Zimbabwean music online - is it accessible?

Circa 2005/6 there were hardly any online music stores that sold Zim music or offered complimentary downloads; let alone the latest stuff. The big companies such as Diamond Studios, Gramma and ZMC were too focused on the traditional distribution model to care. But the world, and Zimbabwe along with it, was changing in how music was being received.

One motivating factor for us to start the Radio Kunakirwa podcasts was lack of a bridge between Zim music and the Zim diaspora. As more Zimbabweans were leaving the country for greener pastures, Urban Grooves was booming with breakout stars such as Xtra Large Maroja, Roki, Plaxedes Wenyika, Ngonie, Betty Makaya, MaFriq, ExQ, Maskiri, 2BG, Audius Mtawarira, Sanii Makhalima, Nasty Trixx and so forth. People were excited about where Zim music was going and wanted to hear more. At the time, the only way you could get to hear the latest Zim music was if you went back to Zim on holiday or if one of the few Zim internet radio stations streamed a few songs here and there (should you be lucky to catch them). That obviously doesn’t work very well. It didn’t make sense to rearrange your life to catch a stream at a certain time with the way diaspora life is set up. Consider different time zones or work schedules.

The question that needed an answer was ‘How do we make it easy for diaspora-based Zimbabweans to access local music?’ We decided to come up with a radio-style show that had its foundation on the latest Zim music and was Zimbo at its core in terms of presentation. But how does one do that exactly? First step was to forge new and strengthen existing relationships we had with Zim musicians to get a steady supply of music. We knew some of these guys personally from back in Zim for starters, that helped. In turn, we would play their songs on this show to promote them beyond Zim borders which would open up doors for overseas gigs and so on. We wanted to play not only the popular stuff but good music, a true representation of the musical renaissance that was sweeping Zimbabwe. But we still had no idea how else to do this without live streaming since our background was in streaming radio. Only after a conversation with technocrat, producer and rapper, Begotten Sun, did we know what exactly we wanted to do. It was called a ‘podcast’. For listeners, this meant regular access to the latest and best Zim music in an easily downloadable/listenable format so you could listen on your PC, in your car or on your phone. Most importantly, you could listen in your own time. The shows would be available online 24/7/365. It was pretty much radio on demand. That is how we connected with the audience. It was a win win.

Fast forward over a decade later, access to music has improved but there is still plenty of work to be done. We were having this very conversation on Twitter with Zimbabwean music streaming service @BeatBarrowFeed. Yeah, there is a music streaming service purely for Zimbabwean music and it’s a beautiful thing!

 

We took the conversation offline and this is what @BeatBarrowFeed had to say:

Zimbabwe’s music scene has changed and will keep on moving forward, but one thing that needs to change at a faster pace is accessibility. Zim music is not as easily accessible as it can and should be! BeatBarrow has a catalogue of our Zim artists and provides a collective sound from our varied genres. The aim is to be a one stop shop for your playlist. And we keep pushing this idea for the reason highlighted earlier.
— @BeatBarrowFeed

I definitely agree with that. Owning music is no longer what it used to be so it makes sense for a service like BeatBarrow to mirror how the world is accessing music. Although BeatBarrow was founded as an online shop, it evolved into the music streaming app that it is (available on Android and iOS). Things change. I used to enjoy opening a new CD. From the plastic wrap then holding the CD up to make sure there were no scratches then carefully placing it back on the holder before I started going through the sleeve inlet. It was a beautiful experience. My background was in cassettes and vinyl but CDs were the game changer for me. In the same fashion, online stores were needed 10 years ago but maybe not as much now?

 
Artists now use platforms like YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify and iTunes to showcase their excellent work but not all artists do this and when talking of these platforms some of the tracks you get are not actually uploaded by the artists themselves. This results in a mishmash of tracks being on one platform but not on the other, tracks only being available weeks after being released and some good tracks not being on any platform at all. Maybe we are the only ones who experience this but as lovers of all things Zim music, this is frustrating.
— @BeatBarrowFeed

There is nothing more time-consuming and annoying than having to visit 10 different platforms to find all the music I want to hear. Pedzezvo I am quite likely to only find some of that music, not all. People these days go for products and services that make life easier, not harder. If I want to listen to Zim music but it’s proving difficult to find, I might just go for the next best thing; SA music or afrobeats. When you look at it that way, those are potential fans simply going elsewhere. Who loses? Zim.

From a listener’s perspective don’t get us wrong, access to music has greatly improved over the years and many artists are making headway. We are not only just trying to push our app’s agenda and in the process discredit a lot of work that has been going on over the years. But we still crave easy options that mean consumers don’t have be asking the question ‘where can I find nhingi’s music’. Also, more importantly how do we as the consumers get to know of the new hip-hop group from Skys or access that oldie gospel track you think of when reminiscing with a minimal hassle. We just want a way to be able to create a playlist that will have our favourite dancehall, gospel, rap and sungura tracks easily without having to check 5 different platforms, social media links and asking a few friends (if we are being honest). So if a centralised app is not the solution then lets discuss further what we as consumers need and hope our artists can provide that.
— @BeatBarrowFeed

If you follow the way young African musicians (especially within the Afrobeats genre) ensure that the market is serviced, you have musical hubs such as blogs and YouTube channels that you can go to to find the latest tracks from your favourite artists. The artists and their teams make sure that whenever they drop a new song, they make it available to these blogs and channels outside their own platforms. Our artists tend to go for radio. When you consider the target market, they are likely to be online so why not make sure the music is available there? Not only that but put it on the right platforms which will most likely reach the ears of your fans.

From the artists, we simply have questions and lots of them. In our short journey of trying to market the app, improve it and get it out there, we have got in touch with a few artists. Most seem to like our idea but never fully embrace it to the point of working with us fully by either supplying their tracks for consumption or perhaps even come to a business arrange where they can promote it. Of course, artists or the industry don’t owe us or anyone anything and we probably need to earn our stripes by networking and pushing our product more but what stops the artists in embracing such new ideas? What can businesses/brands do to help with alternative distribution channels? If part of the issue is on finance then can this be discussed more openly? Is there some lack of trust of within the industry itself that we are naïve about such that you would rather do your own thing?

In the end BeatBarrow simply wants to be one of the options that people rely one for Zim music. One of the options that artists send their new tracks to with the knowledge that both the artist and the consumer benefit.
— @BeatBarrowFeed

I believe that the missing link for most of our artists has been good management. A good manager would seek out avenues to build their client’s brand. When that happens they do a good deal of research and connect with organisations that advocate for the music to reach the audience. Whatever negotiations are involved, for the most part the artists shouldn’t really be too involved so that they focus on the music. When the artist wears many hats they won’t have time to carefully consider the benefits of services such as what BeatBarrow provides. Nine times out of ten, they are more interested in reinforcing methods of pushing their music they know than discovering new ones - which in turn increases their workload. So how then do they innovate and get ahead of the rest?

 

See what Zimbabweans in music tech are doing. Give the BeatBarrow app a try:

 

Android - Google Play link here

iOS - Apple Store here