Pamberi Trust: Towards arts, enterprise
The Book Café and The Mannenberg have evolved from hang out places around town to truly arts centres which, to this day, many an artist in Zimbabwe can attest, have had a huge bearing on the development of the arts in the country.
Established and up and coming musicians such as Dudu Manhenga, Mike “Mic Inity” Madamombe, Alexio Kawara, Q Montana, Mawungira eNharira, Victor Kunonga, to mention just but a few, have had a fling or are still part of the vibrant collection of artistes who perform or have passed through the two venues.
But who is behind the two establishments that have become synonymous with a community arts centre in the capital?
A board of trustees calling themselves Pamberi Trust are the brains behind the now hugely popular joints in the city.
Pamberi Trust is a Zimbabwean registered non-profit organisation, governed by a board of trustees, that seeks to promote the arts; and as far as it looks, they are doing just that.
The board comprises Robin Wild, who is the outgoing chairperson, Steve Khoza, the managing director, Paul Brickhill (creative director), Jackie Cahi, Virginia Phiri, Rumbidzai Katedza, Colin Gatsi and Joy Kimemiah, who is the incoming chairperson.
Brickhill is a Zimbabwean musician, writer, bookseller and publisher. He started Grassroots Bookshop in Harare in 1981 and later founded a small publisher, Anvil Press.
In 1997 the bookshop transformed into Book Café, accompanied by the cultural NGO, Pamberi Trust, which became operational in 2002.
Brickhill has worked extensively on both book development and culture in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and Ethiopia.
He helped set up the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Trust in 1990, the African Publishers’ Network in 1992 — serving as its first executive secretary to 1995 —and Pan-African Booksellers Association in 1997.
Khoza worked with Brickhill in Grassroots Books from 1982, rapidly rising to the position of co-director.
He has been a key figure in all the developments and growth of Grassroots Books (now Books and Music Culture House), Book Café and Pamberi from inception, usually serving as its financial director, and latterly as managing director.
The two met early in the 1980s, introduced by Khoza’s brother, Raphael, whom Brickhill knew during the liberation struggle; and for nearly three decades, the two have formed a strong partnership as leaders, directors and trustees of these book and cultural bodies.
Some might even be wondering why the name Pamberi. Obviously, the literary translation to English would be “forward”. You can now stop guessing: It is suggestively an acronym for Performance, Arts, Music, Books, Education, Resources and Inspiration.
In an interview with The Financial Gazette recently, the trust’s arts administrator, Penny Yon, said Pamberi was “founded on the belief that the arts are critical in shaping values that reflect society”.
She said culture represents a multitude of diverse realities; it provides a medium for tolerance, enlightenment, joy and social cohesion. Individual artistes stimulate, provoke, inform and make people aware.
Cognisant of the economic potential of the arts and the need to create free, diverse means of cultural expression, she added, Pamberi exists as an enabling facility, by which all performing artistes and producers of culture may develop, promote and perform their works, and participate in building the nation.
Apart from hosting many public discussions and providing a facility for Pamberi development programmes, The Book Café has live music, poetry and other performances six nights a week and runs a cafe and bar — it has truly become a place where people from various backgrounds and cultures mix and mingle freely at any other day of the week.
The Mannenberg opened in 1999 as a jazz theatre club, just adjacent to The Book Café. It is at the forefront of the jazz renaissance of the 2000s, and also promotes four to six theatre productions annually.
This was a major breakthrough in conceiving performing arts as literature in the sense of storytelling, freedom of expression, creative and intellectual output.
Between 2002 and 2006, Pamberi evolved its “unique hybrid” nature that combines artistic enterprise and development goals, hence, it has two operating units — Harare Culture House, which runs The Book Café and The Mannenberg, and The Arts Factory, its outreach services to arts and artistes.
But the trust did not stop there: In 2005, Brickhill set up African Synergy in Johannesburg as a pan-African cultural network and South African arts development agency. Today it has over 90 partners in over 20 African countries.
This year it will launch a youth arts development programme (BAS ROOTZ), a gender arts programme (Sistaz Open Mic), a jazz programme, a pan-African arts website (Marimba Media), while expanding its intra-African arts collaboration project, African Tour Circuit.
Pamberi runs several projects which handle over 500 creative events every year. There is the Book Café Academy of Performing Arts (BOCAPA) programme, a weekly showcase of emerging bands, musicians and live literature, in which a number of now famous musicians and poets have participated to include training workshops by professional artistes, access to equipment and rehearsal space and a monthly open mic event aptly named Xposure.
The Female Literary, Arts and Music Enterprise (FLAME) project brings women artistes together, to grow, assert themselves in a male dominated society and participate fully in the mainstream of the arts. It is the flagship project of Pamberi’s Harare Culture House. Sistaz Open Mic is one of the highlights of the FLAME project, a monthly open mic session where female artistes come together to “do ur thang! — music, poetry, dance — whateva” on the second Saturday afternoon of each month.
“The programme has seen the emergence of many promising young women, poets, singers and musicians,” Yon said.
There is the House of Hunger Poetry Slam, initiated in August 2005 and continues monthly with wonderfully vibrant live poetry that reverberates with sheer youthful joy and energy, diversity and satire and passion.
Under the poetry project, support is given to two youth initiatives focusing on “the spoken word” of the hip-hop and rap genres.
The poetry slam incorporates Mashoko, the cultural activists network and The Circle, a platform for rap emcees as they take to the stage in a battle of words and “Mashoko: Our Word is Our Weapon”.
B-True to Yourself (Be True: HIV and Aids) gives young artistes the opportunity to use their creative energy to produce powerful artistic responses to HIV.
Paw Paw Jam is a monthly showcase of cultural diversity featuring artistes from different cultural backgrounds.
The Book Café has also seen a film club grow into weekly screenings, having established relationships with local film organisations to screen their films free to the public in a bid to promote a film culture among Zimbabweans.
Besides these major events on the calendar, The Book Café and The Mannenberg also host Jazz Appreciation events.
Other exciting events include the Freedom of Expressions discussions among which include literary discussions, artistes’ voices and Mindblast!, a platform for the youth to express themselves over issues affecting them and the country.
Pamberi’s funding partners are Africalia Belgium, HIVOS, WK Kellogg Foundation, Freedom to Create, International Performers Aid Trust, Stichting Doen, Danish Centre for Culture and Development (DCCD).