The first installation of the three day long annual Botswana International Music Conference (BIMC) wrapped up this past Friday, October 30th. The conference, first of its kind in Botswana, brought together various players from the music business to share ideas and knowledge on how to build successful brands and enhance the local industry. Experts from neighbouring countries were also present to share their expertise from their respective fields in the music business. One such was SA’s Sphe Mbhele. He is the Project Manager for the KZN Music Imbizo. The Imbizo is the seven year running annual Kwazulu Natal music conference on which the BIMC organisers were hoping to benchmark.
Lifestyle got the opportunity talk (music) business with the South African on the side-lines of the conference. With seven years since his first Imbizo, Mbhele does not mince words when he talks about music as a business. “You cannot be successful as an artist if you do not acquaint yourself with the dynamics of the business side of music,” he says. “There is music, and then there is music business.” He says platforms like BIMC create a market of products and ideas necessary to enhance their brand. Through the KZN Imbizo the project manager says they have been able to place various SA artists on the international stage and promote cultural exchange.
“You guys are where KZN used to be a few years ago,” Mbhele says of the local industry. “There is a lot of frustration among the musicians here because they feel they are not getting commensurate rewards for their work.” He, however, says there is a huge potential for the industry. In contrast to the accusations that have been levelled against the Botswana government about its lack of support for the arts, Mbhele says the SA government supports music.
“The KZN local government supports music,” he says. Mbhele says the local government wants to sell the province (especially Durban) as an entertainment hub to the world. “They know that without the music industry they cannot achieve that. They (government) are the biggest sponsors for artists’ performances in the country. Nobody sponsors more shows.” He says it is important for the government of Botswana to acknowledge music as the soundtrack to life. “It retains culture and identity. It has a huge economic value as well. It helps to alleviate poverty and if managed properly it has the potential to drive an economy.”
Mbhele also says for the music business to be taken seriously artists also have to produce quality material. “We now live in a world where everyone believes they can do music. It is not just a problem here in Botswana but in SA as well,” Mbhele says. He says because the industry has been so diluted by mediocrity it makes it difficult for real talent to prosper. Mbhele says the KZN Imbizo was first launched in 2007 exclusively for Hip Hop genre but soon they realised other genres were also in desperate need of the platform. It was then in 2009 that the first all-inclusive Imbizo was launched, he says.
He says activities for the three day event include panel discussions, producers’ forum, exhibitions, and performances among others. He says the last Imbizo attracted at least 2000 participants. The organiser of the BIMC Seabelo Modibe has called the conference a success. “Some very important resolutions have been made and we will take some of them to the minister (Youth Sport and Culture).”