LADY of steel, iron lady of Zim entertainment or simply “Mother”, are some of the appellations that describe the woman known to many as Mai Red Rose.
Mai Red Rose, real name Barbara Chikosi, is the 61-year-old female music promoter who recently brought Jamaican reggae-dancehall superstar Christopher Martin to Harare
To say she has thrived in an industry where many have lost their livelihoods, all their savings and even their lives would be too simplistic, Mai Red Rose has fought tooth and nail in an industry dominated by men, who according to her own confessions, have thrown spanners in her way time and again.
For fourteen years since her first show, which featured Alick Macheso and Diamond Musica, Mai Red Rose has gone on to stage some of the biggest gigs in the country and to score many firsts as well. She was the first promoter to throw Macheso into the deep end in 2003, pairing him with superstar Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi at Old Hararians Sports Club.
“Mtukudzi was untouchable back then. He would do one show in three months and not just at any venue, only the best, sometimes even without supporting acts,” said Mai Red Rose remembering one of her first big shows in her music promotion career.
That same year she scored another first as the first promoter to bring Mafikizolo to Harare. A few years later she was to unite Macheso and Nicholas Zakaria on stage for the first time since the two’s famous split just before the turn of the new millennium.
“Yakazara Aquatic iya kuita kunge ichaputika (Aquatic Complex was filled to the rafters). It took me a while to get them (Macheso and Madzibaba) to agree to the show but I was patient and eventually it worked out,” reminisced Mai Red Rose.
As hot concepts like Elias Musakwa’s Ngaavongwe Gospel Music Explosion and Pastor Kasi’s Nguva Yakwana packed music lovers into concerts, Mai Red Rose was not to be left behind — she created her own. “I also launched Gospel Divas,” said Mai Red Rose.
She has worked and continues to work with dancehall artistes. “When we started people used to say they were a problem but we adjusted, we learnt how to deal with them. I’m proud to say I have contributed immensely to the rise of dancehall in Zimbabwe. I did shows like the King of Dancehall as far back as 2007. I did the Ghetto versus Ghetto gigs, which gave the likes of Soul Jah Love, Kinnah and Seh Calaz platforms to be visible and to shine.
“When we brought King Shango (Capleton) to Zimbabwe we went to every ghetto doing Passa Passa shows for free,” she narrated. She has done it all from Mapostori festival, mbira festival, dancehall clashes, to shows involving regional acts like Vee, Franco and Jeff, all from Botswana.
But how did Mai Red Rose become a promoter? How has she survived in this game, which is said to be not for the fainthearted, where one needs to have nerves of steel and be as shrewd a tactician as they can be?
“I started this business of music promotion after I had already established my hair salon. I would see Mtukudzi doing his shows, this is someone I went to school with, so I was inspired. I got assistance from a promoter Patrice Chakanyuka and Tuku’s former manager Debbie Metcalfe.
“Patrice is the one who really handheld me through it all. He introduced me to artistes and saw me through my very first show featuring Macheso and Diamond Musica in 2002. From there it was one gig after the other.”
She acknowledges that she learnt the professional side of music promotion from Debbie Metcalfe.
“She (Debbie) was very strict with her artiste. She had standards. She would ask you whose sound system you intended to use, what marketing strategies were in place etcetera. If she was not convinced you would not get the gig. Back then we were also in the habit of insisting on face-to-face meetings but Debbie said no, use the phone and email,” said Mai Red Rose.
Many “obituaries” have been written for living music promoters after their business gambles failed to pay off. Mai Red Rose has faced such situations too.
In fact, this writer almost wrote one such obituary for Mai Red Rose, only for her to bounce back slowly and without blabbing about it. In January this year she returned with a Jah Prayzah, Winky D gig — it was a success.
Having gathered more confidence, she let it be known she was back with the announcement of her Christopher Martin gig, which by all standards was a huge success.
An event that many Zimbabweans will remember for a long time, not because it was packed or that the Jamaican sizzled, but because it was organised and was hassle free — because it was truly international.
If female artistes complain of an uneven playing field — imagine what a female promoter must go through.
“It has never been easy but we have had to try, the same way we are trying today. However, back then the promoters were a bit civilised — we called each other and discussed issues, dates, concepts and gave each other breathing space.
“These days it is each man for himself, it’s a dog-eat-dog environment. They do not want to give others a chance. Other promoters have even personalised venues, however, we still find ways to work. There is massive bullying these days. “Bullying is not for school kids only even in the workplace. Spanners have been thrown my way but I have managed to stand the pressure and most importantly remain focussed,” she revealed.
At one time Mai Red Rose seemed to have quit the game after one too many fiascos in her music promotion business.
She even left the country for a while visiting her children who are based overseas. However, she says her break was so that she could focus on her other businesses.
“I have recently added a new portfolio to my growing business. Just like the rent-a-chair in salon business now I have rent-a-space for tailors. It is a new baby and I had to give it attention,” she explained.
Relations with artistes
While her relationships with certain promoters may not be cordial, Mai Red Rose says she enjoys good business relations with all artistes she has worked with.
“Artistes are different, and we treat them differently as well. I do not have any favourites, it is just business for me, but I lower myself or raise myself depending on the status or attitude of the artiste I’m dealing with. One has to really understand the type of artiste they are dealing with otherwise ndipo pamunozonzwa kuti nhingi haadhilike naye,” she said.
She says even her spat with gospel artiste Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave has been long forgotten.
Mai Red Rose was born in 1955 in Marange, Manicaland, but grew up in Highfield in the capital. She attended Mutasa and Chengu primary schools before doing her secondary education at Highfield Mhuriimwe Community School.
She completed her O and A-Level studies in Zambia where she went to Kitwe High, Mindolo Girls High and Chipembe Girls High in Lusaka.
Mai Red Rose was married until 2005 when she and her husband went their separate ways. She has four children, two girls and two boys, all based abroad.
“I am a very small player in business, there is really not much to talk about, although, I dream of becoming a major player in our economy and continue to strive to be a businessperson of note.
“I run hair salons, my first shop was in Mufakose back in the ‘80s. I have many now. Most hairdressers in Harare passed through Red Rose. I am also into real estate, I have tailors and the music promotion business. The environment is tough but we wish to grow.”
To young women out there who would want to get into any of the businesses she currently has under her portfolio, Mai Red Rose says her door is always open.
“I am willing to assist anyone who wants to learn, especially music promotion. If any woman out there is serious about getting into this game, they should come to me and they will get on-the-job training.”