How Long Shall We Keep Up With “Broke Creatives” In Africa?
StarBrite, Zimbabwe’s only surviving talent show self-tasked to identify and promote performing arts and musical talent across the country’s ten provinces, has had enough of the viewers’ brash criticism and are crying out loud. The show’s head-honcho and mooter, Barney Mpariwa, recently laid it down to a state paper that although there is a creative will to better his brainchild into an alluring, blossoming and relevant annual competition like the American or South African idols, they can only do less because technically they are “broke creatives” and “it is difficult to please people”.
Mpariwa, like most typical African creatives, said they have crazy creative ideas that could modify the face of the show for good but the lack of resources to fund the programme has taken off its perceived glamour. He implied it was particularly absurd for viewers to expect better changes on the show when it lacks sponsorship from corporates and other major stakeholders in the arts sector.
“People want us to be like American Idols or South African Idols, but what they are forgetting is that those shows came after us. We are not getting the support we want from some of the biggest shareholders in the arts sector. I work with money from my pocket, and we only get some resources to use from well-wishers. We now rely on resources from well-wishers to give to our winners,” Mpariwa told the Herald.
Among a myriad of its criticism, StarBrite has been castigated for a lack of quality, creativity and intransigent to change. Critics have of late referred to the show as a low budget production because of the stage setting, the lightning and the wardrobe among others which tend to push away the potential sponsors and corporate world.
Some viewers even pointed out that the show organisers don’t give room for developments and ideas and end up producing the same concept and style each year. There have been outcries during preliminaries with how the judges were dressed and how they present themselves to the audience.
In 2014, comedian Carl Joshua Ncube scolded StarBrite, saying it was below standard because of its adjudicators. He said the Idols franchise was ahead because it has judges that can say ‘no’ to underperforming acts. Ncube’s sentiments have been echoed by other viewers who feel that the organisers should at least engage reputable judges as it is the trend around the world.
Mpariwa, however, said the show was continuing to grow despite the criticism. He said they had a distinguished tribunal of judges who have good credentials which included seasoned guitarist Clive Mono Mukundu, media personality Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa and journalist Robert Mukondiwa.
StarBrite’s latest disclosure that they are broke creatives puts limelight to the plight of many young creatives across the continent.
It brings to the fore the long-building conversation that has been going on and around that there is a very human voice to the African creative sector and an innate urge to change.
We are in 2020, and it’s a reality that being creatively inclined isn’t just a toll on your bank balance, it’s a weight on your conscience. Anxiety and entitlement, frivolity and guilt – being young, self-employed and creative comes with its own particular set of paradoxes.
Whether it’s the pressure to constantly take the easier route of the nine-five, self-promote online, partake in the there’s no budget projects for exposure, messing up a tax return or guiltily asking a family member for another ‘loan’, it’s clear that creatives are working through some stuff hoping it might make more sense in the long run both financially and emotionally, and that someday they will stop worrying about rent instalments.
But at what cost can that be done?
Many of us can testify that Africa has creative talent to burn. In many areas, such as industrialisation, it may be a latecomer, but on creativity, we are not.
While there is certainly no dearth of talent in the continent, it nevertheless has been relatively poor in profiting from it.
A recent Weforum report said Africa’s contribution to the world export of cultural goods was as marginal, amounting to less than 1%. The continent’s presence in global markets for creative goods and service, goes the report, was stagnated by its limited supply capacity, lack of intellectual property knowledge, obsolete policies and regulations, as well as underinvestment in the industry, particularly infrastructure. A good illustration of this is palpable in the film industry.
For example, the US has over 40,000 movie theatres; India has more than 20,000; China 13,000, but the whole of Africa has less than 1,000 which accounts for one cinema per million people.
Such gaps are symptomatic of an untapped potential for growth.
Creativity is the new gold and it is time for Africa to reap our benefits.
Albeit for that to happen, we need to get it right to gain from it.
Governments have a key role in designing, implementing and monitoring robust institutional and regulatory policies that will commercialise and support creative forces. Piracy, for instance, remains a major obstacle due to weak copy and intellectual property rights as well as poor enforcement capabilities.
It is imperative that for the creative economy to grow, to operate under a functioning system of intellectual property rights.
In the past, Africa has lost many artists trying to make a living and obliged to accept their work being legally or illegally stolen. This is one reason many artists relocates to first-world economies.
Africa can no longer afford a continued talent drain. Instead, its focus must be on strengthening and providing specialised education and training including entrepreneurial and business service skills, support for artistic development, modernising production, strengthening distribution networks and promoting consumption and branding.
The digital revolution has opened doors for the continent to be a trailblazer for frugal innovation. For instance, digital cinematography gave rise to Nollywood, making it spring up to become the third-largest film industry by value in the world, after Hollywood and Bollywood.
By 2017, it was generating an estimated $500 to $800 million annually and was one of the largest Nigerian employers by sector, second only to agriculture. On average, over 2,000 feature-length movies are made each year. A feature film sells an average of 50,000 copies at about $2 a DVD, offering Africans an affordable entertainment option.
Nollywood’s model of rapid production and home consumption is now being exported across the continent, with countries such as Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, and Mali adopting this model over traditional American or European features.
In addition, while it has become much like a cliche, Africa’s creative industry needs now to go “digital”. Research suggests that the highest growth within the creative industry is in technology-centred industries such as software programming and video games; the lowest is in music and film. Although animation and game development is gaining traction in some African countries (Morocco, South Africa, Uganda & Kenya), there is ample scope and opportunity to develop this further.
There is a demanding political recognition that creative industries can fuel growth.
Last I checked, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has been publishing Creative Economy Reports and two-thirds of African countries have signed the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This convention calls for greater investment in the creative and cultural industries(CCI). It also calls for creative products from the south to have preferential access to northern markets.
At the continental level, there are also several policy documents that support the development and growth of creative industries such as the 2008 Nairobi Plan of Action on Cultural Industries.
Africa in general and Zimbabweans in particular could take a leaf or two off that. We have long been rich in talent and creativity, and in today’s maturing markets, we have a significant role to play in economic development and the potential to stake our solid claim as part of the global mainstream.