realised that now there are loads of amazing, independent, creative people, groups and organisations that are driving the creative culture from communities that are not essentially Harare, and seeing smaller communities supporting themselves and doing interesting stuff that aren’t the Harare thing is really invigorating. That one could be a part of these smaller communities, rather than just dropping into this big ocean of the capital city, is an inspiration.
Dismantling the notion that Harare presents plenty of opportunities to creatives, this school of thought challenges that opportunity is not a destination. To them, there is now an internet way of doing things and social media has replaced the expensive and messy world of in-person meetings. It’s easy to assume that bigger cities will have more superb jobs for the taking, but this is not always the case. Moving to a bigger city for some vague notion of finding “opportunities” is a bit like doing work for “exposure” as there is no real promise. While that might sound pessimistic, it is actually a pretty positive sign because opportunity is not bound by geographical borders. It is not its own destination. Today, more than ever, people are able to work more flexibly and create opportunities anywhere. So, before one gets on a bus to Harare, he/she has to make sure that they are making most of exactly where they are first.
Hyped Masvingo rap wordsmith, Jungle Kid said it has become a “thing of the past” for creatives to move to Harare to express themselves as new technology has flattened the world.
“I can make music from scratch and distribute it from Hwedza, Masvingo, Lupane or Gokwe. Now, there are a lot of talented producers in Masvingo like Jonn, Cyber 101, Looda, Dvarren, Lyre, and Skqatta. Currently, I am working on an album for which I intend to only go to Harare for distribution purposes. I do not necessarily have to relocate to make it big. I can only go submit my stuff at the national radio stations there with a bigger audience nationwide,”
said the Hauz of Hunga rapper.
Jungle said it was one’s sheer work ethic, mass appeal and marketing strategies that would make them stand out from wherever they are creating from. Apparently, everybody is free to make the most of their creative potential anywhere, and if you can’t do that, then, sorry, bad luck, it’s not the industry’s problem.
In the same vein, Bulawayo multidisciplinary artist Ulenni OkaNdlovu posited that it was the quality and uniqueness of what one offers and how good they are at what they do that makes them blossom from anywhere in Zimbabwe. Vacillating his residence between the City of Kings & Queens and Harare, the “Cava” maker said he had been able to do what he does from either city.
“We are living in a global space. One can be dope and push works from wherever they are, although there are some advantages of being in a capital city such as infrastructure, spaces, platforms and access. However, it also all depends on the field you are in. I have been in Harare for quite a time. It’s been back forth and other cities, but for me and what I do, there is no huge difference between Bulawayo and Harare. Or maybe it is because I have been in both cities and able to do what I do.”
Rhymeslinger Precious Herschneider Frank aka Phreshy said although she was tempted to relocate to Harare at some time, her hometown Kwekwe now present her with the essential facilities and a live music scene, the same things she was chasing after in the capital.
“After my graduation, I had to focus more on music and at some point, I wanted to relocate permanently to Harare because my producers were there, so were all the big radio stations. Also, that’s where most music live shows are hosted. I travelled a lot, and it was stressing. But, I don’t necessarily have to travel there now because Kwekwe has music studios,”
A big reason why people enter the creative field is that they want to create and make a difference. For an emerging creative, it is understandable to want to throw yourself in the deep end of a big city and soak everything up. Unfortunately, when you’re in a bigger city, it can be hard to make a difference because of the existing competition. As Kritic Igwe puts it, working from small cities and smaller communities outside Harare can offer the opportunity to create culture rather than consume it.
“It’s hard to penetrate the industry if you are to settle in the capital city because of the levels of competition you will encounter. It is better to go watch and learn how other artists are doing things there, but do not have to settle because you would have to work hard twice or thrice as hard to get recognition. Also, we now have more community radio stations in Zimbabwe which make it easier to penetrate the industry in your own city or province and artists need to take advantage of utilising such platforms,”
appealed the Eastern Blockhoodhop presenter.
In fine, one can accede that the contretemps of whether Harare or big cities determine a creative’s chances of making it big will continue to rage on as history has taught us that illustrious creativity exists within cities which operate like organic ecosystems. Albeit the cultural and artistic life requires peace and reflection, as well as time in the limelight. Not all cities are equal and, over time and through changing fashions, certain cities have ridden the wave of popularity when everything came together. Not every creative can be a pioneer and not all audiences like the avant-garde. Some cities do shine at particular times for a specific cultural activity, while others do not.
Perchance, the bottom line is when a diverse group of talented people intermingle in one place at the same time, creative magic can happen.