Tsungirirai Zvobgo is in a race against time to live the fullest life and be useful to humanity. Fuelled by her love for culture, the communications professional and talent manager is relentlessly pursuing the advancement of arts and culture as viable economic activities that contribute significantly to [Zimbabwe’s] GDP. She tells us more about her grand plan below…
Interviewer: Kudzanai Thondhlana
All photography by Swish_says photography
Tell us about your career journey to becoming a talent manager. Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do in life?
Not at all, it was more of life leading me to a position where talent management was a viable opportunity for me. I am a PR and communications professional by trade, having worked for a large continental media company as their communications officer across all of Africa. When I came back to Zimbabwe, I immersed myself in the arts and culture circles. I am deeply passionate about culture and my travels within Africa and around the world have allowed me the opportunity to see how other countries market and leverage their culture in a financially viable way. I wanted to find global, relevant and sexy ways to promote our culture and overcome the barriers we have had in selling our culture. I strongly felt that the delivery of our culture can be tweaked to make it more exciting and attractive.
This immersion into the cultural scene in Zim led to meeting, interacting and engaging with a lot of artists. A few of them then really connected with me and propositioned me to manage their careers. I was initially reluctant but I was eventually convinced to take on three artists as my clients. My background in PR and communications helped me thrive in this new space because I understood how to craft perceptions and develop personas. Word soon spread and within two years, I had established New Sofala Entertainment with a roster of some of the top artists in the country.
When I became a mother, I had to re-prioritise and that led me to closing down my label and focusing on one artist. Whilst I had done a lot of good work and achieved a lot with the many artists I had worked with, I was also driven by a hunger to mould an artist right through the process from the beginning until they get over the threshold of international stardom. This is the journey I am on now.
You have achieved significant of success with your client, Ammara Brown, widely regarded as one of the top entertainers in Zimbabwe and currently making inroads into Africa. How do you identify talent with the potential to become a superstar brand?
It has been an incredible ride with Ammara, from where we started five years ago, barely getting by, to where we are now with her regarded as one of the four most talked about female artists on the continent according to Google Analytics. The relationship between a manager and artist is very intimate and emotionally involving. You see each other every day, spend a lot of time together; it is almost like you’re married and it takes a lot of work. So I am now very choosy about who I work with.
It is important for me to like who I work with. I believe in authenticity in what I do and in order for me to wake up every morning and dedicate myself to working for you, I must like and hopefully love who you are, as well as what you do. I would never manage someone I did not get along with or whose music I did not enjoy. The other important thing is that the artist must believe and trust in me. Success does not happen overnight and sometimes it is a process before proper traction is achieved. So the artist must also take a leap of faith in me like I am in them.
What are some of the critical factors to consider in building a brand that is not only relevant locally but competitive continentally?
It takes a great deal of hard work to establish a brand in any market at a local level, let alone continentally. My background in PR, reputation management and stakeholder management, as well as the consultancy work I do for corporates has honed my skills to where I now know what a brand is missing and what it needs to be better. It needs clearly defined brand values and authentic brand messaging. All business boils down to identifying a clear and urgent need, and offering a solution that meets that need. In order to build a lasting brand with continental competitiveness, you must meet a need that transcends borders and be consistent in communicating the value that your solution offers your target market.
The talent management industry is challenging. Dealing with clients, developing a brand, marketing, promoting, booking, scheduling and all the other roles you have to play require a person who has an ability to juggle many things at the same time. Add to the fact that Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a tough economic climate. What has contributed to your success in this challenging environment?
I focus on the hustle in front of me. I am always looking for gaps in the market and things to start. As I mentioned earlier, business is about fulfilling needs and Zim is rife with need, it is need-ridden. So there are always things to do and solutions to offer if you keep your ears to the ground.
I am also very motivated by my love of culture and Zimbabwe, which pushes me to analyse what is and come up with version of what could be. I aspire to be useful not just to my immediate family and friends but to humanity as a whole. I am also in constant fear of having time run out before I even scratch the surface of my full potential so I try to keep getting better at what I do and I try to do that every day.
A lot of people will be inspired by your success and consider pursuing a career in talent management. What are some of the industry pitfalls you would warn someone considering becoming a talent manager about?
Managing talent is a lot of hard work. It is different from managing inanimate objects; you’re managing people and there is a lot that comes with that. A person has moods, gets sick, goes through emotional distress, has a love life and many other variables that constitute our human existence. You have to be sensitive to all those things but still ensure that you never lose focus and that the eye is firmly on the collective goal.
It is also important that an aspiring talent manager find the balance between maintaining a business and building the brands of your artists. A lot of times you end up being part business and part non-governmental organisation (NGO) so finding that balance is critical.
Do you feel that there is enough support for the local arts and entertainment industry from corporates and the state? What more could be done to create a more enabling environment?
I think the local arts and entertainment sector is not being fully utilised. It goes beyond lack of support from corporates and state, it is a mind-set of Zimbabweans ourselves. Our education system is narrowly defined and focuses on breeding doctors, lawyer, engineers, accountants – the traditional formal sector careers. It does not accommodate sports, arts and culture into the formal education system as core-curricular rather than extra-curricular activities.
In other countries, you find schools of excellence to teach people various sporting and artistic disciplines from a young age, thereby creating a system of breeding talent. It is possible, for example, for one to formally pursue opera, art or ballet through to tertiary level in other countries. So we need a mental shift and collaboration from top down with the Ministry of Education playing a critical role in enabling formal learning in the arts at school level. This would not only breed talent from a young age, but also create a more understanding and supportive audience.
What does a typical day look like for you?
No two days are the same in my life, it really depends on what I will be working on at any particular time. If there is any constant, it would be that I wake up each day striving to live the fullest life and to be better at what I do.
The biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made is… TAKING A SABBATICAL FROM MY CORPORATE CAREER TO FOLLOW MY DREAMS. EVERYONE THOUGHT I WAS CRAZY.
The greatest marketing/self-branding tool is… YOUR WORK. IT SHOULD SPEAK FOR YOU….AND IF IT PRECEDES YOU, EVEN BETTER!
Best investment?…. RELATIONSHIPS. KEEP THE RIGHT INDIVIDUALS IN YOUR LIFE. CULTIVATING & NURTURING THOSE RELATIONSHIPS IS A LOT OF WORK BUT INVALUABLE IN THE LONG-TERM
Worst money mistake? NOT FINDING WAYS TO MAKE MONEY WORK FOR ME MUCH EARLIER IN MY LIFE.
Advice in 3 words? LEARN FROM MISTAKES!
Interview by: Kudzanai Thondhlana
Director – Creative Natives Africa
FB: Creative Natives Africa
All photography by Swish_says photography