'Gramma Records a hard sell'

HARARE - Gramma Records, one of the country’s oldest music recording and music distribution companies together with its sister firms - Zimbabwe Music Company (ZMC), Ngaavongwe Records and Records and Tape Promotions – which have been on the market since last year have failed to get buyers.

The record company which boasts of an extensive catalogue of local music dating back to the 1970s also has state of the art recording studios and CD manufacturing plants.

A notice published last year reads: “Sale by Tender – Gramma Records, which pioneered the recording, production and distribution of local music in the early 1970s and its sister companies – Zimbabwe Music Company (ZMC), Ngaavongwe Records and Records and Tape Promotions are up for sale. It has a deep catalogue of local music and plus an array of recording and manufacturing plants.”

The stable’s managing director Emmanuel Vhori told the Daily News recently that the company has had no takers so far. “I have been away from work for some weeks now but at the time I left there had been no movement on the purchase.”

Gramma Records was incepted in the 1970s and in the process recorded many big names in Zimbabwean music including musicians Thomas Mapfumo, Four Brothers, Jonah Moyo, Mechanic Manyeruke, Alick Macheso, Nicholas Zacharia, Charles and Olivia Charamba, the late System Tasvida, Leonard Dembo, Paul Matavire and Biggie Tembo while ZMC recorded the likes of Oliver Mtukudzi, Leonard Zhakata and Lovemore Majaivana among others.

Gramma Records which was once owned by Lonrho was in recent years sold to gospel singer Elias Musakwa and the late Josiah Tungamirai. The company has fhowever allen into hard times due to the rise of piracy as well as mass exodus of prominent artists. On the other hand, government is still to come up with laws which will curb the scourge of piracy.

While Afro musician and world renowned sculptor Bryn Mteki aka Sekurutau thinks the Gramma Records franchise is a good buy and could consider it if offered, the majority of musicians are of the belief that the franchise is a hard sell given that it is now easy to establish your own studio at home.

Guitarist and music producer Mono Mukundu said the problem with the current music landscape in Zimbabwe is that it is not conducive for a proper music industry which is the main reason Gramma Records failed.

“Everything about the way Gramma Records was run was conducive for a country with a proper music industry and we currently don’t have it now. Their system was mainly based on legitimate music sales of which piracy killed that aspect of the industry and the government refused to help.

“Currently the way the Zimbabwean makeshift music industry works is artists record independently then sell the music on their own. But generally releasing music is now sorely just a way to market oneself, not to make money out of the cd sales. So CDs are sort of the new business cards for artists,” said Mukundu.

He added that another problem that led to Gramma Records’ fall was their failure to adapt to the new global styles of music production which independent home studios quickly grasped.

“Under this system the main asset in the studio is not the equipment, but the music producer and with a very small gear one can produce world class quality.

“Remember American artist Curtis Fields won Bet award 2013 for an album he recorded on an iphone, so as a result the main thing that can be easily sold at Gramma Records is the studio.

“But who has the money also considering the fact that one can produce great music with even a laptop. So unless the country improves economically it would be risky for anybody to buy the company,” said Mukundu.

Guitarist and singer Edith WeUtonga said to start with, at the moment there is no money in Zimbabwe. “Unless if it is given on a trial basis to those with a business mind. There is no industry to talk of and until we have an acknowledgement from our government in the form of a ministry and structures to support the creative sector it is going to be futile exercise.

“Until the Zimbabwe economy is back on its feet there will be no dispensable income to buy CDs especially now with the rise of online stores.

“Maybe musicians now should focus on investing in a record company that is doing everything online. There are very few people buying CDs and it is a risk to buy Gramma Records and expect to make money in the next few years,” said WeUtonga.

Singer Victor Kunonga could only say: “One need to dig deep into why the franchise is in a mess, lest one buys a shell. Is it really as solid as it was? I wonder.”

Veteran singer Jonah Moyo who made his name at Gramm Records said: “Technology is changing every day and soon CDs will be a thing of the past, so I think it is not worth buying Gramma Records. As for my catalogue I have it all here from Volume 1 to 38.”

Guitarist Pablo Nakapa said years back the record industry was a viable business. “There was no piracy, no backyard recording studios. If it was then well we as musicians would buy it. But truely speaking it is as good as buying a dead donkey.

“The thing is there are too many studios out there that one wouldn't even bother to record at Gramma Records. Personally I wouldn't buy Gramma Records when I know I can have a small recording studio in my house doing exactly the same job Gramma Records does and my recordings being played in the same radio stations as Gramma’s. No ways.”

Singer Dino Mudondo said: “It's not worth it at all with our government supporting piracy and allowing law enforcement agents to buy pirated copies.”

Musician Stunner said: “There is no real structure in the music industry. One would just be headed for a loss. But one could also try.

Afro music singer and renowned stone sculptor Bryn Mteki aka Sekurutau however said he is prepared to buy Gramma Records franchise.

“I am not aware that the franchise is on sale because I should have considered it. I am ready if I am offered the deal,” said the stylish dreadlocked businessman.

Sekurutau blamed Gramma Records for failing to contain piracy which led to the flight of top musicians from the stable.

“My heart bleeds because the company was recording almost everyone from dancers to backing vocalists, hence killing competitiveness. They should have been screening these overnight musicians because the market ended up being flooded with new releases,” said the singer.

He added that in the 1990s he had befriended American singer R Kelly so they could record a duet but some officials at Gramma Records and ZMC were reluctant. “They said they hadn’t done it before and this was way before D`Banj Started collaborating Snoop Doggy and PSquare Akon and Rick Ross of Late Wizkid and Drake.

“America is my second home no doubt but Gramma Records failed me and as I speak I am one of the only loyal musicians remaining at the stable.”

Sekurutau said he can turn around fortunes at Gramma records and “merge it with Sekurutau World Music which will add on the Vast and fast growing BrynBrands Empire which is a subsidiary of Mteki World Art (Private) Limited Group of companies.”

Jive Records director Benjamini Nyandoro said: “It is worth buying. Goodwill and Catalogue.”

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