Artistes bemoan Book Café closure

HARARE - Various members of the local arts community have lamented the sudden closure of the Book Café on Tuesday.

The iconic and award-winning live arts venue finally shut its doors after succumbing to a three-year debt crisis that saw the Book Café routinely failing to pay its workers.

Tuesday’s closure is the second time the popular arts venue has closed its door since it was launched in 1997 at Five Avenue Shopping Centre.

It ceased operations for the first time in December 2011 before reopening on March 8, 2012 at 139 Samora Machel Avenue, its current location.

Afro-fusion star Victor Kunonga, who was part of a group of artistes dubbed “Friends of the Book Café” formed to raise funds to liquidate the arts venue’s huge debts, told the Daily News yesterday that the closure came about when they had already lined up a fundraising gig this weekend.

“It is unfortunate that they closed. We were actually intending to have fundraising for them this Saturday as “Friends of the Book Café” and it is sad that they could not sustain themselves until then. But we are still going to do it though it will not be at the venue,” Kunonga said.

“It is saddening because the Book Café was a platform for many artistes to grow, some of us launched our careers there and we would also want other artistes to have the same opportunities.”

Marcus Gora, the manager of the internationally-popular Mokoomba, said Harare had sadly lost a central venue for creatives.

“The closing of The Book Café Harare is a very sad development for the arts and culture industry in Zimbabwe.

“The Book Café has been a premier performance venue for emerging and established artistes as well as a central space for creatives to meet and work.

“Many thanks to them for the vision and hard work, we hope to see them re-open in the nearest future,” he said.

Kenya-born arts practitioner Joan Wandegi, who frequently works in both Harare and Nairobi, has also bemoaned the Book Café’s closure but expressed confidence in its revival.

“The Book Café, what an inspired magical space! Spaces like these rarely die. I look forward to witnessing the next chapter,” she said.

Social media has been awash with reactions on the indefinite closure of the Book Café since it was announced by Tomas Brickhill, the arts venue’s managing director.

“Top local music manager and promoter Walter Wanyanya, veteran musician and producer Peter Muparutsa and Harare-based British casting agent Beverley Mathison all expressed shock and sadness at the development.

A music fan called Valentine Tapi said the Book Café was the most family-friendly arts venue around.

“So sad. It was the one place in Harare where I felt safe to take my family out to or just hang out by myself. So sad indeed,” said Tapi.

Jazz guitarist James Buzuzi said: “Book Café was a beacon; a sanctuary for most artists; budding and established. This is sad.”

Blogger and poet Larry Kwirirayi said: “The saddest thing. One less stage for artists.”

There appears to be an overwhelming belief though that the Book Café will reemerge once again.

Internationally-acclaimed fashion designer Trish Carmen Joseph is convinced that the arts venue will bounce back.

“Explanation (press release) makes sense, wish you all the best and may you wow us with your new game plan,” said Joseph.

One Peter Kuthan also said: “Sad news indeed, we hope for a revival soon, keep it up, a luta continua!”

Canadian mbira enthusiast Ginette Hetu-Bertrand said: “How sad! I hope it will be reopened next time I come to Harare.”

“Very sad, but I don’t believe this is goodbye,” said one who identified himself as Nikki Kershaw.

Meanwhile Pamberi Trust, an arts development trust that worked hand-in-hand with the Book Café, said it was sad that the Book Café had been forced to give in to economic pressures.

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