BULAWAYO – The recent death of Cool Crooners frontman Abel Sithole at the age of 81, has prompted music fans in the City of Kings to examine the state of jazz music in Bulawayo.
While many don’t necessarily believe that the late jazz maestro has taken the music genre with him into the grave, they concur that jazz is at an all-time low in Zimbabwe’s second largest city.
Over the years the city’s Jazz music fraternity has literally been choking largely due to being shut out from Bulawayo’s music stages by a variety of music genres such as Zim hip hop, house and kwaito as well as dance.
And lately Zimdancehall has also claimed its stake in the city’s cut-throat industry, further pushing jazz away from the limelight.
Before his death, the late Sithole also bemoaned the state of the music genre that he contributed to for decades.
“We really used to have a tight schedule and often we would choose the best place to go and perform but now there is not even a single opportunity for our shows. The choices have been reduced to almost nothing,” the late music veteran told the Daily News then.
George Salimu, who has taken over the leadership of the Cool Crooners, believes jazz is only being marginalised in Bulawayo and not in Harare.
“I will always refuse the notion that jazz will soon be a forgotten genre as long as we are there.
“However, yes in Bulawayo, jazz has gone somewhat silent but in Harare it is still popular that is why every month we go there once or twice for shows in the capital city. This is something that doesn’t happen here anymore,” Salimu told the Daily News on Sunday.
The new Cool Crooners leader has attributed the poor fortunes of jazz music in Bulawayo to music promoters and jazz artistes themselves who lack the drive to push the music.
“We lack music promoters who have the courage to push the genre because if you properly look at most promoters they are scared to hold a jazz show because they think they will run a loss, forgetting that proper publicity and preparation can make it happen.
“Jazz musicians are equally guilty of failing to push the genre. We hope that the coming on board of Blues Café will improve the jazz situation in Bulawayo,” said Salimu.
While conceding that jazz music was increasingly being pushed out of Bulawayo music venues, seasoned jazz musician Hardson Simbarashe was quick to point out that the genre would never go extinct.
“I am not really sure why promoters are shunning jazz musicians as compared to other genres, but what I know is that jazz has always had its own special crowd.
“Despite the difficulties, jazz has the enduring power and will most certainly outlive these new genres that have caught the fancy of young music fans
“There is need for cultivation of our followers as jazz musicians but our challenge is that there are no specific venues that we can use for that unlike in the past when most of the local hotels were jazz spots,” Simbarashe said.
But Intwasa Arts Festival director Raisedon Baya believes the music genre is not being completely shut out in the city.
“For instance in Bulawayo there are two clubs that I know have been doing very well in terms of giving live jazz performances opportunities to artistes that is Cape to Cairo and Safari Bar,” Baya said.
He, however, added that the music genre could be a victim of its own complexity.
“As organisers of Intwasa festival sometimes we also need to be forgiven for sidelining jazz simply because we don’t understand it; it’s not a deliberate move.
“Jazz is a complex genre, it’s not that kind of music that if you play one will start jumping; it’s for your mature people.
“We also had a tough time at the Bulawayo Arts Awards, when we were selecting music categories for the awards because jazz is very complex,” said the Intwasa Arts Festival director.