Covid-19 dries up business for Tanzania’s art industry

Musician Norman Bikaka is one of many artistes who have been hit hard financially by the Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO | COURTESY

“We probably need to be checked mentally because there are days you hallucinate that you could have coronavirus when really it’s just stress,” Remi Tone, a musician tells me. His work has been affected by the pandemic.

Since the first positive case of Covid-19 was reported in Tanzania in March, the arts and culture sector has been heavily affected due to suspended or cancelled events.

“My whole schedule this year has been disrupted both locally and internationally. I had residencies and shows planned in South Africa, Bolivia, England, Japan, Ghana and Egypt, but they were all cancelled. Here at home I was conducting workshops for kids in schools and adults but now that’s out the window,” said Mwandale Mwanyekwa, a fine artist.

Robert Mwampembwa, the director of Tanzania Visual Artists Association, said the situation is dire for various artists especially those selling curio art and souvenirs. The suspension of international flights bringing in tourists has meant hardly any clients to buy their art. 

“The supply chain is heavily affected. If you consider the women in Iringa weaving baskets, others making clay pots, the middlemen who would buy their merchandise in bulk to sell at tourist hotspots are now not taking any orders,” said Mr Mwampembwa, adding that heads of crafts centres have had to lay off staff.

The move to suspend public gatherings within Tanzania as well as the tightening of international borders due to lockdowns is directly affecting the work of artists, dancers, musicians and fashion designers. Album releases are pushed aside despite rehearsals spanning a year, which is the case for John Kitime a seasoned musician who had planned to launch a new album last month.

However, it’s not all bad. For one, fashion designers invited Tanzania Medicine and Medical Devices Authority’ to inspect clinical masks they had made to see if they were up to standard. Seven designers have been certified and are producing these masks as part of the personal protective equipment suits used by medical personnel to combat this disease.

Dancers are sharing their work online like Tiko Mbepo and his crew T-Africa, who recently made a dance video on how to combat Covid-19.

In the publishing world, online book promotions are raising readership awareness, with publishers appreciating the use of online communication. Writers are also producing more work, with efforts underway to produce anthologies relevant to the experiences from the pandemic.

In the music industry, many musicians including Lady Jay D and her protégé Afro-Jay as well as platforms like Wikiendi Live and Alliance Française are giving online concerts. Though sponsorship is scant, it’s giving artists mileage and exposure. Singers are being booked and sponsored by the government and NGOs to make songs about the pandemic.

Those whose songs are on online streaming sites like Bandcamp are recording more sales during this time where people are spending more time at home.

Artistes are being encouraged to join Tanzania Copyright Association in order to receive royalties for their work. It is hoped that this crisis will encourage artistes to register their work.