Working class mobilization often begins with this Marx-inspired cry: “Workers of the world, unite. You only have your chains to lose.” In this opinion piece, musician Theo Mnikes calls on local gospel artists to also unite as they only have their poorly attended shows to lose.
Ke kopa ho bua!
I have been a part of the Bloemfontein music industry for close to 7 years now, and from the time I have actively participated in this industry, I have closely observed the different trends on how things have been done. It would somehow be a pain to some people if I point out the plain truth I observed in these trends. Even though some things are better not said, it would be an injustice to the younger generation of musicians and event organizers if I do not address these issues.
The Bloemfontein music ‘industry’ is highly talented, even more than certain parts of the country that produce national stars. However, since the existence of this industry from the early 2000s, factually from the time I have participated, we have not produced even one national star. What could be the cause? The main issue is that we are not generating enough interest for our artists to be nationally recognized. The disunity that exists in the industry causes a significant decrease in followership local artists enjoy.
The argument of hard work is going to have to be put aside because people do work extremely hard and invest huge amounts of money into their craft. But most of the time, they never get proportionate returns on their investment, let alone make profit. The matter here is that people are not attending shows, gospel ones to be precise. There has not been one sold out gospel show from at least seven years ago, although there are many gospel shows per year from all around Bloemfontein, catering for all “target markets”. Still, there’s hardly even one show that has managed to pull a crowd that filled up the venue to its capacity.
On the marketing front, if we are to compare the incomparable, the secular world is doing extremely well with their events, without having run vigorous marketing campaigns like gospel organizers do. So, what’s the problem? It’s the fact that the target market is not properly reached. Those who are aware of the happenings are hindered by socioeconomic challenges to attend the shows. These challenges further compromise new audience generation because you can only expand the existing market through reasonable noise about current events. Currently, our shows see the same faces week in and week out, and we are also losing those regulars because of doing the same thing, booking the same people, repeatedly.
Tjhe win, churches!
As a city that is predominantly Christian, we are supposed to be getting the most support from churches and individuals in the faith. Our shows are supposed to be the most successful, generating the highest income. Yet this is not happening, because of two things. The first hindrance to our growth is that everyone is trying to pull to their own direction, effectively compelling audiences to make a choice on whose show to attend due to the evil culture of disunity reigning in the city. Again, church members are okay with the artist just serving at church, when it is time to get out of the church and go to the world, they are vilified by the congregation or the pastor.
The perils of division
The implication of show organizers being divided is that they will either host shows on the same day or weekend. Out of the people that have an interest in live gospel music shows, the number of attendees per show is already compromised because there is no sane person who will attend more than two similar shows a weekend (in addition to going to church), most probably with the same line-up of artists. It is simply not economically sustainable. Even when one has the money and the time, you cannot enjoy watching the same person every weekend.
The second stumbling block is that Bloemfontein is not big enough to allow the flexibility of filling two or more venues catering for roughly 300 people in one day or on the same weekend.
What is to be done?
Unity is our only beacon of hope. If we unite as art practitioners or gospel musicians specifically, we are going to generate sufficient traction from the small circles that we are all exposed to. Consequently, when one artist puts a show together, we will all rally behind the organizer. Without a doubt, more people are going to be interested, thereby increasing show attendance. When this happens, people are going see the quality that is offered by every artist and in the long run this will translate into financial gain. This is also how we will create our own superstars who are nationally recognized.
Theo Mnikes is a musical director in the Free State. Having been at a high level in the Bloemfontein industry for about seven years, he has recorded and directed six live DVDs with a few playing on national TV. He has also organized shows and has worked with personalities such as Thabo Lebeko, Keorapetse Melamu and a few national artists.
Also published on Medium.