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Zimbabwe Musicians Find Alternative Ways to Earn a Living During Pandemic

Unplugged is Zimbabwe's premier Afro-based 'blankets and wine' style music festival.
Unplugged is Zimbabwe's premier Afro-based 'blankets and wine' style music festival.

Zimbabwe's musicians have been struggling to make a living since the coronavirus pandemic prompted the government to ban concerts and other entertainment to prevent the spread of the virus.

Before COVID-19, award-winning Zimbabwean singer Diana Samkange-Nyazema frequently performed in her home country and across Africa.

Now, no longer on stage or in the spotlight, she can be found at her farm in Mazowe district, about an hour's drive west of Harare.

The coronavirus lockdowns stopped large gatherings and events – like concerts – forcing Samkange-Nyazema to look at other ways to make a living.

"During the lockdown, I learned one thing that I didn't know over the years: You will never go wrong with agriculture. People will always eat. People will always want farm produce. That business, for me, is quite stable. It will bring income; I now know that money comes from the soil to also do other things – to boost my music business," she said.

"I have found that there is stability in agriculture at the moment more than (the) music side," she added. "But I am saying given the two, I am definitely going to be biased because I am a musician. That defines who I am. I am Diana who sings. So, music is going to be my first love, but I need to survive."

The 32-year-old Afro-pop singer co-owns the farm with her husband, Calvin Nyazema.

They are putting in irrigation pipes and have set up beehives to collect "eucalyptus honey" from their 300,000-tree plantation.

Executive Director of Zimbabwe's National Arts Council Nicholas Moyo says he does not know when the ban on live performances will be lifted. But, he says, Zimbabwe's government recognizes the plight of musicians who have been unable to work because of the lockdowns.

"So, we can say currently we are working on more of a stimulus package because we realized release may never take us anywhere," Moyo said. "But the government, through the department of Social Welfare, continuously assists Zimbabweans that are in need."

However, critics say lockdown relief payments of about $12 a month per family is not even enough to buy bread.

Independent Harare-based economist John Robertson says authorities need to increase financial support for the vulnerable.

"So, it's really up to an individual if you find yourself in a difficulty. There is nobody who (is) going to come and help you. Certainly not officials," Robertson said.

"So, you have to be resourceful for your own sake. And you can bring the rest of the family and say: Let's work together and add to the income of the family with small things each family can do," he added. "And the resourcefulness of people ... of people of Zimbabwe has been absolutely amazing and it is going to amaze us even if COVID-19 lasts for a long time."

Singer Samkange-Nyazema appears to be following that advice and plans to invest more in livestock if she gets funding.

In the meantime, she has something else to sing about: a bountiful corn harvest expected on her farm in the coming weeks.