She is a leading light in the global media and arts industry, a talent and expert who continuously rub shoulders with the best. Most would certainly envy her profession and the role she plays as a front runner in shaping up and spearheading top class musical entertainment. Zim Abroad Magazine caught up with her to tell us more.
Zim Abroad (ZA): Tell us about your roots in Zimbabwe?
Taponeswa Mavunga (TM): I am from Musana, Bindura… My parents left my sister and I with our paternal grandparents, when they moved to the UK for university and one of my very earliest memories is of my paternal grandmother. People tell me I was always tagging along behind her emulating her which means bossing the other muzukurus around… one day in the distance, I heard a noise I could not place and asked Ambuya what it was. She responded “Hondo mwanangu” and I never forgot that word since.
ZA: Which city are you currently based?
ZA: Tell us about your profession and how you got into your line of work?
TM: I studied English at university not really knowing what I wanted to do. But growing up music dominated my life and the lives of all my friends so when I graduated I took a year out to prepare to do a teachers training course. It was during that year of working part time as a learning mentor in a Secondary School and part time at Selfridges that I volunteered in music and media companies because I just wanted to learn how it all worked. And I did… I pretty much worked for free in various places but I genuinely learned the ropes and made genuine connections – which in the music industry is gold dust. I got my real break when I started at reception for Warner Music. Once I was in, I worked my way up into PR for Atlantic Records. I stayed at that company for many years. Fast forward to now – I am head of publicity for Columbia Records, part of Sony Music Entertainment and I love what I do.
ZA: Tell us some of the artists you have worked with?
TM: I have worked with a range of artists. At Warner Music, I did press for JAY Z’s The Blueprint 3 album (and won an award for my PR campaign). That was an amazing experience. I have also worked on press campaigns for P Diddy, Trey Songz, Estelle, Santigold, Toni Braxton, Missy Elliott, Sean Paul, Wiz Khalifa, Rudimental and Ed Sheeran to name a few.
When I moved to South Africa to head Talent & Music at Viacom Africa – I got great insight to the continent in general. MTV Base Africa played a key role in expanding African music over the last decade so I really feel privileged to have played a part of that story. My role at MTV included making playlist decisions and I spent a lot of time trying to get information out there on how African artists could submit their work to the channel. In addition to this, I got to work very closely with the likes of AKA and his team at Vth Season. It was really important to me to create routes/systems for the music to travel internationally and when AKA was first play listed on BBC 1xtra (and subsequently stayed on there for three months), it opened him up to a whole new market. The station ended up tipping him as One To Watch for 2016 – the first South African to ever receive that accolade. I also worked closely with Pato Ranking and Seyi Shay who both signed international deals during that time.
I really got to know and work with artists from all over Africa such as Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Davido, K.O, Yemi Alade, Black Motion, Diamond Platnumz, Stonebwoy, Sauti Sol and many many more… I was part of the team behind the MAMAs (2015) too which was hugely rewarding but incredibly hard work.
Where I am now at Columbia Records is brilliant. The label has a varied roster which I love – from Foo Fighters, Kings Of Leon, Bob Dylan to Rag N Bone Man, Bonzai, to Wizkid and Davido. It’s a great place to work.
ZA: Name some Zimbabwean talent you are into at the moment?
TM: There’s a great deal of talent within Zimbabwe. I’m really into Jah Prayzah. The ambition and drive of this young man is very inspiring. I love that he and his manager Keen think pan Africa wide. That mindset alone has made a huge impact on his career so I was so proud when he won an MTV award in the Listeners Choice category for ‘Watora Mari’, the collaboration he did with Diamond Platnumz. I am Team JP all the way.
I also REALLY love Ammara Brown. She’s a truly versatile artist who has the potential to break outside the Zim market. The energy she brings to a live show is sensational and she’s someone who I believe will go very far.
Gemma Griffiths… I recognise in her something uniquely special. When I first saw a clip of her covering Andy Brown’s ‘Mapurisa’ I was intrigued. But then she played me some of her own stuff both in English and Shona. She’s an excellent songwriter. I’m really excited for her. She currently has a track with DJ Askery called ‘Headlights’ which is a small glimpse into her international appeal.
I love the Zim dancehall scene. I’m a massive fan of Winky D. But I also love the producers – like Oskid and DJ Tamuka. I first came across those two on a track called ‘Kwandabva Kure’ with Natty O which was on a brilliant label Kenako Music – not sure whatever happened to that label but I used to follow all their releases.
ZA: Tell us a bit more about your Zimbabwe interests?
TM: I am a fan of ZiFM Stereo and when it first launched, I was mentoring two presenters Dan and Lo who had a show called Off The Wall. I’m still really great friends with them both. Those two taught me a lot about the difference scenes in Zim, especially Dan (@dannythatguy), whose music knowledge is almost like an encyclopaedia. It’s really good to see artists develop and I have spoken at events such as the NAMAs encouraging artists to learn the business but also how they can get their music heard in the digital age.
I am also a massive supporter of the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards brand and the incredible work done by Conrad Mwanza and his team. The Zim space is not easy and I remember early conversations with him about broadening the mostly politically fuelled narrative around Zimbabwe to include other layers. Zimbabweans who are outstanding in their different areas in business, sport, the arts, tourism – the list goes on. ZAA has also been a great platform for Zim artists. It was at the first ZAA at the Mermaid Theatre in London that I fell in love with Cynthia Mare’s voice. US artist Tinashe made her debut UK performance at another edition of ZAA and last year Gemma Griffiths introduced herself via her interpretation of Musarova Bigman by Winky D.
ZA: What about Zim musicians living in UK? Are you connected?
TM: I love Jusa Dementor. He’s a secret ingredient for the success of many artists (he produced Mukoko by Ammara Brown and Tytan). Going back further in time, I remember seeing a video he did called African Airhorn Dance and the effect that track had on me. Jusa was one of the reasons I started really paying attention to what was going on in Zimbabwe. He’s a true creative who produces and mentors and is an all rounder. I think the country needs more like him. He introduced me to the phenomenal Cynthia Mare who hands down for me is one of Zimbabwe’s greatest vocal talents.
Charlie Kay – currently my favourite up and coming UK artist. I would love to see him collaborate with more people not just Zimbabweans. He too is multi talented as a singer, songwriter and producer.
ZA: What would you like to see happening for Zim music industry?
TM: I would like see the country really supporting artists. I would love for people to understand musicians work so hard creating the art so we must respect it and them. We must pay to see our favourite artists at shows and support those we love so they can do more. Corporates must place proper monetary value when booking artists too. This is the only way artists can survive. I love the work Y2K are doing. They are clients of my sister Danai and recently they pulled off an amazing series of events including a first of its kind – press conference and shows which saw Jah Prayzah, Oliver Mtukudzi, Winky D, Fungisai and Charlie Kay onstage in London and in Leicester over the Easter Bank Holiday. It created such a buzz and confidence that these shows can happen. The artists were exposed to a hugely supportive Zim diaspora as well as international platforms such as BBC 1xtra, MTV Africa and BEN TV. It’s a huge undertaking which I can only see expanding.
ZA: What motivates you on a daily basis?
TM: My parents, my sisters and my 14 year old daughter Namatayi. We are a tight bunch.
ZA: What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
TM: You really do have to believe in yourself. And when you have that self belief, learn the business.