Bruce & MEMA Arts Zimbabwe
//The Radioactive blog managed to get in touch with the multi-talented Zimbabwean artist "Bruce Ncube" who has a lot to share//
Wassup wassup fam. I hope y'all have been great. This month feels like 3 months in one, so I can't wait for it to end, but any way, at least we have about a week left of January. For this article, I'll be sharing some of the feedback I got from a multi-talented artist "Bruce Ncube" who's work is really amazing, and I'm sure he will be an inspiration to many established and aspiring artists. He was born and raised in Njube - in Bulawayo - and started his arts career at the age of 10 with Umkhathi Theatre Works, which many have considered as one of Zimbabwe's most prominent arts organisations.
In 2013, Bruce established Mema Arts Zimbabwe, which is a multi-discipline arts organisation. "Mema" is a Ndebele word which translates "to invite/to call". Traditional dancing, singing, drumming and storytelling in Zimbabwe has been passed on from generations to generations, and Mema Arts Zimbabwe seeks to preserve the true Zimbabwean culture and tradition through song, dance, drumming and storytelling (and not only in Zimbabwe). Now that you know a bit about the organisation, let's get down to his feedback on some of the questions that I asked him:
Question 1: How would you best describe "Bruce Ncube"?
"I consider myself a caring, passionate person dedicated to improving the education, opportunities and life chances of others, particularly through the medium of arts. I am self motivated, and my particular passion is working with disadvantaged young people, adults and communities who may be affected by poverty, deprivation, health issues and/or a lack of education. I believe in supporting and uplifting others to develop their skills and talents, enabling them to move towards fulfilling their full potential through improved life chances. I believe in holding high aspirations for everyone irrespective of circumstance.
I am an experienced singer/singing teacher, song writer, drummer/percussionist, Mbira player, African storyteller, dancer and dance teacher. I enjoy reading, walking, watching/playing football, organising and attending music events."
Question 2: What were your 3 major highlights of 2018 in terms of the work you did?
"2018 was not the best of years, I wasn't so lucky in getting funded work like the other years, just my regular workshops all around the UK, which I am grateful for, but for the second year running myself and a close friend Derrick Tembo of Kaisa have hosted a project called Africa Day in Njube, a project aimed at bringing Bulawayo musicians and people we call celebrities (even though I don't believe in celebrity nonsense) closer to the people, to "Ekasi" where most of them - when they make it - shun where they started from. We want to give the people from "Ekasi" a platform to engage, interact and hopefully we will be able to bridge the gap between "celebrities" and their supporters who throughout the year only hear their music on the radio and sometimes on TV, because of the cost of attending their live shows in the city."
Question 3: What are some of the events/ projects you'll be working on this year?
"I am continuing to write my autobiography (book) which I started writing at the end of 2018. I'm not too sure when I am going to be able to finish and publish it, as this will all depend on finances, but yeah that is my new project.
Africa Day In Njube is happening again on the 25th May; my team and I are busy working on it at the moment, fundraising and looking for potential partners and funders. We're hoping to make it a bigger and better event this year. The locals in Njube and surrounding areas have welcomed and embraced the event. It is something everyone looks forward to now, so there is no more going back.
I am continuing with my UK tour which is my major project and there are a number of projects in the pipeline with other artists and different organisations."
Question 4: How do you think the Arts in Zimbabwe can be improved to ensure that Artists not only get financial value for their work, but also have enough functioning platforms to develop their skills?
"We certainly need to start doing our so called big events in the ghetto - "Ekasi" - in the high density suburbs where our real supporters are. I have witnessed and played for 10 people at an over 200 seater Bulawayo Theatre (which if you ask me is a venue that we have over used and i have questioned if some of the shows we stage there are suitable for that kind of venue) in some shows where friends in the arts have contracted me to work with them in their shows playing percussion. I think as an artist, one needs numbers, a good crowd in the audience and followers. Our supporters/followers are not in the city, they are where we grew up. We need to shift our mindset and really look into this. I see this when I hold the Africa Day in Njube: we get some of the biggest numbers that some of the top artists in the city have never performed for. I quote "This is one of the top 5 events I have performed at " - Cal Vin. I know Calvin has performed for bigger crowds in and outside the country, but to hear a polished rapper like him say that, it says and means a lot.
As long as our government (especially the Ministry of Arts and Culture) does not see the Arts as an important sector that contributes to the growth of the economy, then we are in trouble. Arts is still regarded very much as something for the uneducated, and this needs to change. We need a lot of support financially to be able to function and be a competent industry. At the current moment, the arts is surviving through the innovative minds of the artists who work together by holding different events throughout the year, producing their own music and selling on the streets, as well as by approaching NGOs and different stakeholders. It's very commendable how we keep going as artists in a hard and not so conducive environment.
There is a lot that we can do, as long as we work together and don't prioritise personal glory. We can still do a lot more by creating more spaces/hubs where young and up-coming artists can come together and make more art."
Question 5: What advice would you give to an upcoming artist who's inspired/ could be inspired by your work and achievements?
"I think a lot of young artists want it easy nowadays. There is no patience, not much hard work, but in true reality there is never an easy route in any field. I have always said that if you have not gone through the junior policy in anything related to sport/arts, you cannot tell me anything about the Arts, and I mean it. It is very important to take everything through its steps and drills. There is a lot that you miss out and that could hinder your success/growth within the Arts.
It's easy for one to fool themselves - when they are a young artist - into thinking they are better than someone else, and even their own teachers sometimes. I understand, it is the hunger to reach to the top. I have been there, I know it, I am talking from experience. It takes years for the people at the top to make it, and some young people criticise that. They would have been working on their craft for many many years; they would have built a good reputation, and they are professional and reliable; all of these things matter as an artist. The only thing that one can do is to be patient, learn and wait for your time; It will surely come."
Well, that's the feedback that we managed to get from Bruce, and I hope that it was beneficial to you one way or the other. It's really inspiring to see such creatives continue to make great and positive contributions to the communities they find themselves in, especially over a long period of time. He has performed at major festivals such as WOMAD, African Drum Village, Drum Camp, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Skye Festival, AfriFest and the Edinburgh Mela Festival. A lot of his festival work involves conducting workshops such as drumming or African singing during the event, culminating into a performance on stage involving the participants. The way he conducts his workshops are very similar to the way The Radioactive Blog hosts poetry workshops, so this was actually a unique discovery for me. A typical example of Bruce's workshops would be having 2 or 3 workshops held over the course of the festival, and a performance on the final night of the festival. For bookings, you can email him on firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com and don't forget to check out his previous work on his Facebook page & Mema Arts Zimbabwe website.
To close of the article I'd like to leave you with one of my favourite videos from one of his workshops and performances. Don't forget to drop a comment, and subscribe to our site in order to keep up to date with more creatives from around the world.
[All photos and videos in this article were taken and are available from Bruce Ncube]